Directed studies – embodied storytelling

My directed studies proposal outline my research description and goals.


  • See whether new insights can immerge on the process of storytelling
  • See what feelings or emotional state animators are left with after experiencing an embodiment workshop

Beginning my research

I began my researching with these keywords and search terms

  • spatial cognition
  • storyboarding
  • modelling
  • digital storyboarding

Traditional Storyboarding

Disney is credited to have invented storyboarding animation in the 1930’s. Their animator Webb Smith would draw scenes on a piece of paper and pin them individually on a bulletin board.

Today, it’s evolved to the digital format as well.

I had to briefly learn what we already know about the typical method of storyboarding. In short. It’s not all that typical!

This video summarizes the various methods used in traditional paper storyboarding and contemporary methods to storyboard.

From resources provided by professor Darren Brereton, the process of storyboarding seems:

  • Collaborative
  • Iterative
  • A strong guiding map for cinematography, shooting, movement in a scene, actor cues and elements in a scene.
  • Square storyboards are quick, which is necessary for the quick production line
  • initial roadmap for animators
  • For Digital Presentations, boards are scanned and presented
  • they’re pitched to directors, writers, the crew
  • it’s often described as nerwriting
  • theres some performance by the animator, it’s fun
  • props: a long stick is used to guide viewers through the boards

Storyboarding is used as a process to quickly visualized a story. But what would be the benefit to slow down story visualization.

What elements do you need to make a story? Would I want my storyboard artist to write the story

What is the Commercial animation pipeline?? **ASK DARREN**

The pros of corkboard storyboarding is:

  • it’s iterative
  • is quick to produce and at low cost
  • there are little limitation of what you can draw within the storyboard

Source 1

Source 2 (animation series)

The production line – storyboard animation

Though there is no one-way of doing this, there is a general production line to help the step-by-step animation process:

  • Gathering information, usually reserved when for when you work with a client. A Creative Brief is sometimes made. This can be a collaborative process with writers and the director and studio or client.
  • Writers: Concept brainstorm and script
  • storyboard artist rough animation, to;
  • Voiceover (if necessary), to;
  • Revision Artist to,
  • Storyboards to illustrators
  • Animatics

Animating production for series that need to churn out stories needs to be quick and streamlined. So when would we want to slow down the process? Maybe for feature films, or when filming in a three-dimensional space.

  • Blender/Unity
  • Puppetry
  • theatre
  • dance
  • stop-motion 3D spaces: Stop-motion, CG animation sequences

Below are examples of future tools for storytelling that can help the creative process of storyboard artists.

Additional tools for storytelling



  • Embodied practice


  • Of these characters are not repeats, it’s not easy making a multitude of them (quick production line issues)

Three-dimensional computer engines

Blocking and creating movement in the digital environment your story is being held.


  • ideal for pre-fabricated stories


  • a bit more time consuming

Storyboarding can include people who don’t have traditional knowledge and capacity around making storyboards. we should include them to help give storyboard artists insights not only on the research or subject at hand, but on what the storyboard artists would chose to focus on in the story – what is more visually important and when.

More benefits to storyboarding

We can expand storyboarding to the field of science and social sciences. the storyboarding net are these peer-review articles. A few examples below:

A storyboarding approach to train school mental health providers and paraprofessionals in the delivery of a strengths‐based program for Latinx families affected by maternal depression, by Valdez, Carmen R.; Wagner, Kevin M.; Stumpf, Aaron; Saucedo, Martha. American journal of community psychology, 09/2022, Volume 70, Issue 1-2

Reimagining digital health education: Reflections on the possibilities of the storyboarding method by Lupton, Deborah; Leahy, Deana Health education journal, 10/2019, Volume 78, Issue 6

Using Storyboarding Pedagogy to Promote Learning in a Distance Education Program by Casida, Deborah; VanderMolen, Julia The Journal of nursing education, 05/2018, Volume 57, Issue 5

Setting intentions – Indigenous intention setting

I’m interesting in looking at indigenous principles of storytelling as a way to guide my workshop design. I believe that by setting a personal intention, it will help guide the development and shape of the workshop

– It’s not about knowing the story by heart, it about allowing the story to affect you and your soul at a cellular level. It not about bringing more attention to the brain, but allowing the mind of the body to guide the storytelling design.

– To empower participants into taking the time and space to help them embody their practice

– to treat your expression of the storytelling process not as literal or most proximate to the “best”, but as a true interpretation of your embodied expression.

So much of workshops are designed linearly. it would be interesting to see how I can make workshop designs a bit more iterave, just like the research thesis process.

I’d like to apply this idea to when I share the story.

Spatial design ideologies: narrative structure

Exploring the narrative structure using the playground metaphor. this means creating an environment that invites the idea of playful behaviour, but in structure in a way that players can weave themselves in and out, can take breaks, fully engage with other players, and step our and in without much impediment.

What does embodied practice mean?

Background to the story

I’ve chosen to write a story of Wesakchak. Also known as Weesagechack, Wisakedjak, Weesaa-geechaak, and so on… There are innumerable stories about the Trickster, and as Thomson Highway puts it, there are many versions of a trickster in indigenous cultures across Turtle Island.

A version of Wesachejak lives across many cultures. The trickster is known as Nannubush by the Anishinaabe, Naabe by the Blackfoot, and the list goes on. He can change in whatever shape he chooses, he likes to make mischef, adventure, he like to play tricks on the trees, the animals and even the people. So, it is said that if you ever cross paths with the trickster, it’s wise to offer tobacco.

My story is an amalgamation of a few tales. Thomson Highway’s Laughing with the Trickster, Joyce Clouston’s Journey from Fisher River: A Celebration of the Spirituality of a People through the Life of Stan McKey (whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet), and Cosmologist/science education Wilfred Buck, who teaches Lakota, Cree and Anishinaabe stories of the constellations. He shares the story of Wesakchack in the stars.

Thomson highway argues that the english language is too serious to describe how these stories helped us prevail through terror, hunger, starvation, prospect of death, illness, depression. the relationship between us, animals and nature was strong, the lines were blurred, especially at a time where Christianity’s less-humorous God came to our shores and pressed his foot on the scale. (p.96)

The trickster lives in our subconscious, shared psyche. There are many iterations across every single indigenous nations And it’s with the same magic that kept him alive that I will be using to run my group.

The trickster is here on this planet is so many forms to remind us, as Highway puts it, that if we don’t laugh, we’ll die, that our existence on planet earth is not to suffer or wallow in pain or shame (84).

The story

Every culture and every person in the northern hemisphere saw the same star at night, and each person had their own connection to the cosmos. We see Wesakcheak up in the sky when the stars align in winter. They can be seen pointing at the seven sisters, known as the Pleiades star cluster, with their hips adorned with the stars of Orion’s belt.

Wesakchak can change in whichever shape they please. One of the first to be blessed on this land by the great spirit, they are a natural adventurer, and like to cause mischief. He likes to involve, interject, to roar with laughter. And they like to play tricks on people only to get themself hopelessly entangled in their own web of troubles.

Known also as the Trickster, Nannubush, Naabe, Iktomi, and many other names across the land. He is ubiquitous, all existing, and within all of us. The Trickster can even be a Bugs Bunny, a Wile E. Coyote, or a Charlie Chaplin-type, if you think about it. Wesakchak finds their way across all cultures, and yet they certainly like to visit the animals, trees! and people most as they’re milling about their business.

Here is one story of Wesakchak told by my friend Stan McKay. One day on the land, the animals got together and had a meeting. They said to each other, we have to do something. The winters are very cold here and our coats are not warm enough. Maybe we should ask Wesakcheak to see if they can help us. Wesakcheak heard nearby. They proclaimed with confidence: “Okay, I’ll make warmer coats for you and I’ll let you know when I have them ready so that you can come and get them.” 

One of the things he did was change some of the coats of the animals to winter, for example, the rabbit’s summer coat is brown. So he made a white coat for him. The same was true of the Arctic fox, and so on. All these animals got different coats. 

The moose however, was on his way to get his winter coat when he began crossing an interesting pond. What he saw under his hooves was a plant in the water that he particularly likes. He had to stop and eat. It was so plentiful. But as the day went by, he didn’t realize how quickly time had passed. He looked up and noticed it was getting darker. And cold! 

The moose jumped up from his daze and went to Wesakcheak to get his coat. Once there, Wesakcheak looked up at him and said: “I’m sorry. There’s only one coat left that is a winter coat. I can’t do any more for you now. I don’t have any more time to work on anything else and that’s the one thing that was meant for you. You’ll have to take it.”

So the Moose got the coat. But it was big, so big, that it just hung loose. That’s why the moose has a coat that hangs loose over his shoulders and especially below the neck. He was late and he didn’t get the right fit.

The workshop – steps

The workshop was test-runed with my Studio graduate classmates.

Location: Aboriginal gathering space or the Everet space, ECUAD


Warm up exercises
– out of body movements
Sharing the story
– telling the story, participants laying down, closing their eyes
– puppetry (things that d
– a quick iteration (out of the mind body)
Post-activity reflectionmindfulness meditation + closing
Email questionnaire afterwards


things that don’t require a complicated learning curve. It’s also important that the puppet designs are ambiguous so to not steer the storytelling away from their design.

Acting out the scenes

Dancing like the characters

  • I wouldn’t give the participants time to think what “mischievous” “humorous” or “prideful” looks like.

The only time for thinking is when you’re required to learn something new.


The storyboarding process is inspired by free-form writing. An activity organized during my dance dance, vegitation! workshop in February.

Questionnaire: I want to email post workshop, because I understand that the process of seriously answering questions can zap us out of our embodied practice. It’s also an opportunity to see the residual aspects of the story and experience that come to surface for the participants.


You sure about that?


Good, message me!


Will you fuck me tonight?


A process review

This is the beginning of my process review. It is a review of my thesis work and explorations from fall 2022 term all the way to March 2023.

There is an erray of notes from ECUAD faculty members, personal notes, comments from my peers during peer review, and final observations.

Peer review

This peer review occurred in March 3rd, 2023. This is my second peer review, which occurs in every studio class at ECUAD.

It’s an opportunity for students to share their studio process and get feedback on your process from your peers.

For my peer review, I laid out a mindmap in class, representing the current relationship between key ideas for my thesis.

I discussed my studio exploration with students while pointing to some of the cards on the floor, and encouraged students to choose certain cards as points of interest for dialogic conversation.

I laid objects, material and past projects around the cards. Things like my wooden puzzle piece, my beaded poppy, my explorations (D&D and improvisation), my circle/fish animation, the Deceiviest game, my gift-giving, and vulnerable story-building workshop. Key readings of interests were laid out.

Readings includes some highlights. But a complete list of my readings can be found here.


Incorporating blurred lines


passing down


authentic selves
no inhibitions
closer to self


failing forward
improvising stories


Space between
Inherent value
playground metaphor
your own way
tuning to your own energy
coming to self

My overall impression was that it went well, but that students needed more detail of my process work for each of my projects.


Below are feedback sessions from my classmates, as well as Connie Watts from the Aboriginal Gathering Place, and Louise.

Indigenous perspective – Connie Watts

Connie noticed two distinct areas from the get-go – areas of self (Self + Indigeneity), and tools/methods (narrative, stories, playful), which are used to express one’s self. Already I was feeling relief from talking with her.

I know that I also envy people who are naturally talented at visualizing their process through storytelling. I guess it’s because they’re able to find a way to engage the audience and help them understand why it matters.

Connie mentioned that perhaps my method of story engaging is when I’m implicating my participants in my design, encouraging them to embody the experience. My gift might be to help people express in their own way.

From a personal perspective, having people understand me feels like a basic human need.

If I find a way to involve my audience in my design process through embodiment, I can share my way and my story with them.

Connie being the ever-seeing auntie that she is, cut straight to it. I talk about indigeneity but I don’t feel comfortable owning it. That’s true.

She saw that I was tepid about owning my indigeneity. If I spend time letting go of all this work, I can work on accepting my point of view, owning it. that can start, in part, by stepping foot on Fisher River.

To own it, she recommends spending a month in Fisher River, being in the space, giving depth to who I am and my viewpoints. To just be in those spaces, she said. there will be a lot coming out of that.

She noted that I had a powerful presence, and that I was in a really great place in my research. She applauded me for where I was at.

Student feedback

After laying our my mind-map, I answered questions about what the workshop was about (the dance dance vegetation, and what I loved. It make sense since we didn’t get to talk about it much afterwards.


I was asked whether I was feeling playful while I was designing playful experiences. I explained that I get sparks of excitement when people deviate, how something should work and break something apart. As well as how people feel within the structure.

While I’m making, I get excited about discerning new things and seeing how I can incorporate it. I’m seeking personal enjoying rather than a sustained sense of playfulness. For example I didn’t feel playful when making my large mind-map.


Jade asked whether joy need to feel present when people are playful, and what get in the way of long-form duration of playfulness. Could exploring what stops playfulness. I said that i preferred the end-result experience.

This is where the playground metaphor comes in. Kids are coming in and out of a playful experience, got to a fence, play with friends, acti wild on the monkey bars, play pretend at the top of the climbing ladder. It’s where people can come in and our of a playful environment.

Creating a playground of various experiences, and seeing what people are left with, is interesting to me. What people are left with afterwards is what shapes our experience. I believe that’s more physical than it can be reasoned.


Diego though it was interesting to look at how I tried expressing and visualizing more ephemeral works. I appreciate how I’m exploring experiences.

Half of my work are things that can’t be put into words (embodying) and the other half can be put into words (story-telling and making).

He noted that there are a multitude of feelings that comes from vulnerable experiences. Tangent feelings.

I wonder whether I should break down the different tangent feelings for people to understand.

He recommended how we can have a final product of people expressing themselves in their stories. A final expression by participants, like a story, or their expressive feedback.


Howsem mentioned the politics of storytelling, and whether I would like to explore this more. I mentioned my interest in seeing how indigenous participants would create stories.


Why playfulness? and what is the value of it?

It’s being able to express who you are, self-expression through playfulness, it’s capacity through autonomy, to get closer to who you are, or a compass that steers you to a true north star.

Playfulness a manifestation of the self.


What key words in my mindmap go together? I wasn’t sure. of the top of my head, there were relationships between embodying things, connections and creating space. Those seem important to explore more. Introspection and interopsection.


Eden thought that the map wasn’t specific enough. That when I was talking, I gave much more than what was written down. She recommended connecting things and finding the right words, like how self-expression is different than playful, maybe self-expression is more important or overarching. It would be nice to have specific words to understand my thesis and what I’m focusing on.

I agree that some words are more important, but the mindmap are where these words find themselves in. their house, so to speak.

Refining could lead me to anchor points, said Sahil. Do some things make more sense in some sections?


Eden also recommended mapping out the projects and overlaying the blue card keywords on the map. it will be helpful for finding big things.

I now appreciate that my projects are meant to be explorations and an exploration of what is important and interesting to me. Students in class are trying to unlearn the tidy process that was drilled into them. The mindmap was a “landscape of my thoughts,” as Louise said, a softer tone rather than definitive communication of my work. the softer tone intended to be points of interrogation rather than working within a definitive framework.


During my peer review, Louise epressed her appreciated the blurred line. she appreciated how much I articulated ideas. the groups radiate, and blur together with perhaps a core of indigeneity. and therefore can be rearranged. She made a note to class that we don’t need to come to a definition of things, she prefers the blurred lines. I made so many good projects that’s been affected by this exploration principle.

Refining could lead to stronger center points or key words, by engaging more with the mindmap.

She mentioned that indigenous politics of long-form story-making can be its own thesis. Embodying practices for animators can be a thesis project. All this extra content comes up and percolates, come up through the work.

We don’t need to figure everything out. So she thinks is very good in terms of a theoretical and conceptual framework. The choosing of right words will come up in the process in the next year and the half.


During our one on one, she recommended looking at other aspects of storytelling, and how story can be told.

She noted that an interesting thesis exploration could be: How we become a better storyteller by embodying out storytelling practice.

For my interim thesis, I should have three to four readings on my key topics (or plan to) have these key readings.


After reviewing my mindmap, and reading my notes and recording from my peer review, I wrote down a few notes of reflection.

Not everyone is going to be supporting and understanding of my process, and that’s okay.

A short lift of what I wanted for he future
lists of what I enjoyed the most, and the least

What I’ve been enjoying the most…

  • Personal discovery and development, The point of be being at school is to look at my interest and do self-exploration.
  • I also miss making, but I’m unsure how that will tie into my research.
  • Learning new techniques in narrative design
  • Most excited reading is about Esther Perrel’s eroticisms of life.
  • Seeing participants have fun
  • Working with animators, makers and within a film or set production line.
  • Encouraging people to embody feelings and expressing them, rather than rationalizing them.
  • Seeing how people deviate from the structure and find playful expressions of it
  • exploring embodied storytelling, and the ephemeral, unique nature of storytelling.

… and enjoying the least

  • defining my indigeneity… somehow comes up a lot in my reflections
  • creating workshops (enjoy conducting them)
  • not forcing “connection” and “community” as keywords
  • How academic research, though necessary in my work, breathes no life in making and doing.

Chat with Connie

With regards to my indigeneity, I have a hard time being vulnerable about it, and I see how that totally fits into the self/centre that Connie was arguing for. Why am I infusing indigeneity in my research? Because it’s overlooked in western research? Please. It’s to reconnect with myself, with ancestors who get lost. It’s to feel through the generations, for all my family that was removed and uprooted from home. From French migrants, Sottish settlers, to the Crees.

connecting through embodying is connecting to what is lost. To finding that lost love, affection with ourselves as much with others.

With regards to connecting with myself, I find that in-part, connecting with the community and the land might be cathartic. I also feel like I don’t want to push aside of overshadow the relationship (and the beauty in it) with my other ancestors. The French and Scottish ancestry.

Next steps

Keywords of interest
  • Storytelling
  • Embodiment
  • Story-making
  • Spatial design (the importance of intention setting before beginning the story-making practice) + Designing Narrative structure for people to explore self-led story-making
  • Indigenous principles of storytelling
  • playful exercises/games for embodiment
  • Self-expression; empowerment, deviance
Defining “Why does it matter”

It’s time for me to also look at what aliveness, coming to/true expression of yourself, connection with others, play and engagement really means. in particular, looking at it outside of my own mind, and dabbling into the literature, into my observations, and including what these mean for me.

As well, why does telling stories matter, why does creating a space for storytelling matter?

Integrating myself in my work

That last past, what it means for me, really has to come from the part of putting the “Self” bubble in the center of my work. I want to explore what it might mean if I uncovered my self in my work.

  • What have I discovered around narrative design and structure spaces for people to structure their own stories?
  • Reading “storyteller tactics”
  • How can I visualized my Self in the center of everything that I do? Why is that important, how would I describe that?
  • what is my role? am I more of a story-navigator, the winds in the sails as opposed to the direction of the ship.
More reading
  • Femininity and storytelling: I am curious to see whether femininity is another way to help us embody our work. Running with the wolves is a great examples of story and embodiment.

Reaffirm the knowledge I have, my voice, empowerment practices, and my connection too.

Embodiment practices and their effects. Looking into theatre, design bodystorming techniques, acting,

Completing the workshop

The workshop (details please**) is the final activity that I’ll be organizing. finding ways to bring about action in our workshops would be great.

Letting go

I was feeling adversarial when I received feedback from students. Seeing it as advice, that not everyone will understand or resonate with my work. That it is a process, not always clear or communicative, and that’s more than okay.


Dance dance, vegitation!

I was determined to get us moving.

It’s bit ironic, thinking up a plan that would get people burstling with energy while my hips sunk lower than my knees sitting in Louise’s comphy woven lounge chair. Her warm yellow table light and oblong floor lamp creative a space of calm that let my eye wander around to arranged student-made textiles, natural materials and curated items that have trickled inter her space. Letting my imagination wander helped us think up ideas for my next studio prompt.

“What if all danced in class,” she asked.

Her suggestion came from from a story my mother shared through her research in social participation for the elderly under the prism of cultural mediation.

(By the way, at 62, she’s completing her Ph.D in Gerontology at the University of Sherbrooke. No shame. I’ll brag about her.)

What if I organized a garden dance? Where I guided people got out of their heads and embodied a relationship with objects.

I elabored further this idea.

I also wanted to explore story vulnerability, storywriting and spacial design.

What if after the dance, participants would write a story, and then after feeling relaxed, loose and introspective, we can share stories that has us feel vulnerable with one another?


At this stage of my eploratory work, I’m interested in looking at the inherent benefits of playful behaviour. Specifically:

To discover the value in exploring whether participants can progressively approach a state of comfortable vulnerability and connection through playful behaviour and story-sharing.


Here we go!

I planned to explore this through a series of progressive exercises over the course of approximately 30 minutes.

1. Visualisation would ground participants and experience feelings and emotions in a space without being in it.

2. The interpretive dance encouraged playful connection with themselves and with their peers.

3. Free-form writing encouraged creativity and introspection.

4. A sharing circle would emulate a safe space for participants to get honest with one another by sharing an experience of personal vulnerability.

Afterwards, participants are invited to fill out a short survey to list their preferences.


Participants were my studio classmates (11 overall), our teacher Louise, and myself. The activity occurred at 1 PM in classroom C3235 at Emily Carr

My hunches

It’s not a strech to say that movement + guided improvisation = more joy and playfulness. There are other factors that have to come into play of course, like a sense of security from participants: familiarity with classmates, a trust in their guide and insight on my exploration.

I think there is little doubt that chosen play helps with human development. I am curious to see whether it helps strengthen a space for vulnerability and honesty.

Setting up

After verbally explaining the activities and their valid choice to not participate, they consented by not leaving the room.

Garden dance

Some were not comfortable having photos taken. We agreed that I would film from below the neck.

I forgot to do that. I got swept up in the dance. Using the power of presence and mindfulness, Louise remembered and took photos instead.


In a circle, I led students through a short guided visualization. I started by grounding the group by asking them to do three breaths cycles, and gently close our eyes:

Picture a garden. What do you see in your garden? What are your feet touching? Do you see any vegetables, any fruit trees? Is your garden wide, or do you see edges? What does the air feel like on your skin? What does it smell like? And what do you see in the sky, are there clouds, is it sunny? Do you hear any sounds?

I then asked to take three deeps breaths, and slowly return to our present space.

Participants shared their visualisations. Some were back to their childhood homes, some up in the sky, others guided by things they knew to be in a garden.

I announced to the group that we would dance for the next five minutes.

How would a mango roll? Is it low to the ground? A flower! Start from the seed and slowly sprout upward! A waterfall travels through the room rapidly! How light is our cloud? Wispy, or big and proud? How would a fence behave? Arms wide, stiff, protective? Platers playing badminton! Look into your sky! Where does the birdie go?

It’s a bird! It’s a cloud! It’s a plum tree! It’s a juicy mango! people were spread around the room, taking up space thanks to my prompts and sometimes looking for direction thanks to my leading.

This music playlist ran throughout the activity! From dancing, to writing, to the sharing circle, and lastly, the survey.

Pretty cool, right?

Free-form writing: justifying the juicy plum butt

Slowing things down, I gathered participants around a table. We each proceeded to write free-form stories based on a object we danced as. We wrote for up to seven minutes.

Free-form writing is when you write whatever comes to mind, uninterrupted. Examples are:

– people wrote playful stories

– Expressions of animism in stories

– associating human characteristics to objects in nature: feelings of joy, loneliness

– appreication for living things in the garden

– Seeing relationship between chosen thing and other living things

– some objects finding themselves in the environment that we danced in.

– a few cloud stories, maybe because it was one of the past objects we danced as.

I’m moved by people’s creativity!

I’m aware thought, that my prompts on paper was not written the way I said it. Se below for examples.

The first story is a lovely poem about plums. I personally enjoyed that one the most.

Embarrassing story-sharing

We all sat in a circle. The intention was to create a space for people to feel vulnerable but safe. I started by sharing am embarrassing stories of my own. I stipulated that you can share an embarrassing stories or share a story that inspires you based on something that was shared.

It was difficult for people to bring up embarrassing stories, either because these stories were soften over time, because it’s hard to recall, or because there are few moments where we do get embarrassed.

People weren’t necessarily expressing their empathy when others shared their stories. some looked visibly awkward, the class began more quiet, more tepidly than in the previous two activities.

After ten minutes or so, I ended the conversation early, before it was getting good, to move towards my last activity.

Survey says…

The survey had one open-ended question and one question asking to rank activities from most to least enjoyable. To keep things cute and light, a drawing was included (as well on the free-form writing page).

I looked over participant’s surveys answers and had a quick feedback after the activity finished.

The activity lasted for 45 minutes, 15-minutes longer than intended.

Thanks to the initial dancing they felt lighter and a sense of ease when free-form writing. Enjoying being in the space of their garden

Of note, some students expressed appreciation for how each activity worked in succession of the previous one.

Participants ranked dance as their favourite activity (visualization would have been part of this), Second, story writing. Third, sharing circle.

Without a detailed survey response, I can only stipulate from their active participation that participants felt comfortable and enjoyed aspects of the activity.

Initial reflections

One classmate said they hadn’t danced in three years. I’m glad I got them to shake!

I enjoyed acting as a guide. Any for the most part. Participants enjoyed the playful aspect of the workshop. The end of the workshop needed more… workshopping.

I needed to organize more time for the end. Giving more time is better than less.

I also wasn’t able to write down my initial reflections, but I was keenly aware of disappointment. I depend a little too much on feedback to determine its worth.

Participant behaviour

A next step would be to do more readings to support the ideas and logic behind my design. Some of these activities stemmed from intuition and conversation with my peers.

My surveys will have to include questions around what participants preferred the most, a little, and the least.

I was moving students forward in the process rather than have to progress organically. More people would have shared with time.

Vulnerability, a game of time and open conversation

Anecdotally, professor Bonne Zabolotney mentioned off-hand that designers enjoy getting together to discuss their design failure moments, as an expression of vulnerability. Could participants feel more comfortable sharing professional failures over personal ones?

Some of my participants like the activity, while others the power of feeling embarrassment as a group, rather than by ourselves. While others expressed discomfort on my chosen topic on vulnerability.

I carried an idea of a talking circle in my design inquiry. I hadn’t considered this previous distinction, and whether people who haven’t done a typical talking circle (all my non-indigenous classmates) would prefer the former over the latter.

I would have like to facilitate the sharing circle exercise for longer. Perhaps, I’d also add questions that helped people progressively get to know each other more.

Importantly, I recognize that the more serious we get, the less playful it becomes. I’d rather keep attention to the activity of play.

Going forward, the question would be whether it’s necessary to talk about difficult things in a playful way? I don’t think I want to necessarily help people work through difficulties through play. I want to help people feel more playful in their lives.


I liked the Free-form writing the most because I got to continue with my flow of creativity without feeling self-conscious or worrying too much about quickly facilitating a dance for the people around me. Dancing was the third because it allowed me to feel silly in front of my classmates. Third was the visualization at the beginning, because it gave me an opportunity to centre. Fourth is the sharing circle, because I didn’t feel like I got participants to click quickly enough.

Without asking participants why, my guess is that it’s because people weren’t naturally sharing and being playful with one another yet. We didn’t spend enough time getting the ball rolling with the sharing circle activity because I cut it short, for the sake of time. It last for a duration of 10 minutes.

Being specific

Defining what I specifically plan to do with my photos might convince more classmates to get their photos taken.

This was also an example of whether verbal consent and communication is necessary. In other words, why is it okay to take photos of people?

I didn’t spend enough time on thinking of the best survey questions to ask because the intention of the workshop want crystal clear to me. Going forward, a defined yet flexible intention will better act as a compass for the rest of my planning.

Looking up research on survey questions tips and tricks would be great, too.


Overall, I enjoyed the experience and see myself doing another version of the workshop in the future.


Exploration: community of care

I was tired. In mid-January, I was just returning from my month-long trip from the east coast of Canada. It wasn’t the flights or travel time that drained me, but the feeling of leaving people you love behind.

I already missed connection and mourned the potential of settling building a home and community our in the east.

As I’m turning 30 this year, I realized how much more I care about this than I did in my early ’20s.

This was extra luggage I didn’t leave at baggage claim when I got to Vancouver. I carried it into my second Master’s term at ECUAD.

Current state of practice

Up until recently, I struggled to decide on which exploratory direction to go towards. Louise Saint-Pierre, our Studio professor and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Design + Dynamic Media (DDM) at ECUAD, kindly heard me as I discussed my how my interests were crashing with my sense of personal grief.

For this term, our studio consists of five project. We explore and idea over the span of two weeks. Then, we discuss it in class.

This week, however, I was getting my bearings.

My current practice is to explore how people feel playful, and what kind of circumstances are created to enable playful experiences. Within this, an exploration of spatial design is building, alongside an exploration of non-linear narrative design, indigenous sharing circles, humour, deviance and vulnerability.

These are some of my key “high concept” ideas.

I brainstormed with both my supervisor, Manuhuia Barcham, and Louise. It was clear that no matter my hope, I had to respect my desire for connection -with self and with loved ones – and see how that plays into play.

I decided to focus on community.


It reminds me of the intention I set for myself before coming to Vancouver. That I would learn, yes, But that I would learn differently.

I could push through and write a thesis, sure. But I intend to learn alongside myself.

This might sound strange, but my education doesn’t come before my wellbeing.

Creating a space for empathy and sharing is a continual practice that I lived by while I was studying in the Aboriginal Visual Arts program at NBCCD (now called Wabanaki Visual Arts).

“A Community of Care, Julie,” Louise said.

She was right. It was time to set the table, and offwer.

Feeding the heart, feeding the mind

I made breakfast muffins for classmates with the intention of placing kind messages in them. Warm apples, pecans, carrots, as they’d tear open, a joke or sparkling anecdote written on parchment paper would pop out.

These muffins would be shared as the term was beginning, as a way to bring us students out of their heads and into the supportive, intentional space set forward. I help me set an intention going forward, too.

I bought a toxic-free pen and paper, but there was to guarantee that the writing would stay on the parchment paper, nor that a Sharpie would not bleed into the newly baked batch of cakes. This is all part of Louise’s emphasis on experimentation, no to aim for a perfected final piece.

I made gifts for people because I don’t believe in separating who we are from the task in front of us. Rather, I ask, how do we consciously incorporate our state of mind in our work? People who experience waves of chronic pain and illness, hormonal shifts and energy depletions might do this without knowing.

This knowing, awareness and intention-setting, is this Shordinger’s cat energy I brought to my origami lotus flowers. These too were shared with my class. Each had a hidden message inside. Classmates were only told that such messages held good intentions. If they risk opening it, and the flower exists no more, but the message can be read verbatim. Or, hold the flower in sight, in your heart, and feel the good intention within you.

This was my way of respecting my path towards the Dharma: sending my wish and my intention to classmates. I remind myself that before we begin, we must take time to connect.


The Inquiry

Below is my detailed process behind exploring playfulness and storytelling for The Inquiry, my fourth and final prompt for Studio I at Emily Carr University.

This prompt was completed over the span of five week. Not every day, of course.

Initial research about playfulness

Ludic acronym for play

The ludic system is an attempt to create a measurable framework for play. It is a well-known framework for understanding playful behaviour. Bill Gaver et. al. (2004), suggest three guidelines for creating and observing ludic activities.

1. Promote curiosity, exploration and reflection

In order for play to happen there needs to be an element of uncertainty and discovery. People need to be allowed to explore, tamper with things and figure them out for themselves.

2. De-emphasize the pursuit of external goal

Create with playfulness first. Interestingly, if a system can easily be used to achieve practical tasks, this will actually distract from the possibilities it offers for more playful engagement. This means that if you design an app which is primarily a museum guide, it will be mainly used for this purpose. Any playful elements that might be included in the app will perhaps not even be noticed by its users.

3. Maintain openness and ambiguity

If there is too much structure or predefined meaning to an activity or a design, it will inevitably suppress play. If we want people to engage playfully, there needs to be a certain amount of ambiguity and open-endedness to the design in terms of how people may interpret it and give it meaning.

The protective boundaries of play 

In his published research titled In Defence of a Magic Circle: the social, cultural and Mental Boundaries of Play (2014), Author Jaakko Stenros describes playfulness as a social contract agreed upon between players, which removes awkwardness or embarrassment. Because of this agreement. “Play has the potential to work as an alibi for players to try out new ways of being for a short period of time.”

So, one could say that playfulness includes:

  • A safety to act differently thanks to the boundaries of play
  • An alibi to try new ways of being

Miguel Sicart describes playfulness as:

  • “…a way of engaging with particular contexts and objects that is similar to play, but respects the purposes and goals of that object or context” (p.3). In other words, the capacity to use play outside the context of play; toys, the materialization of play. Sourced from Sicart’s book Beyond Choices: The Design of Ethical Gameplay (2013).

To put it more simply, play is a set of structured rules of a game that has a degree of competitiveness. Playfulness takes elements of play, but transcends the boundaries of a formal game, allowing us to use in places, objects that are highly contextualized. It allows a person to express themselves in their environment.

Defining non-linear narrative

It’s important to note that there are different interpretations of non-linear, depending on context. When looking at film and television scriptwriting, non-linear can mean jumping between a timeline. That’s not what I’m interested in!

I enjoyed reading Sylke Rene Meyer’s definition of spatial design. It fits within the the context of my work. In her published research Right, Left, High, Low Narrative strategies for Non-linear Storytelling, she defines special story design as:

  • Authors and designers deciding to make the formative creative decision by designing a narrative space, rather than writing a constructed story.

It means to look at things in a spatial, rather than linear way.

This would mean that for participants, it gives them the illusion that there are innumerable options to choose from, whereas in reality, the designer has built constrictions to the reality, enabling a certain number of possibilities.

This also means that the narrative is self-led. It is driven by the whim and desires of the participant.

Further space for exploration

So far in my research, I’ve realized that a majority of scholarly articles and discussions of adult play revolve around function. For example, to learn how to be playful in order to build stronger relationships or for one’s higher education. Playfulness is sometimes used as a tool for learning a language or computation. Although these are just a few examples, I’ve realized that my interest and curiosity lies in understanding our innate drive for playful expression. Being playful for the sake of it.

It’s me, hi! I’m the source, it’s me.

Here are some keywords of my own personal reflection on playfulness. I’ve taken these notes over the span of my first semester at Emily Carr University.

*Please note, the relative side of the words does not correspond to its frequency or importance. 

My initial thesis mind map also includes elements of play and non-linear storytelling. For my prompt, I decided to focus on these two only.

My initial questions

  • Does playful behaviour strengthen our relationship with each other and with ourselves?
  • What other feelings does playfulness elicit?
  • Is playfulness an essential part of life? If so, in what way?
  • How should playfulness be differentiated from play?
  • What’s so special about non-linear storytelling structure?
  • The good, the bad and the ugly, what are all the facets of experiencing playfulness?
  • What factors make playfulness easy and difficult to manifest?

My thesis queries

An initial list of a few thesis queries I’ve developed:

How does playfulness in a non-linear design help adults connect with themselves and with others?

How can we harness playfulness in spatial design to help adults create a sense of connection?

Are the benefits of adult playfulness easily translatable in a non-linear narrative?

Ready Player One: Creating the game

Because my research centers on the introspective experience of playfulness, it’s important that listeners not only understand play using a narrative but also able to reflect on their experience. This is why I decided to create a game!

The intent of the game is to explore:

whether a sense of playfulness can be manifested through uniquely imagined story structures led by participants. The structures would be created through improvisation, a sense of trust and safety, deception, subversive behaviour, and light competition.

I decided that the best approach would be to help my classmates experience the game and my thesis quest. Hopefully this would inform them and help me along with my work!

A few question I had from the start

  • Can I strike a balance between too little and too much direction and rules?
  • Will people primarily feel playful?
  • How will I effectively acquire feedback?
  • Will people feel a sense of connection with one another differently, less or the same after playing the game?
  • Will it suck?

Initial brainstorming for play

I wanted to create a game similar to the Stanley Parable. It’s a unique, narrative-driven, video gameplay design that explores the notion of free-will. Aside from being well-written and witty, this video game gives the player a multitude of directions and endings. You can choose to follow the predetermined path, or “your own”. You are Stanley, and you are not. There is a narrator, and there is an angry voice that always breaks the fourth wall.

There are 42 endings (very funny, I think this is why) in the “Ultra-Deluxe” remake of the 2011 game. However, every single choice, or deviation, is not left to chance – the game is highly scripted.

I planned on creating an in-person Stanley parable at school, encouraging students (as a group) to navigate the campus using a set of directions from me, the narrator, and having moments where they might deviate from my instructions.

There were elements of my initial query in this idea: subversion, improvisation, a sense of safety in exploration. This was all fun, until I had to plan the story and all the deviations by myself. This is a key element in narrative design: the reason why the player pursues this story beyond the idea that it just might be fun. The idea was scrapped.

I remembered Meyer’s spatial narrative design theory, and decided to try another tactic.

Creating the Deceiviest

Review of literature + game

I discussed with my classmate Siddant about a game where people would design the story first. I was inspired by Telestration ans Rory’s Story Cubes. We quickly came to the conclusion of a competitive game that combines these two.

While continuing my literature, I was strongly impressed by the Never Let me go (p.76) case study, conducted in the National Gallery of Denmark.

It was the designers’ attempt at incorporating a hybrid experience of a museum visit: both the social aspect of museum experiences with what is already associated with museums.

Participants engaged in immersive and creative play as the Avatar and the Controller:

“…The Controller is given the tools to spontaneously orchestrate an experience for the Avatar, taking place in real time in the museum. The system is designed as two connected web apps where only the Controller app has an interface. The interface consists of a menu with different prompts, questions or instructions that can be sent to the Avatar, who will receive them as pre-recorded voice messages. The Controller shares audio with the Avatar in order to keep track of how the experience is playing out. The shared audio is also used to emphasize intimacy and to create a shared space where the two participants can feel safe together.” (P.80)

It’s much more exciting than this. “Can you imagine being this,” might be one prompt. Then: “Now, imagine it’s staring right back at you.”

I found this chapter inspiring because the designers created a space for structured improvisation that was led by a sense of play. Their example showed a sense of trust building with partners, a practice of introspection (imagine being the mouse!) and an opportunity to not think critically of the art, but to simply be playful, in the moment. It is also an opportunity to build a personal experience with the museum (connection with the self and space) as well as an opportunity to explore the personal relationship (teasing, pushing social boundaries and each other).

Participants use the app in an open-ended way, leaving room for interpretation. Relinquishing their actions into someone they trust, and agency to manipulate the game in whichever way seen fit (very Ludic-approved).

Their playful game design made me think of excitement, low-risk, uncertainty, safety, play, improvising, self-expression, interpretation, social, subversive ideas. These values are what I want to emulate in my game!

It was also a new way for players to experience each other. A new framework of the mind, a new perspective of what the present has in front of them. Playfulness can elicit a quick way to find new appreciation for the present.

In their same research, Sicart wrote: “Play is not necessarily about having fun, it’s about opened ourselves to the immense variations of pleasure in the world”

Wow! Okay, Sicart! You have a new fan girl!

New perspectives

I learned in the Never Let me Go interactive play experience, play doesn’t necessarily have to elicit joy or a silly experience. 

I’ve learned that playfulness is much more than experiencing play, but about the joys of experiencing the plethora of pleasure in the world. It made me reflect on moments where people were being playful around me, and I wasn’t engaged. I would be worried instead about my relationship, upset at the break of the decorum, or moments of jealousy and envy. 

These experiences were of me being in my own head, of feelings of inadequacies. More deeply, they’re embedded in a lack of presence. When concerns pulling me out of enjoying the presence, does it makes it harder to be playful?

New questions

  • Do distractions ultimately stop us from feeling an overall sense of playfulness?
  • What encourages people to step outside of their heads and experience the pleasure of play?
  • Can mindfulness and meditations teach me a thing or two about living more frequently in a state of playfulness?
  • What kind of environments do we need to cohere the desire, or volunteerism of play?
  • Is playfulness a way to step away from suffering? Or another form of it! A new flavour or suffering. (Duncan Trussel)
  • If you had to be in a state of being, which is preferable? Is there a more preferable state of being?
  • Can introspection through playfulness help us reflect on ourselves?
  • Why isn’t there more systems that incorporate palyfulness? Maybe because playfulness can only be created from within? Can you design spaces that can manifest a state of playfulness?

Play testing – The Deceiviest

I created the game using lots of paper and adhesive book cover plastic. The print design was created on Canva.

For each game, there are five players. Each receives a dry erase marker, six image cubes, and a Deceiviest leaflet. The rules of the game are as follows:

An examples of the game in action

The first sentence was “The shepherd led the sheep and he used his cane but they all broke the wooden bridge walking over it.”

The final sentence was: “A man jumped off a plane with his cat in a sheep suit and rode a magic broom and crashed on train tracks.”

The workshop

I organized two separate groups of five players, one of whom played in both groups. The duration was a little over an hour. I also included music and some snacks to help put people in a sense of ease.

Above, photos of the first workshop. Afterwards, I conducted my short focus group.

Thankfully, the game functions!

Focus group – the questions

After we played one round of The Deceiviest, I asked people to privately write down:

The sensations/feelings they felt while playing the game, and;

When they felt most playful.

As a group, I ask everyone:

What they enjoyed about the game, and;

What they would improve.


At the end of the game, I briefly explained that I was exploring how to create an environment where playfulness can express itself in a narrative design led by people’s own storytelling. 

This is what I observered from people:

  • A varied rate of people understood the rules
  • Fun was had during the presentation of the story and in between drawing
  • Experienced fun by themselves and with others: verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Playful experience happening internally, when drawing, and shared together at the end
  • It’s structurally difficult for players to break down a sentence into three parts
  • The point system was redundant
  • The participants are known to me, and to each other, so it was easier for them to feel more trusting of their environment

My experience as a participant

  • I enjoyed the creative process, the environment, the people
  • Knowing people in new ways: I got to know people around me better thanks to this indirect form of communication

Disseminating information

A photo of participants self-reflective feedback on the first two questions.

Here is a word cloud of the focus group participants’ keywords when describing feelings they experienced while playing the game:

When asked when they felt mose playful, the similarities were enough so that I was able to divide their information into two groups:

The group discussion

Participants experience a sense of comfort thanks to the familiarity of the game. They said it felt playful to them, particularly the deceiving aspect. Participants also felt playful in their interaction with each other, and appreciated the tools offered to facilitate the game. The rules of the game were complicated. Some took quickly at some took longer to understand. 

The incentive of points wasn’t all that much of a drive. The time limits for drawing added (described as low-stakes risks) heightened their experience.

Game design – what to improve

Well, for one, I need to make the game’s rules and the goals more direct. Based on participant feedback, I should clarify and simplify descriptors of of the players roles. Removing the point system seems like a good idea, too. The story writing process of the Storyteller needs to be a bit more streamlined, and I was told to see Mad Libs to simplify the construction of a one-sentence story.

A reflection

  • It’s difficult for people to recall specific moments when they feel playful. Could this be because it’s infrequent for some? Perhaps for others, playfulness is associated with games, and it might be difficult to differentiate from someone’s everyday interaction. I’ll have to investigate further.
  • I wanted to emulate a variety of values when creating a game: subversion, excitement, trust, self-expression, vulnerability. I don’t think that I created a narrative design that made it difficult for all of these experiences to exist. The real constriction for these experiences seems to be time and knowledge of the game.
  • It’s easier for participants to feel playful with people they know. For the focus group feedback, the “activity category” for which people feel playful is quite varied. I have a difficult time interpreting this.
  • During their second playthrough, a player was able to enjoy the game even more, and be more mischievous. Their creativity and “permission” to be devious gave them more space to feel playful.
  • Getting participants into a state of play requires multiple sets of feelings. It requires feelings leading up to a state of play and then be sustained during a state of playfulness.
  • Contrary to the second ludic rule of framework, I made storytelling the primary goal of my design for users. Perhaps this detracted them from feeling more playful.
  • A game with multiple rules might offer a sense of play, but not a strong sense of playfulness.
  • Contrary to the second ludic rule of framework, I made storytelling the primary goal of my design for users. Perhaps this detracted them from feeling more playful.
  • Play and playfulness can’t be forced on someone. It’s an unpredictable state. Perhaps a game’s success shouldn’t be measured by how many people feel playful at one time or overall, and with another deliverable, but should include other variables.
  • Playfulness doesn’t necessarily have to elicit joy or silly experiences. It can offer a moment of respite, euphoria, confusion, sadness, amongst other feelings.
  • Time to explore spatial design!

My classmate Sabid mentioned cellular distractions as a deterrent from experiencing the presence required for a playful experience. I argue that a playful feeling doesn’t have to be consistent, when creating a narrative space for people to experience playfulness. Think of a playful activity like a small playground: I’ve set it up so that people can have highly stimulating activity, but children will sometimes take a break near a game, take a moment to themselves near the fence, and later return, all while being in a playful environment. As long as I am able to maintain a playful narrative space, I think it’s okay for participants to take mental breaks here and there, even if it means checking their phones.

  • But Julie, doesn’t that take people away from the presence? Who are you, Buddha? I imagine that for many, staying in a prolonged state of presence, or flow, is a difficult thing to maintain. Perhaps even more so when a state of presence has to be maintained with multiple people! There is a good question in there, however. Perhaps spatial narrative design is complementary to playful design.

Improving the Deceiviest

  • Having predetermined, interchangeable sections in a sentence would remove an aspect of creativity at the beginning, but helps the game function.
  • One recommended using the preexisting game Madlibs as an example of how to structure sentences differently.
  • Can we experience a prolonged state of flow, or presence, with a group of people through a playful experience?

I’ve modified the flipbook with these notes in mind. If you’s like to download it and try it yourself. please click this link! I will send you to the Canva file.


As the year wraps up, I have a few questions to think about for the academic semester to come:

  • Going from 0 to 60 – how do we encourage people to enter a state of play?
  • How important is it to be aware of your sense of playfulness? There is a benefit for the researcher, but entering the state of playful presence might offer insight on mindfulness. This could be another possible direction for my thesis.
  • What is the relationship between playfulness, presence and flow?
  • Since I’ve described non-linear as spatial design, should I consider creating both multiple narrative directions and a space for a participant’s natural narrative direction to occur?
  • Do low-risk scenarios help increase a sense of playfulness?
  • Should I explore narrative design without words, that is, guided experiences?
  • Pre-playfulness: How big of a role does world building have when encouraging people to enter a state of play/structured playfulness?
  • Political playfulness: where can we justify doing playfulness for the sake of it?
  • People took breaks from the game. Checking their phones or speaking with friends. Should I create space, or flexibility, for a participant to waver their focus? Or, does it go against our concept of being in the present, or flow? Does this mean that playfulness and flow are different things?
  • In Never Let me Go, participants relied on physical ques and the voice app to communicate with one another, rather than through speech. Could physical communication more easily convey a sense of play between people?
  • What are the mental, physical and sociological benefits to playfulness?
  • Should I include my own feedback in group discussions, particularly if I participated in the activity?



Prompt 3 – Discourse

This project is an exemplification of the reading Poetic observations: Jane Fulton Suri’s chapter in the book Design Anthropology (2011).

There are a few takeaways from Suri’s writing:

  • Beauty and poetry in things that are not seen by others
  • Cultural immersion
  • Make concrete what is seen in the abstract
  • Step away from ethnographic approach
  • A percolation period is required for the ideation period

An unexpected journey: visiting Fisher River

A few days prior to the assignment, I had the opportunity to visit my reservation for the first time. It was an impromtu visit with my sister. For me, it was no other reason than to be present and get to know the space where my great-grandmother once lived.

It was, needless to say, a period where I was present and observant of my environment. I didn’t enter into the experience with anything other than the intention to observe the significance of time here, and take notes of personal reflection.

It was the weekend of September 30th. A day of remembrance in Canada known as orange shirt day. It’s a defined date to remember indigenous children of Turtle island who were either taken from their homes or left our world too soon. Some were sent to residential schools, others were forcefully sent to foster homes during the ‘60s scoop. Many continue to be sent away from their communities through foster care.


My sister and I fell on some unforeseen luck. A distant family friend, whose name has been changed to Ellie, offered to drive up with us to Fisher River, calling in sick from work on the same day. We weren’t aware at the time, but Ellie became a central figure in our story.

Over the weekend, we met with our distant family relative Josephine and Darryl Thaddeus, as well as members of the community who’ve taken up the role of knowledge keepers and community builders.


A constant period of reflection

I thought about what my relationship is with Fisher River, dating back to my grandfather.

It’s never been clear to me why my grandfather didn’t to residential school. His mother died when he was two, shortly after giving birth to her 12th child. His was also of Irish/Scottish descent.

With his brothers, they moved from Manitoba to Northern Ontario. The government might of lost track, or perhaps left it at that because my grandfather lost his enough of his tradition by working for his father on the farm.

He was a tall, strong man. Along with his siblings, they were known in town to fight their way into dancehalls and into the arms of women who knew full-well about the reputation of the McIntosh brothers: a band of boxers and principled men who wouldn’t be stopped by any ill-willed catholic, perspiration or other envious Anglo-Saxonite. those who tried to boost their ego ended up harming theirs pride.

My father experienced an adjacent force to live in pride and strength with a bit of a stiff upper lip. The first to attend college on his block, and the first to graduate from medical school in his neighbourhood, stoicism and being in charge inadvertently became two of his values.

My father came out as gay when he was 55, almost 20 years after my grandfather died. It was a shock to my family, particularly my mom, but I remembered something he once said to me:  “If my dad knew I was gay when I was a kid, he would’ve killed me.”


I didn’t grow up on the reserve, and I didn’t know my grandfather. But the generational effect of disenfranchisement is real, and I hope that the buck stops here – the complete removal of any association with a cultural and true identity.

I am keenly aware that my identity is not solely a culmination of my ancestry or my parent’s trauma. My interests are varied, and I let those guide me, particularly during my intuitive observation period at Fisher River.


Intuitive ideation process

That weekend, one of the longstanding residents and knowledge keepers, Stan, drove my sister and I around Fisher River. I perked up; my curious journalistic mindset kicked into gear and started taking notes on my very non-traditional Google phone while my sister and I asked questions.

Among those notes, how the fishermen enjoy driving out to lake Winnipeg so much that they volunteer their free time to travel to fishing derbies. The river cuts through the res, but doesn’t needlessy devide it. A bit like Tolkinen’s Hobbitton village in Lord of the Rings, the Cochranes, Thaddieus and Murdocs live in pockets near one another, and periodically gather to chatter about family and odd-ball relatives.

The next day, Darryl, am elected Chief in Fisher River, gave us a tour of the traditional and old treaty grounds.

For this project, what I considered a research period was a series of photos and conversations with people in the community: rivers in autumn leaves, old boats, misplaced suburban-designed homes, wide landscapes of trees no taller than a two-story houses (due to the high water line), and green lawns. Many green lawns.

The conversations with Stan, our family relative Darryl, during ad-hock women’s talking circle and even the overheard conversations during crafting was considered research to me. It’s all part of Suri’s description of intuitive learning.

Ideation: post-visit reflections

I incorporated what Suri explains as a period of rest, or percolation period (p.29). A time to let the observations settle in.

It was important for me that the ideation process was as unstructured as the research period: Free-form writing, free-form sketches of boats and landscapes to find the hidden lines and shapes and the balance between it all. These were one aspect of the process.

Part of Suri’s process for poetic observation is to include a discussion with co-workers who experienced the environment with you. I spoke with my sister, Andrea, to understand her vision of her time at Fisher River.

Granted, it was difficult for her to separate the poetic observational exercise I was conducting from her pre-planned construction to build a memorial park on the old treaty grounds. But there were key things we observed:

Andrea’s mock-ups for the old treaty ground design
My notes during a phone call with my sister.

There exists competing elements in Fisher River. The poverty mixed with strong compassion and leadership to evoke pride and ignite a communal identity. Home, in terms of space (houses were far and wide, pristine lawns, and how houses are not typically physically built by first having a discussion with the Nation. People are isolated to their homes, and don’t often congregate outside.

My sister noted how much they were symbol oriented; ribbons skirts stood out as much as the scattered children shoes, orange shirts and plastered numerical signs of the total number of uncovered children remains.

In this same discussion, my sister and I noticed a metaphorical bridge being built between the intergenerational divide.

What does fun, informed play look like? How do we include a younger generation in the conversation of identity and cultural pride – without inadvertently teaching them to associate their budding identities with those of the lost children.

We recalled seeing children hanging out by the river, leaning against trees, fishing where the old united church once beamed with methodist missionaries. Surrounded by nature once more, does space play a bigger role in informed play as much as the material used?

Tactile learning, home, symbols, play, youth engagement, space.


A few days later, I wrote down free-form words about Fisher River that stuck out to me. Words that represented my feeling and patterns during my visit. Ribbon skirts, bright sunsets, home, sharing ourselves, river, coming home, even res dogs, and how they hold so much of the spirit and interlinkage between homes. They protect children from bears, and are sometimes seen as the guardians of a more sacred area.

It was around this time that I decided to create my final piece using wood. It’s involves engagement and play, that involves conversation with you, pride, colours of joyful ribbon skirts, water, and of the wide-spanning land.

Woodworking also falls within craft-making wheelhouse.

I wanted to craft something that reprisented support, home and a connection of what I perceived to be elements of Fisher River. I decided a puzzle design would be a clever approach, given the three-week turnaround time. Plus, puzzles are fun!

I made numerous iterations of the puzzle design to make sure that each piece represented something on their own. I completed basic wood shop training at Emily Carr and used the bandsaw to cut larger pieces of my Aspen 1.5” thick wood, and the scroll-saw to cut the tighter corners.

(Above) draft if my design, and more shape drawing of the environment.

I chose to include the rising and setting sun, since it touches so much of Fisher River’s wide landscape. the three purple shades of the sky reprisent what Donna, Derryl’s wife, and who was present at the circle, described to me as healing colours (and the colour of my gifted ribbon skirt).

It also represent medicine in the form of three braids, like the sweetgrass that Pauline gifted to me.

The boat and water is such a central part of Fisher River’s identity. I took my long-standing muse, the York Boat (I carved out an 12ft York Boat oar in 2021) and fused my version of it with a modern fishing boat design. Fishing is an act that brings life to Fisher River. it’s the lifeline to Lake Winnipeg, it’s a source of food, and it’s an excuse to gather. Men take pride in fishing.

Fisher River, along with it’s sister nation Norway House, also hosts annual York Boat races during treaty days. It encourages people to learn about the epic strength and agility that the boat required during the hight of Canada’s fur trade.

Lastly, Two figures are central in the puzzle design. A small child painted in brunt orange or red hue looks up from its supported boat, hugging the large figure, painted in green.

The latter represents women, especially women who shared in the talking circle. They offered knowledge as nourishing as the medicine in front of us. This can also be interpreted as a male figure expressing affection and support towards a child, or inner child.

The latter is a child, the child in all of us, as much the children in the community as those who left home. It’s supported in the centre by everything that makes us strong and whole. The boat acts as a vessel, carrying it home, towards the nuturing figure.

An intentional act, the figure reachers for support, knowing that care is not something that just happens to you, but something you seek out. I intentionally didn’t want to paint it a traditional orange colour in an attempt to encourage the idea that children today should develop an identity with an awareness of, but separate from the children lost to colonialism.

I also created a second piece that displays the wood, unpainted but stained with Dutch oil, to give the Aspen a warmer look.


These colours were chosen to reprisent the environment, but I can hardly separate the people from it.

Ellie, she wore blue the entire weekend. The earrings she made were blue, too. To me, she is the child travelling back to home, traversing freely in her car to spend time with her cousin, snickering and running off together for a smoke and laughing along the way, sleeping in her crowded house, and staying cozy.

She was a child of the ‘60s scoop, and her sister was taken in Vancouver. She learned about her mother a few years ago, and has been liberally returning to Fisher River to learn more from passing stories of people who knew her.

Ellie is also a caretaker. She works for the cemetery, sometimes standing at the graves of souls who have no one to be by their side as they enter the earth. She worked in care homes, and freely offers her service to help, say, when I forget my passport at the Human Rights museum downtown, and need it brought to me at the airport.

She found a way to manifest compassion, real strength, hope and a desire to give in her life.

To me, she is the story. She represents every element I tried to embue in my design.


I believe all in all, each piece took me four hours to make. This doesn’t account for the acrylic and oil drying period.

I chose colours that reprisent pride, hope, the people of Fisher River.

It’s an opportunity for users to practice non-linear storytelling, and to use these colours and prompts to tell their own stories.

Member of Fisher River are encourage to use individual pieces as prompts for their stories, display the piece as a point of discussion, or a point of reflection.

Deeper reflections, the side effects of poetic obervations

I hope this puzzle piece can be used as a vehicle for storytelling. Though specific to the elements that makeup Fisher River, individually, they act as prompts for teachers, parents, and elders to share any story around knowledge of home, nature, medicine, youth, love, their reservation, or even a broader basic human needs.


More young people are returning to Fisher River, building homes an teaching at the local high school. Kaitlyn, the jeweller who taught my sister and I how to make earrings, is teaching a hybrid land-based class at school. Darryl’s daughter just happily moved into her newly-built house not far from home, after living in Winnipeg for a few years.

Truth be told, I liked the environment so much because I miss my own home. As of late, home is transient for me. I only lived in New Brunswick for two years and Montreal for four, prior to that.

Home, in this case, isn’t a physical environment. It’s the feeling you have with the people who make you feel whole.

Coming to Vancouver, I knew there would be a “pause” on what I consider to be home. I am grateful when I get to experience those feelings of love, intention, welcoming and sharing when I come across them. I now intentionally look to built community at school and in my neighbourhood while I live here on west coast.

During this prompt, I thought about my grandfather’s vehement denial of his identity. How he fought back physically and with strength. And for Ellie, how she fought back, what strength really represents.

I wonder what he would have thought of my puzzle.


I am grateful that I got to know everyone, their idiosyncratic ways and their unbridled kindness towards my sister and I. This is why I came back to school, to find opportunities and continue my education in learning, understanding and seeing the world. Both a person’s intent and what they’re conveying through sharing their time with us.

This was a severe process of personal reflection, but a tremendous growth of my compassion and empathy. Compassion for Vera, for Josephine, for Dona, for my family and myself.

Initially, I was worried about creating a simplified caricature of indigenous culture. But I practiced what my sister called informed intuition. A designer is a vessel for expressing their environment. They are not – nor should the claim – to be speak on someone’s behalf.

Perhaps in a form of happy irony, or some might call it coincidence, during presentation day, the class was shaped as a circle as they tried their hands at completing my puzzle.

That’s truly what I would call… coming full circle.

(a little corny? Sure.)



Prompt 2 – material

Animation: Paint-on-glass technique

Two weeks ago, our Studio professor Cameron Neat waited for us all to sit down and proceeded to present us with our class’ second prompt: Material. We were encouraged to explore a material that’s fairly new to us through a daily practice. Perhaps a material that sparks interest or excitement. Let attraction be your guide, he wrote.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood

I wrote down a myriad of ideas for our second studio prompt. Cameron gave students the opportunity to explore new materials, techniques and personal interests using “origins” as a prompt:

I had motion studio, woodworking, and animation in mind. I worked with the first department that let me walk through their door: Animation.

I had previously made a stop-motion film using paper. But I wanted to develop digital animation techniques and continue to explore visual storytelling.

I was directed to ECU associate professor Martin Rose. He can only be described as the Mr. Rogers of the animation department: He kindly offered his advice and interest in my project, on his time.

I managed expectations by explaining that I had a two-week turnaround to learn some basic animation techniques.

Martin recommended Paint-on-glass technique. Also known as paint-on-paint. It’s a friendly, usually tactile approach to animation. Artists paint each frame on one backlit, square piece of glass. The paint is usually mixed with glycerin so that it doesn’t dry. Once a photo (or frame) is taken, the artist removes a small section of their canvas to paint the next direction that their subject or the environment moves towards.

Below is an example of traditional paint-on-glass technique:

To make the material exploration simpler, we decided to try the paint-on-glass technique on Procreate. Each layer is a duplicate of the last, allowing me to erase and move the painting in each frame.

My knowledge of Procreate is limited to start. I have used it to paint, draw and sketch carving projects or characters. I was excited about the opportunity of trial an error!

The material is accessible. I had procreate (14.00$) and iPad (450$) and an apple pen (140$). It isn’t the most financially accessible material. But I am able to use it while travelling. It’s portable and requires no setup.

Each frame a painting

Test 1: creating a loop

I had initially begun a simple mind map of what our prompt “origins” means to me. This was scrapped as I decided to follow my creative intuition on the new material instead.

It was during my in-person meeting with Cameron reiotirated how its about the exploration of the material. Not about creating a complex final product. He recommended doing a simple 5-frame loop for my prompt. So, I did that.

It is the boat below.

That took me less then five minutes.

I was suspicious. This is probably not enough.

I decided to continue animating.

Test 2: testing out the medium

I began exploring my more complex animation, while keeping in mind that the prompt was about exploration of the material and creativity.

Below is an initial test of medium and movement. It’s the start of a droplet of water falling from above. After five frames, I fell into my first mental blockage: Structure!

Time to talk to Martin again!

Community of practice: Martin Rose

I had three meeting with Martin during the two-week period. Below are two main bullet points from my notes:

  • Sure, the subject can be the story, but so can pacing, movement
  • Telling the story: form vs. writing

(Above) Martin during his Joni Mitchell phase.

With animation, the written story, and even the subject, doesn’t have to be what drives the story forward. In an abstract way, the environment, the pace, can tell more about the story . This was steps away from my writing-focused background, and I liked the different perspective in storytelling!

Thanks Martin! A professor so nice, I was told so twice!

Exploring “origins”

With time, I saw the word “origins” for what it was. A Red Herring! A distraction or a way to deter attention from the original point.

First and foremost, the prompt is really an opportunity for us to follow our creative pursuit through a new material.

I therefore, decided to make the process the subject of my prompt. Origins, in the case, is the start of my learning of the material to my most recent knowledge in the technological manipulation of the material, process and skills I learned in two weeks.

It’s a linerar show of progression. But fun, and whimsical!

To start simple, I began with the circle.

Scene 1: loop, there it is!

The process

I will admit that I did not practice every day. It was a skill of discipline that I did not develop quickly enough, primarily when I experienced a lack of creative drive. I wasn’t used to the impediments that this technology was delivering.

Part of delivering on the prompt “origins” was to show the progression of acquiring knowledge. Initially, I was drawn (pun intended) to revise and improve previous Procreate layers by adding new layers to my mostly white canvas – it’s easier to do this when most of my canvas isn’t painted. But I noticed that this was a revisionary approach to work.

In consequence, this not help in demonstrating the progression and the vulnerable approach to creating something new.

My revision of the beginning of my animation. I did not go with this edit.

The next steps

I stared creating a more complex animation. Moving more object, creating moving scenes, adding colours, and playing with motion vs. frame rate.

I finally found my flow state, in, say, the last five seconds of the film! Jumping between layers wasn’t intuitive, but I got used to it. To help, I borrowed a monitor and connecting cable for my iPad. This way I could periodically draw on a bigger screen.

I learned that movement looked more natural if I painted the background and moved towards the foreground. I got used to the technology and tricked myself into thinking I was painting with real brush strokes.

Admittedly, I primarily make using my hands, so getting into the nitty gritty of my work looking over one screen wasn’t always intuitive. The small screen surface coupled with learning a new technique gave me trepidation in doing free-flowing creative work

I often made a point of referencing back to Cameron’s message; it’s meant to be an exploration of a material, whether good or bad, and an opportunity to reflect on how your exploration went. There is no need for a perfect end product.

I found myself getting lost in my work when I got too caught up in painting the environment layer by layer, building the scene, rather than focusing on the direction of my animation. I fell into a Micro vs. Macro situation. I got sucked in!

This can be seen between the 20 and 25-seconds of my film. I stopped focusing on the direction of the story, and got lost in building the environment. It took stepping back for a couple of days to understand what Martin was saying. What is the movement saying?

What were my obstacles?

I described technological obstacles earlier, getting caught up in working on “origins” as a prompt, and my lack of discipline in working every day. I was surprised by how much the smallest planning methods didn’t matter. I don’t need a story, I don’t need linear direction planning when creating my animation.

What I learned was that direction was the challenge in learning the material.

Once I got that (in the last five seconds of the film). It was freeing, there is no end in sight! I hope to be more bold in my animation, create a huge eraser mark and work through that change, making movement look more smooth.

Here is my final video for my prompt.

Thanks for watching!


Video: Origins