5.0 Understand the problem

The purpose of ‘Understand the problem’

‘Understand the problem’ is all about identifying, analysing, writing down and testing what the problem is that needs to be solved.

For this assignment there are four outputs:

  1. A Problem statement  – That succinctly outlines the problem that will be investigated by the assignment
  2. An elevator pitch – Summaries what the project is about and why it’s interesting
  3. A Terms of reference – A personal brief that elaborates what’s in the elevator pitch into a written description of the scope and objectives of the work
  4. A Research brief – That outlines the research that will be conducted as part of this assignment, including what it is and how it will be done and the outputs

Initial thinking

I found starting this assignment hard. I’m not sure if it was the open ended nature of the brief, the requirement to think unconventionally, or just fatigue from working intensely on Assignment 4.

There were a lot of ideas swirling around my head but I couldn’t quite see how they might glue together.

I know from previous research and exercises (2.4 Word associations and 3.1 Slow), that my Brookwood Cemetery subject is packed with themes and content that I could, with a little bit of additional research, use for this assignment.

Fig X – A mind map containing subjects and themes relating to Brookwood Cemetery

A high resolution of the mind map can be downloaded here: Brookwood Cemetery map

I’d started some theoretical research came across a chapter in A companion to Illustration: Art and theory (Male, 2019) titled The Illustrator as Visual Problem Solver, that introduced me to a number of new brainstorming techniques based on rules based processes. These were somewhat similar to the processes explored during PART 2 Visual approaches, but more suited to work with the range of themes and subjects offered up by Brookwood Cemetery.

The method that sparked my interest was ‘The Morphological Matrix”  The Illustrator as Visual Problem solver: A Deconstruction of Conceptual Strategies for the Contemporary p.202,  because the method offers an rapid way to combine and experiment with different aspects of the same subject using thumbnail sketches. (The process is explained in more detail in 5.1 Research)

I was intrigued, and tried out the first stage of the process to get a feel for whether it might be useful. The exercise was deliberately timeboxed to 1-hour, during which 36 x thumbnails were produced.

Fig X – A test of a picture matrix technique using Brookwood Cemetery content

A higher resolution of the image matrix can be downloaded here: Picture matrix

The test was successful. I could see that with some refinement and a bit more subject research this would be a really good method for combining the various Brookwood Cemetery themes into interesting and perhaps unexpected compositions.

It was at this point I decided to treat myself to my first trip into London since the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, some six-months previous. I wanted to get out of my house and give myself space to think, and to experience some ‘real’ culture.

The ideas described above were in the back of my mind because I was still struggling to find something that would anchor the idea and glue everything together.

I booked a ticket to see the Tate Britain collection and spent a couple of hours wandering around the galleries. My ‘eureka’ moment was seeing this large painting by Rose Wylie.

Rose Wylie - Pin Up and Porn Queen Jigsaw
Fig 1 – A photograph taken at Tate Britain of Pin Up and Porn Queen Jigsaw (Wylie, 2005)

On reflection I think this was because it encompased a number of things:

  • The visual style is very pared-back, almost childlike. My brief was asking me to think unconventionally, and this, for me, was unconventional
  • Like my idea of combining Brookwood Cemetery themes, the image consists of a number of different components
  • The numbered jigsaw pattern in the bottom half of the painting reminded me strongly of the cemetery plot map that is used to help locate specific graves. It occured to me that a visual plot map element could be common across all of my Brookwood Cemetery illustrations, providing a level of consistency across what could be a diverse and varied set of images.

This final point was more poignant because it is similar to a technique used in a series of huge charcoal drawings title Soup of Souls by Peter Codling (2019).

Fig 2 –  A photograph showing four of the images hanging in Portsmouth Cathedral as part of the Soup of souls exhibition (Codling, 2019)

The trapezium shaped geometry and dimensions of the large charcoal drawings relate to the size and shape of the wooden octagon shaped studio at the top of Portsmouth Cathedral, which is where Codling was based during his residency at the Cathedral. In other words, there is a common feature across all drawings based on a physical map, that ‘joins’ the drawings together.

At this point I needed to gather all my thoughts together and try to formulate a concrete direction. I produced the following mind map.

A ‘what do we know’ visual mind map containing key information from the brief and ideas about how to approach the assignment

A higher resolution of the mind map can be downloaded here: Working hypothesis mindmap

The information and thinking in the mind map gave me enough to formulate an initial Problem Statement, Terms of Reference and Research Brief.

Problem statement

Illustrators that I admire are able to to produce narrative illustrations that combine creativity, abstraction and invention to create unconventional visual languages that communicate meaning in unexpected and innovative ways. The problem is that, to date,  my range of creative responses have been  conventional/literal interpretations, and I want this assignment to push my work outside of that narrow thinking.

Elevator pitch

I’m making a series of images based around different aspects of Brookwood Cemetery using a set of predefined rules and making approaches. What’s interesting is that unlike previous assignments, the objective is to work in unconventional ways and take creative risks in order to produce a surprising and diverse range of visual responses rather than produce finished artwork. Within this context, failure can be seen as success.

Terms of reference

The purpose of the assignment

The purpose of the assignment is to use intuitive visual problem solving techniques combined with artist research and other process driven methods to generate a range of diverse and interesting outputs that push my creative boundaries and level of risk.

The resulting images should look like nothing produced so far. Perceived failure is desirable and one of the objectives of the work.

The creative process

The flow diagram below shows the creative process.


The initial set of Brookwood Cemetery themes that will be used to identify subjects are:

  1. Beliefs
  2. Human stories
  3. Big landscape
  4. Graceful decline
  5. Architecture
  6. Symbolism


Presentational format, size, resolution, filetype are all to be decided. The overarching principle is to end up with a range of diverse and interesting outputs. Format should not be a constraint.

Test strategies

Thumbnailing with be used extensively during the Ideas generation to generate multiple different visual combinations and then iteratively refine these during the Design stage.

Thumbnailing will be used to test composition, the effectiveness of narrative and different points of view.

Visual brainstorming techniques will be used to generate and test different media and colour combinations.

Qualitative and quantitative testing could be used with fellow students to test the effectiveness of the final images although if/how this might work will be defined later in the project.


Visual approaches and making approaches will be defined during the Research phase.

Research brief

There will be three types of research.

  1. Artist research
  2. Practice research
  3. Subject research

These are defined below.

Artist research

The purpose of the artist research is to find as many different ways to combine different visual components as possible.

The method

  • Review all artists research all artist research carried out on the course to date. A catalogue of artists was produced as part of Responding to a Brief, and this is a starting point. The catalogue will be updated with any new entries.
  • Review personal Pinterest boards and the OCA subject related boards
  • Review illustrators followed on Instagram and see where this leads
  • Review graphic novels
  • Review back copies of Vroom and Juxtapoze magazines
  • Review Illustration textbooks
  • Look out for interesting work during gallery and museum visits

The outputs

A catalogue of images that could include photographs, screenshots, sketches and any associated notes.

Note: Sharing this information in my Learning Log will be problematic because there could be a large number of pictures that would cause issues with copyright. One pragmatic way to deal with this would be to create a Pinterest board for the majority of research and embed this into the Learning Log web page (I’ve been advised that this is not considered OCA best practice). I would only add images (including full Harvard Referencing) into the Learning Log web page that are particularly significant or of interest in some way.

Practice research

The purpose of practice research is to carry out a series of short proofs-of-concept to test different rules based and intuitive processes for combining different visual components.

The method

The processes that will be tested are taken from a chapter in A Companion to Illustration: Art and Theory (Male, 2019) written by Sue Clarke titled: The Illustrator as Visual Problem Solver: A Deconstruction of Conceptual Strategies for the Contemporary Illustrator (2019).

The techniques that will be tested include:

  •  A visual chart (stage 1 only)
  • A chart to trigger lateral thinking (stages 1 and 2)
  • Intuitive brainstorming with colour
  • Intuitive brainstorming with media

The outputs

Thumbnails, sketches, written word lists, notes, diagrams captured in an A3 sketchbook.

Subject research

The purpose of subject research is to obtain enough information and source materials through primary and secondary research to provide suitable input into the experimental processes.

The starting point for the research are the life and times of six people buried in the cemetery. These subjects will be explored through the six Brookwood Cemetery themes mentioned above.

The method

Primary research – includes visiting the cemetery to sketch, take notes and photographic reference. Visits to galleries and museums and probably other London based locations.

Secondary research – Literature research, Internet research

The outputs

Notes and drawings in a sketchbook. Digital photographs and other imagery catalogued by the person they relate to.



Clarke, Sue (2019) The Illustrator as Visual Problem solver: A Deconstruction of Conceptual Strategies for the Contemporary In: Illustrator Male, A. (2019) A Companion to Illustration: Art and Theory. (s.l.): John Wiley & Sons. pp. 199-227.

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Wylie, Rose (2005) Pin Up and Porn Queen Jigsaw [Oil paint on canvas] At: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/wylie-pin-up-and-porn-queen-jigsaw-t13784 (Accessed: 03/09/20)

Figure 2 –  Codling, Peter (2019) A photograph showing four of the images hanging in Portsmouth Cathedral as part of the Soup of souls exhibition At: http://www.petecodling.com/soup-of-souls-drawings-2018-19/ (Accessed: 25/09/20)

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