Arts based research

Boy doing tree activity
Arts based research methods can be very effective at capturing nuances of imagery and experience, particularly with children and other lesser-heard groups. I really enjoy working in interdisciplinary teams, and I have chosen three examples of interdisciplinary research projects: RESPECT 2021 – ongoing, VIP-CLEAR 2021 – ongoing, and Hidden Rivers and Waterways 2016-17.

RESPECT Racialised Experiences Project: Education, Children & Trust
The RESPECT project explored the experiences of racism on 10 – 11 year olds and the impact they feel it has on their wellbeing. In consultation with the team, drawn from researchers specialising in psychology, education and race, I designed a body mapping activity to explore how external events can affect us internally.

Body mapping to explore impact of external events.

Body mapping to explore the internal impact of external events.


As well as creating a tool kit for trainee teachers we have also produced a book called If Racism Vanished for a Day.
If Racism Vanished for a Day - Front Cover
Hard copies of the book are available – please get in touch via the contact page.
You can read the digital version here.

Comments from participants
‘I’ve loved working on this project, It has been really inspirational because I have realized that racism isn’t talked about enough and all that racism is till very prevalent in the modern world.’

‘It was very fun and exciting and it brought me lots of joy. I enjoyed the drawings and being able to express myself through the drawings. I think it’s very good to talk about racism.’

‘I really enjoyed the drawing more than the writing because I got to express myself more. Writing is more complicated’.

‘This project was very fun and I really enjoyed it. My favourite part was the drawing because it’s easier to express my feelings through drawings.’

‘I felt as if I could express what I really want to say without hesitation. Being able to make a book to raise awareness on racism and how it should not be tolerated. Being able to be an illustrator in the book. I could be a part of a great community who raise awareness of racism. Thank U.’

Find out more about RESPECT here.

VOICES IN A PANDEMIC – Children’s Lockdown Experieneces Applied to Recovery (VIP-CLEAR)
I am currently working as an artist-researcher with an interdisciplinary team from UWE on AHRC-funded, VIP-CLEAR: Voices in a Pandemic: Children’s Lockdown Experiences Applied to Recovery. Our research explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on the learning, development, health and wellbeing of 3 to 11 year olds living in disadvantaged areas of Bristol.

Taking a creative approach can allow participants to express things in their own way, and I aimed to design accessible and enjoyable sessions, not only so that participants had a good time, but so they also stayed engaged with the research process over the longer term.
Creative diary activities
Our processes had to work effectively in and out of lockdown restrictions and the three phases of creative activity shifted between online and face-to-face, first-hand and second-hand, digital and hardcopy. We also engaged staff and parents in some of the creative activities to gain a contextualised view of the children’s experiences. The COVID restrictions were very restrictive for children, so it was particularly important that our demands on participants should not feel formal, repetitive or boring, or introduce any additional stress into their lives.

In consultation with the team, I designed and delivered a range of creative sessions to enable children to express their worldviews, perceptions and experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, and what their hopes and ambitions were for the future.

Deep mapping

Deep mapping – what does your world look like at the moment?

Photo elicitation

Photo elicitation – what do these images mean to you and what is missing?

Trees of hope and ambition

Trees of hope and ambition – what support do you need for these things to happen?

Comments from participants
‘It was exciting to do more art. It was exciting to do something new in Year 5. It felt important because it’s talking about what we did in lockdown.’

‘It was lots of fun. I liked the bit where we added things to the maps.’

“Luci looked like a normal person but is an artist. Her work is very interesting and made us motivated to do more art.’
Tree metaphor
We created a picture book called Learning to live with Fog Monsters based on our research findings, to help support children in future social shocks. The story begins with a siren, warning about a risk that you cannot see or hear, but that changes everything – the Fog Monsters. It follows Layla and Arlo as they adjust to this huge upheaval in their lives and discover ways to cope, adapt and and hope.

Front cover

I drew the images many times in pencil until I was happy with them. Then I put each one on the light box and traced over them in ink. I then scanned that image onto my computer and coloured each one digitally. The text is embedded in the images, sometimes taking on the shape of something relevant to the story.
Learning to live with Fog Monsters
What the young people say:
‘I really liked it because they’re doing something hopeful and not giving up.’
‘I found it intriguing and want to know more.’

Hard copies of the book are available – please get in touch via the contact page.
You can read the digital version here.

Find out more about VIP:CLEAR here.

I worked as the commissioned artist on this strand of the AHRC funded Towards hydrocitizenship. Connecting communities with and through interdependent multiple water issues (2014-2017). The research took an innovative and multidisciplinary approach to intergenerational arts-based research and my role was engage communities in creative conversations about water.

I ran deep mapping sessions with schoolchildren to explore the potential of daylighting their local rivers, Colliters Brook and the Malago.
Working with groups of older people, I collected their stories about the rivers – and the 1968 flood in particular – into a book, which I illustrated.
Tin bathWheelbarrow of cigarettes

I made an interactive account of the project that you can visit here.

Other outputs were several conference presentations, an exhibition, and:
2020 ‘Reweaving urban water-community relations: creative, participatory river ‘daylighting’ and local hydrocitizenship’ Lindsey McEwen, Luci Gorell Barnes, Iain Biggs and Katherine Phillips in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. and a book chapter.
Here is a link to the paper
2019 ‘Voicing waters: (co-)creative reflections on sound, water, conversations and hydrocitizenship’ Owain Jones, Luci Gorell Barnes and Antony Lyons in Doughty, K.; Duffy, M. & Harada, T. (Eds), Elgar.
Here is a link to the book

For a more detailed account of Hidden waterways and daylighting and the three other research strands you can click onto the Water City