Week 5: Collaborative Mix

The Challenge

  1. Research, discover and analyse the different ways in which graphic designers produce work collaboratively. Demonstrate through posting onto the Ideas Wall and your blog.
  2. Research and analyse the essential components of collaborative practice. Demonstrate through posting onto the ideas wall and your blog.
  3. Design, write and deliver an editorial piece illustrating a collaborative project that has led to an exemplary and historically significant piece of work (300 words plus imagery) on your blog and post the link onto the Ideas Wall.

Different Ways

Through the examples given in the lecture, I’ve looked at some different kinds of collaborations and have drawn out three common lines a project can follow. Read more about them here. Here are some other collaborations…  

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski

Helen Nicoll and Jan Pieńkowski

For me, the Meg and Mog series of children’s book by Nicoll and Pieńkowski is exemplary and historically significant collaboration in my life. The illustrations and colours are simple, bright and punchy with funny stories involving Meg the witch and her cat, Mog.

Nicoll and Pieńkowski met when they worked at the BBC together on a children’s art show, Watch!, where he was commissioned to provide live drawings. They developed a technique where the images appeared on screen as if my magic, but were a trick of the light, and they learnt how to create a narrative through illustration. When Nicoll left the BBC in 1971, she suggested that they created a children’s book series.

As a condition of being illustrator, Pieńkowski insisted that the spells that the witch cast could never work, and this rule creates the madness and mayhem around which a narrative can be woven. After showing their first book to the editor Judith Elliott at Heinemann, she commissioned more and they have been loved since then.

Their collaboration was a distant one: geographically apart in Wiltshire and South West London, but in pre-internet times meant that they have to be inventive in how they worked together. Pieńkowski wrote that they …

“… had to develop a way of working together. We hit on the idea of meeting at the Membury service station on the M4. This became our routine. We were regulars, the friendly staff didn’t seem to mind and I always brought a little bunch of flowers to put on our table. We spent many frenzied hours struggling with stories and pictures, accompanied by any number of cups of tea.” (Pieńkowski, 2012)

They identified that space away from their everyday lives, with Nicoll saying that “one of the biggest difficulties … is getting rid of the rest of your life, if you’re going to do it together … Because we do it in this curious way, where we battle over every page” (Rabinovitch, 2004). What is more away from everyday life than a service station, a transitory place only visited in places.

Working together out of the studios, they developed a new process “on a big white pad. Nicoll would dictate some words, they would both scribble. Loosely, she writes the stories, he does the pictures, and the spells they make up together.” As the stories are short at 32 pages long, there is little space for a complex story. “The way we work is, we do the beginning, then we talk about the middle, but then do the end. So if there’s a squash it will be in the middle – but we must have an elegant beginning and end” (Rabinovitch, 2004).

Collaborating in this way obviously worked. Between them, created 23 books in the series, many of which are still in print and have spawned theatre productions and audiobooks. Since Nicoll’s death in 2012, Pieńkowski has continued to produce a few Meg and Mog books with his partner, David Walser. The collaboration was strong, though not without its difficulties, as parties have remarked!

Pieńkowski: “Each time we start on a new book it becomes a struggle and a battle – the course of collaboration never did run smooth – but somehow in the end our Muse has not deserted us in our hour of need – so far!” (An Interview with Jan Pieńkowski | Playing by the book, 2020)

Walser says of Pieńkowski: “We have been together for 56 years but he isn’t at all easy to work with. [He] works much better on his own,” he added. (Flood and Lee, 2019)

Pieńkowski of Nicoll: “Helen was an inspiring but merciless collaborator and usually managed to get her way with her innate charm.” (Pieńkowski, 2012)

Perhaps the separation allowed the collaboration to flourish, as they definitely seemed to work better on their own day-to-day.

The stories were drawn from Polish witch tales told to Pieńkowski by his next-door neighbour in childhood, and the colours draw both from Polish traditional folk colours and the bright pop-art of the time.

The books have earned Nicoll and Pieńkowski many awards across the book industry, but more importantly, they have been treasured by generations of children in Britain and they continue strong in print and memory.

Resources

Pieńkowski, J., 2012. Helen Nicoll Obituary. [online] Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/oct/09/helen-nicoll&gt; [Accessed 2 July 2020].

Playingbythebook.net. 2020. An Interview With Jan Pieńkowski | Playing By The Book. [online] Available at: <http://www.playingbythebook.net/2010/10/25/an-interview-with-jan-pienkowski/&gt; [Accessed 2 July 2020].

Flood, A. and Lee, S., 2019. Jan Pieńkowski: Inside The Mind Behind Meg And Mog – Picture Essay. [online] Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/may/09/jan-pienkowski-meg-and-mog-booktrust-award-picture-essay&gt; [Accessed 2 July 2020].

Rabinovitch, D., 2004. Authors Of The Month: Helen Nicholl And Jan Pienkowski. [online] Guardian. Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/jan/28/booksforchildrenandteenagers.dinarabinovitch&gt; [Accessed 2 July 2020].


Editorial Design

Building Blocks of collaboration

Trust

A learned, and/or implicit, trust that the people involved have the successful completion of the project as their focus

A Sweet Spot of numbers

Sometimes a project needs greater numbers of people to weigh in to make sure that it is well received, at the same time too many people can cloud the water. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule of numbers, just experience and numbers!

Communication

How the collaborators communicate and how openly they do so can make a break a project

Understanding of practice

Does everyone understand where the other collaborators are coming from, and who the project is really for? Will it work for the intended audience? Are the collaborators the best place to fulfil these roles?

Common Goals

but also skills that complement each others

Afterwards, Alex challenged me to put them in order. Here is my response:

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