Ballyvaughan, Ireland | Summer 2017

Update: I have since extended this project to an on–going archive of signage. View on Instagram


In the summer of 2017, I traveled to a small town on the west side of Ireland to study at the Burren College of Art for their summer program. For four weeks, my classmates and I engaged with the environment and learned about the ecology of the area. Simultaneously, we responded through making, researching, and writing. 

My research focused on the navigation of landscape through memory, maps and signage. Upon my arrival, I immediately began sketching maps. The maps were gestural; they represented the landmarks that I initially internalized as significant points in the landscape. These first maps embraced the unknown: I left space for places I had not yet discovered. I repeated sketches of the same areas throughout the duration of my time in Ireland and watched them become more detailed and more accurate. And as my experiences of these places layered over time, my annotations within the maps increased in density.

At the same time, I also began to document the local signage that I encountered on our field trips and my own excursions. Initially drawn in by the apparent humor and quirkiness of these signs, I started to explore how signage could inform me about the landscape. More specifically: how might the signage and the ecology of the Burren be related? Through documentation and analysis of the signage in the area, what could I uncover about the relationship between the culture and ecology of this place?

I considered how signs might affect my own behavior or change how I interact with a space. Over the four weeks, I was able to unpack parts of their influence and significance. From my documentation, categories of signage arose, with each performing slightly different functions. Of the signs around the Burren, the following were the most relevant: warnings, farming, wayfinding/recreation, and traffic. I also discovered the ways in which signs can map a landscape on their own; the placement of signs often falls in ‘transition zones’—the places where the quality of a landscape changes. (And thus necessitates new instructions for how to interact with the landscape.) These transition zones may be where land meets water, where property lines intersect, where hiking trails run into farms, among others. 

Around the area, I also noticed a mixture of manufactured and handmade signs, which led me to question the authority and truth in signage. Why do we obey signs? I constructed a few signs that challenge the sterile, authoritative language of the signage I encountered. The quality of my signs is very much hand-made—they are hand-lettered ink and paint on fabric scraps roughly cut into banner shapes, softly saying things such as “you’re going the right way,” “you could try going that way,” and “this is a nice path.”

Toward the end of the course, I also dabbled in creating alternative signs. I tied a line of string that continues over several rocks, leading to an X tied on a larger rock. This also pertained to my interest in how large, bright signs may interrupt our experiences in a place simply by providing too much information—what if we seek the benefit in not knowing, in getting lost, in discovering a place one’s own? The sign I created with the rocks is subtle enough that if one wasn’t actively seeking it out, it might go unnoticed. Experimenting with different materials and colors in order to change the visibility of a sign could be a way forward within this body of research.

Additionally, the general focus of alternative signage presents an interesting avenue for future exploration: what else could be considered a sign? The idea of natural signs—such as the setting sun, moss on rocks, and cloud formations poses a compelling place for research from a graphic design standpoint. How might natural and signs and designed signs intersect? 

 Students in my course exploring medieval ruins.

Students in my course exploring medieval ruins.

 The Town of Ballyvaughan 

The Town of Ballyvaughan 

Sketchbook and Studio

I collected my research, observations, thoughts, and questions in my sketchbook and on my studio walls. It was exciting to get back into a sketchbook and have a culmination of process to visually arrange and make sense of in my studio. Below are some images taken from my sketchbook and my studio. 

 Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher