Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Dear book illustration researcher-student

clay creature heads, work in progress. 

Dear book illustration researcher-student,

Every time I receive your email for an online interview, I'm not sure what to do: should I help you come up with better questions for your thesis, or a better email to secure you an interview? Leaving me wondering what to do keeps me thinking for so long that eventually I forget if I have replied or not. I apologize for that. So, to avoid this in future email interview requests, here are suggestions I think that will get you a successful email interview from me, and perhaps importantly from popular foreign illustrators who might be busier, less patient and understanding than me, haha! :-)

1. Review at least the basic rules in grammar and check your vocabulary. I admit, I don't write that well too but I always take time to review and revise. Though I prefer an informal (conversational) tone of email, it won't hurt writing down a respectful, undemanding, and well-thought-out request. No highfalutin words necessary, just keep it nice and friendly. Always assume that the recipient is busy, say what you mean in short and direct sentences. A simple but effective outline consists of: a greeting!, personal introduction, your thesis topic, type and/or schedule of interview, then your questions (shoot it right away). For me, sending your questions right away is my gauge whether you have done your research or not, and to know if you'd really thought about your questions, which brings us to...

2. Never, ever (!) send a blind-shot or generic email to every illustrator/artist you can find. Ask yourself: do I like receiving spam mails? It works the same way. Although it's much easier now to touch base through the internet, contact only illustrators whose works are really relevant to your concept. To save time, please spare your interviewee the burden of answering general questions you can already find through diligent research. Filter your questions according to their style and ideas. But first, do your homework in getting their previous interviews or publications if there are, then if you think you need more data, that's the only time you email them with additional, again, relevant and specific questions.

Hint: Personally, I think for student projects in illustration (like children's books, comics, or editorial print and web) which usually require a printed output (or online publishing) and meant for public consumption, there's really not much data you can get from illustrators. Sure you can learn some of their techniques, style, or journeys in their creativity or conceptualization but what's important is your personal vision in solving an illustration problem. Some, if not most illustrators still work intuitively like artists do and might not be articulate enough about their processes. You can only infer yourself analyzing how their work solved a particular problem in illustration and how will this information be relevant to your chosen topic. It's your ideas about their work that matters and who knows, you might discover something insightful that the illustrator might not even be aware of.

Since illustration projects are meant for publishing, all projects should be audience-specific and target audience oriented. Hence, interview or get data from your target audience more than the creatives. You should have acquired techniques and developed style in your previous courses.

3. Get only pertinent data for your bibliography to credit sources. In my experience as a researcher, I have not read in any research manuals of style like the APA, MLA, etc., that there's a need for your sources' signature, photo, or whatever proof of your interviewee's presence. A recording of the interview, and not the interviewee, is enough. This may be part of your school's absurd (honestly, I find it really insulting to student's integrity and capability) requirement, but this request will most likely turn you down an interview.

Encourage your advisers, department heads, and dean against this requirement. How can you trust yourself having the confidence in undergoing a research project if they can't trust you in the first place? I think, this requirement is just their excuse for not verifying your work individually. And besides, regardless of how you got your sources, quality and credibility will definitely show in your research anyway, so there's really no shortcut in completing your thesis.

I hope you'll find these suggestions useful for your research. Good luck!


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