Ways of being and doing: Reflections on researching together

Ways of being and doing: Reflections on researching together


Jean's collageI’ve been working with the Covid Realities, now Changing Realities research project to support zine-making since late 2020.

For me, and my involvement as an artist, the projects have been a beacon of good practice, in their ways of working, values and ethos.

Although I have been facilitating zine making with groups and communities for years, when I joined Covid Realities I hadn’t made a collective zine with people online before. I was asked to support a collective zine with participants to explore their experiences of life through the pandemic and what needed to change. I had to find new ways of working – from providing the right zine making materials through the post, to figuring out how to hold space online for people to be creative together, and make decisions together democratically and inclusively about how they wanted the zine to be.

Could this be done? How would it all work?

I had a lot of questions and uncertainty, but I quickly discovered that I wouldn’t be figuring it out alone.

I worked in close collaboration with the research team to figure out the best processes. Katie Pybus, in particular, helped so much with supporting the facilitation of the online workshops, as well as dealing with the logistics of getting zine packs to people, and organising communications.

I also worked with Tom Flannery, a graphic and web designer working with the project, who brought his magic design eye to give the zine its really cohesive visual identity. You can read the zine here.

At the heart of Covid Realities there was a feeling and attitude that we are all learning and doing together. Embedded into everything was an active commitment to centreing the voices of participants – checking in with people time and time again – with an attitude of care, honesty, compassion, and often humour.

Whether this is about making a change, large or small, to a way of doing something, asking ourselves questions, or stopping to reflect – it was woven throughout.

I am really grateful for the experience of working with both projects. I have learned so much, particularly from participants, who were so open in sharing their creativity in the midst of the most difficult of circumstances, and also in giving me feedback about what could work better in the future.

This year I supported the making of two further zines, ‘Reflections on our Participatory Research’ and ‘Doing It Together: An (un) guide to making zines with people’

‘Reflections on our Participatory Research’ is a collective zine made with participants, researchers and close colleagues about the approaches of working together on Covid Realities. We made the zine online together as a creative way of reflecting on our experiences. You can read it here.

‘Doing It Together: An (un) guide to making zines with people’ shares our learnings about using zine-making as part of the Covid Realities research. It includes reflections and insights from participants and researchers from the project as other zine makers who we have learned from. You can read it here.

Limited print copies of both zines are available. If you are interested in a print copy of either of them, email me at Jeanmariemcewan@gmail.com with a line about how/why it would be useful to you, your project, group or organisation.

Zine making with Covid Realities

Zine making with Covid Realities

6 JULY 2022

International Zine Month - Main ImageDid you know July is International Zine Month? 

I’m lucky to be spending a good chunk of the month doing lots of zine activities with the Covid Realities project. Covid Realities is a national research project which has been doing participatory online research during the pandemic with parents and carers living on a low-income.

I have been working with the project since early 2021 to support zinemaking with participants and researchers as part of this work.

Last year we made a collective zine to creatively explore experiences of living through the pandemic on a low income, which included individual stories as well as acting as a collective voice for what needs to change in the future and why. You can read it here. 

This summer I’m delighted to be back with Covid Realities to facilitate more zine making, supported by fellow participatory artists Catherine Cartwright and Ros Frazer.

We’re working with participants, researchers and collaborators to make a collective zine documenting what the methods used in the project – what has been done and how it has been done. As well as a space for people involved in the project to reflect together, the zine is also a way of sharing our learning with other researchers and organisations, so that they feel more confident adopting similar approaches.

I’m also facilitating two zine making sessions for participatory researchers alongside the team. These workshops will provide a space to reflect on the process of doing participatory work, and to discuss the ethical and methodological issues such work involves, with zine-making as the medium. There will be one in person session (in York on 18th July) and one online session (over Zoom on 21st July).

Places are free but booking is essential. Attendees on the online workshop will receive a bespoke zine pack. There are some travel bursaries available for the in person session.

More information and booking details are available at Covid Realities

And finally, along with the team, I’m putting together a zine guide (or an ‘unguide’ as I’m beginning to think of it) to share how we have worked with zines on Covid Realities and learning we can pass on to others who are interested in using zines as a way to connect, share and learn with others.

Zines are shared conversations, so it feels right that this guide will also include contributions from other zinemakers to include their knowledge and insights too.

The zine will be launched later this summer – watch this space!

How to Make a Zine

How to Make a Zine

20 APRIL 2022

Blog post main imageI’ve been folding and copying some collage mini zines to share with staff and students at Bradford University I’m supporting to run a zine making workshop on campus this week for Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme this year is loneliness.

The team wanted to offer a creative space for people to explore their own ways of dealing with loneliness, and healing strategies, and to be able to share these with others.

Making zines (Do it Yourself magazines) , and especially mini zines (an 8 page booklet made from one sheet of paper) are a great way of exploring ideas or themes that are meaningful to us.

Minizines, or instant books as they are sometimes called, can be made really quickly and easily, through a few folds and a cut. Then you have 8 pages to explore whatever you want, in your own way – whether it is writing, drawing, collage – its up to you. Zines are all about self expression on your own terms – so you get to make the rules! There is no right or wrong way to do it. The added bonus of making these one page zines is that you can then photocopy them and fold and cut your copies, to share your ideas with the world (if you want to).

I like to work with collage because it offers a different kind of way of being creative with words and images. You don’t need any special skills – you just play with arranging things on the paper till they mean something to you or spark some ideas. You’ll know when that moment comes. When I’m making a collage mini zine, I often start with not knowing what I’m going to do or say – the magic is that it happens through doing it.

What's a Zine Handout
What's a Zine Handout p2
Use any words, images and materials that you can find or are you are drawn to – I love to work with pictures of birds and trees, and put words on top of textures.

I am also inspired by Buddhist ideas on the interconnection of all things, or ‘interbeing’ as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh puts it – which help me feel less lonely in tough times. These little mini zines are the result of a little time spent with myself exploring these ideas.

If you’d like to make some time and space to explore your own ideas and thoughts for Mental Health Awareness Week (or any time), all you need to make a mini zine is a sheet of paper.

A4 is perfect, but you can go bigger or smaller, and use any kind of paper (eg wrapping paper, magazine pages etc), a pair of scissors, and something to write or draw with. If you can get hold of a glue stick (or sellotape) then you can also collage – finding whatever you might have to hand. Enjoy 🙂


The visual instructions below show you how to fold and cut an instant book mini zine.

Instant Book Instructions

From Create Connect Make, a project I am working on with Keighley Library.

This online video workshop from Cherry Styles from Salford Zine Library with Kirklees Library tells you more about zines and takes you through the process of making a mini zine.