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Illumination through illustration: Positioning illustration as practice-led research

Black, Stephanie

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Stephanie Black


This thesis represents a practice-led enquiry into contemporary illustration from a UK perspective. This thesis argues for illustration to be recognised as an inductive practice-led research process, within both education and developing criticism. The methods and methodological discussion to support this are derived from the practical aspect of the enquiry.
The inductive approach outlined through the methods chapter focuses on the benefits of removing the known outcome from projects, and of illustrators maintaining their own practice alongside commissioned work. The discussion of methods proposes that the commissioned strand of illustration adopts research in illustration as research for illustration. The discussion of performative forms adopted within illustration contributes to the discourse surrounding practice-led research outcomes, in particular Brad Haseman’s performative paradigm for creative arts research.
The methodological approach is proposed as a supplementary strand of teaching, which equips illustrators with long-term skills to generate their own projects and employment. These enable illustrators to be flexible and able to adapt to economic and technological changes to industry practice. The thesis examines research processes within illustration which are transferable to different contexts. These include the increase in digital screens and their time-based communications, and the development of three-dimensional objects and environments within the field.
The practical work undertaken employed these processes and generated a contribution to the growing discourse surrounding contemporary illustration in the UK. Illustration suffers from a lack of published analysis and as a result its critical discourse is limited. Therefore this study bases its argument upon themes identified within existing illustration commentary, the work of key practitioners, and my studio practice. The focus of research undertaken is mainly on self-initiated projects, but includes commissions where the outcome is not prescribed from the outset. Conversations with Matthew Richardson, Luise Vormittag, Steve Braund, Andrzej Klimowski and Henrik Drescher provide supplementary primary research.
The outcome is a contribution to the development of a critical framework derived from practice, which acknowledges the shortcomings of existing frameworks available. The thesis proposes that the concept of time be adopted as a key characteristic of illustration, the discussion of which references Henri Bergson, comics and artist’s books. The utility of time lies in its productive application to both the production and analysis of work. Illustration’s unique negotiation of time through spatial manifestations is used to situate the field in relation to key shifts within culture such as Fredric Jameson’s postmodernism and Nicolas Bourriaud’s altermodernism. The thesis outlines the diversity of temporal achievements within illustration in this regard, and calls for greater recognition of illustration practice and discourse within such discussions of the time we live in.


Black, S. Illumination through illustration: Positioning illustration as practice-led research. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Keywords illustration, research, practice-led research, authorial illustration, research methods, sketchbook, style, time, space, gaps
Public URL
Award Date Jan 1, 2014


S BLACK Illumination through Illustration EDIT FINAL Redacted small.pdf (3.4 Mb)

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