I’m Merryn and I’ve been working with the FIRE Lab team for two years. I recently participated in the excellent ‘Introduction to Citizen Artist’ course run by Citizen Artist founder and research director Lee Ann Woolery, PhD. The six-week course involved a small group of us meeting online once a week to learn about Lee Ann’s approach, trying some of her protocols for ourselves, discussing our work and findings, and learning new perspectives from Lee Ann and each other.

Lee Ann developed Art-Based Perceptual Ecology (ABPE) methodologies during her PhD to address critical environmental issues. In this approach, the body (through perception, senses and movement) is the connection between ecology and art, with the resulting art being the data. During the course, we had the opportunity to try four of her protocols: acoustic mapping, shadow drawing, forest canopy studies and deconstruction.

I felt really inspired by the course and wanted to share my experience with others who might consider using arts-based-research in their own work and/or participate in one of Lee Ann’s courses. The image shows homework I completed as part of the course, and a flavour of what the four tasks made me think about. For me, using the protocols to slow down and take the time to perceive my environment illuminated aspects of my surroundings that I would not have otherwise noticed; from xanthophylls to tiny lichen fruiting bodies, canopy ‘shyness’ to the trapping of nature between the sounds of humanity.

Some homework completed by Merryn Thomas as part of the ‘Introduction to Citizen Artist’ course, following protocols designed by Citizen Artist founder and research director Lee Ann Woolery.

As someone particularly interested in how people understand and relate with their environments, I found myself especially focusing on how the practice of doing the art (in response to the environment) was helping me understand my own relationships with my surroundings. For example, it brought into focus my (lack of) understanding about specific elements, and what in my environment was most central to my conceptions of place. I’m excited to use approaches such as these in my future work to make intangible relationships with nature more tangible, and as ways to open up discussions about environments or issues that are new and/or difficult to understand.

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