Kiarna Michie

From Shadows

Bachelor of Design Illustration Print Storytelling
AD20 Award
Head of School Award
For an outstanding academic performance in Visual Communication Design

An Autoethnographic Exploration of Anxiety through Thematic, Collage Illustrated Cards

From Shadows was created through the use of autoethnographic and phenomenological research methods to investigate, design and illustrate the ways that anxiety manifests in the human experience. It is where the journal is used to distil and conceptualise a subjective account into lucid themes that give form and character to something as complex and multifaceted as Anxiety. A question is posited at the centre of this research which is to discover how collage illustration in the form of thematic cards, might communicate, reflect and provoke an emotional resonance and self-awareness regarding the multifaceted nature of anxiety. From Shadows is the artefact created to incite reflection and emotional resonance through practice-led design research.

From Shadows is a design artefact and research project, which deals with the exploration of my experience with anxiety — memorably, from the age of 13 onwards. My interest in researching this experience for my final project struck when I discovered a gap in my previous research about the subjective meanings of place, further about my life and the grey areas between childhood and adolescence, though I never delved too deep into the years in between. This project uses collage illustration and journaling as methods to understand lived experience. It visually communicates the multifaceted nuances of human emotion and the pain that anxiety causes. The significance of this research rests within its ability to communicate the experience of anxiety in a way that connects emotionally with others as anxiety is an essential aspect of the human experience.

In terms of the format of the collage illustration design output, the decision was to create thematic cards. It is inspired by the Tarot deck as From Shadows is a project laden with symbolism and metaphors. From Shadows includes poetic verses that accompany the collage illustrations as the aim of the research is to evoke an emotional resonance about the experience of anxiety. The strength of poetry lies in its ability to bring our emotions into being for not only our self-understanding but also for which others can resonate. The act of using the word ‘I’ in the personal narrative allows the author to reach a vulnerability and depth where trauma and the self can be awoken and confronted — allowing a sense of coherence and awareness through the ideas we choose to focus on when writing poetry.

Through my practice, I learned that collage enables the researcher to bring forth the hidden and sometimes neglected parts of our experience. As a practice, it can draw upon connections between ideas that form through the visual juxtapositions of the assemblage. These images end up holding a different meaning to the researcher compared to the before stage of collage creation due to the experience that the image signifies. It is a form of mapping out the past through intentional reflection and encoding the various nuances through visual language. A simple way to describe my research process is that I was able to elicit new meaning through old memories and visually communicate my personal experience by conceptualising the nuances of my lived experience with anxiety.

When approaching the style of visual language used for the illustrated collage, I gathered inspiration from a variety of collage illustrators and various genres. However, my work is very similar to that of surrealism collage. The theme of anxiety and the character’s shadow added an element of mystery and grimness to the poetic style of metaphorical imagery. The colours white and black kept the dark undertone to the illustrations; this was complemented by the use of ink stains as background texture. The yellow-cream colour in the collage was intended to subconsciously communicate the uncanny and irrational disposition of the prominent figure who endures a multifaceted experience of anxiety. Regarding imagery, I conducted research surrounding symbolism and meaning across social, cultural, historical and theological contexts to select imagery that would appropriately and precisely communicate the themes and ideas that I aimed to portray through the collages. Many of the images I have included allude to Christian symbology and Roman/Greek mythology, as they are widely referential to human existence across cultures and are symbols that have withstood the test of time.