This post is written by Hana Ayoob. Hana is an illustrator and science communicator. She’s passionate about bringing people together to explore and challenge science. Hana’s academic background is in zoology and she continues to indulge her interest in weird and wonderful animals by drawing and talking about them whenever she can. Find out more about Hana’s work on her website, follow her on Instagram and Twitter, and she also has an Etsy shop where you can buy her artwork too.
In mid-February 2020 I headed out to Singapore to spend a month with my partner and my mum’s family. I spent most of the month working remotely, enjoying some space away from my usual hectic freelance life while planning for the festivals, events and workshops I would be organising and speaking at for the rest of 2020.
By the time I flew home to London in March, 2020 was looking very different for everyone. The COVID-19 situation in the UK was incredibly worrying, and everyday my email inbox brought more event cancellations until my calendar was completely empty.
Over the following few months, I and so many others adapted, steadily figuring out how to deliver more events remotely. Festivals were uncancelled, new events were organised and slowly my calendar was peppered with commitments again.
Remote events proved challenging in lots of ways and plenty of us found it harder to find that sense of connection we’d had in live events. It’s tricky to connect with an audience you can’t see, or to figure out if your joke has landed properly when there’s a split second delay in the laughter you’re hearing.
Through all of this, I found the events which involved some form of art or making a lot easier to deliver. There seems to be something about the shared physical experience of creating something, even over Zoom, which fosters a stronger connection than simply staring at a screen while talking and listening. Over the last few months, I’ve delivered workshops covering zine making, observational drawing, mathematical art, upcycled postcards, vulva mandalas and more. It has been absolutely amazing to see what people have made based on my prompts and instructions – artwork is honestly the best sort of feedback!
Whether I’m running or attending creative workshops, I find being not just able but actively encouraged to look away from the screen throughout the event really helps my energy levels, attention span and eye strain. The informality of moving around more and looking at the screen less seems to be part of why audience members join in conversation more, and ask more questions.
Some of the exchanges I have had also suggest more self-conscious audience members might be more comfortable joining an event online than face to face because no one else can see what they’re making unless they want to share it. This seems to be particularly true for those who don’t see themselves as creative or artistic, or those who are worried they’ll get something wrong.
Running these workshops has been an absolute joy over the past few months and I’m looking forward to running more in the future. I’m really hopeful that remote events will continue even after COVID related restrictions are lifted.
If you’re interested in running your own creative workshop online, these are some of my top tips:
- Have a camera directed at your hands or table as well as one showing your face. I usually use my phone on a stand above my desk but have also used a tablet propped up so the camera is tilted down. I use ManyCam to split my screen between cameras and OBS is a free alternative to this which I know others use. Signing your phone or another device in as a second user is a lower tech option.
- Keep essential materials to a minimum and think carefully about what your audience will have at home. For example, do they really need plain paper or could lined paper work? Could an activity work with recycled materials?
- Ask your audience questions and encourage them to ask you questions too! Don’t be put off if you get silence though, they might be busy creating!
- Give your audience options to go at a different pace. Make it clear it’s okay to continue with a previous activity while you move on to another. Or suggest things they might want to try if they finish a section before everyone else.
- Be prepared to be flexible with timing – different individuals and different audiences might take longer on different activities. Have some content you can drop if you run out of time, and have more ready to add on in case you go too quickly. You can always suggest activities you don’t have time for at the end of the session for people to try in their own time.
- Keep reminding everyone nothing needs to be perfect. There is rarely a right way to draw or make!
- Give participants the option to share their work with you! This could be on camera, through social media, via email or another channel I haven’t thought of. I’ve found it best when there are a few different options.
I hope you
find these tips helpful!
If you’re raring to get creative straightaway, I would recommend checking out the informal SciComm Crafting sessions Sarah Cosgriff runs. Everyone brings their own creative activity, and we have a bit of a chat while we’re making. Sign up here.