My PhD Research

During my Candidature I was investigating the design practice and process of Concept Artists/illustrators using the philosophical and sociological framing of Pierre Bourdieu's 'Practice Theory' and Michael Polanyi's theory of "Tacit Knowledge". 

The research was a creative exegesis, combining the visual and written to explore creative practice. 


  • Literature Research and Theory Development: 40, 000 words Thesis
  • Creative Body of Work: Book- "The Art of illusio". 
  • Qualitative Semi-structured Interviews with Paul Tobin, Nathan Jurevicius and Dr. Andrew Howells.

Principal Supervisor: Associate Professor Mark Roxburgh, School of Design, University of Newcastle, AUS.

Secondary Supervisor: Professor Mario Minichiello, Head of School of Design, University of Newcastle, AUS.

Thesis Examiners:

  • Associate Professor Stuart Medley, Edith Cowen University, AUS
  • Professor Colin Gale, Birmingham City University, UK

PhD Awarded on 25 Jan 2018.

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My original contribution to knowledge is a framing for how Illustrators embody their experiences. Illustrator as a designer sits in the world of experience; the word ‘experience’ encapsulates most aspects of the context, outcomes, processes and elements of designing. The embodiment of experience is a fundamental device in the way illustrative imagery and visual communication translate and perpetuate ideologies, metaphors, mythologies, allegory, narratives and in particular the embodiment of the human condition. Illustrators translate experiences, and the perceptual synthesis of those experiences into the illustration and the design of fictitious, but representational, narratives, worlds, characters and environments.Drawing becomes a crucial part of articulating the world and capturing perception of experience and reality. Drawing has a long established history of being described as a way of thinking (Minichiello 2005). Illustration practice, as a resolved outcome of drawing, permeates a large scope of different forms of visual communication as a resolution of the design process. 

Contemporary and seminal discussions of design express that design is a transformative process (Roxburgh 2013, Crouch 2013:2,15, Simon 1981), acting as an instrument for the transformation of the artificial world. Uniquely the illustrator not only responds to experience of the world by articulating it, but also is actively engaged in the perpetual transformation of it. 

This exegesis is an articulation of Qualitative practice-based research (Candy 2006)- as a pragmatic and auto-ethnographic study- that correlates with the creative body of work entitled ‘The Art of Illusio’. This exegesis seeks to better understand and outline a theoretical framing of the context of the illustrator as designer. The research presents a perspective on how illustrators interact with experience and approach design through a reflexive engagement with theoretical concepts: habitus, tacit knowledge, and the design process. The notion of habitus condenses the designer’s system of dispositions and sense of place towards the world. I examine how habitus and tacit knowledge orients that system of disposition towards the perception of experiences.

This research combines contemporary discussions of the seminal work of Pierre Bourdieu (Habitus- The Rules of Art, Distinction, Outline of a theory of Practice, The Field of Cultural Production), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (Perception-Phenomenology of Perception) and Michael Polanyi (Tacit Knowledge- Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, The Tacit Dimension), to propose that a combination of these conceptual understandings, along with their related concepts, work in a complex generative structure that frames design and illustration practice. 

The exegesis seeks to interrogate this framing through an exposition and positioning of academic literature, the analysis of professional literature, and the analysis of others practice through qualitative semi-structured interviews (Crouch 2013), and the auto-ethnographic and reflective examination of my own illustration practice (Collinson 2009). 

It is intended for design researchers. It is also intended for design and illustration students, early career design researchers, and ultimately anyone undertaking practice-based research. 

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The Art of illusio

My creative work illustrated my research journey using the archetypal framing of Joseph Campbell's Mono-myth. The 17 stage journey formed the basis of my illustrations.

The body of work was presented in the form of an "Art of 'The Film" styled book. investigating the process of concept art and illustration practice. 



Industry interviews

Participants were involved in a 1-hour interview with me, in which the main goal was to discuss professional understandings and reflections on their context as a designer, practical knowledge, process and practice.