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Visual Communication (MA)

Sadie Birchfield

I am a US based graphic designer with a keen focus on communication, storytelling and emotion. I believe graphic design can and should be used to build narratives, form relationships and translate complex feelings and concepts into visual mediums. 

Feminism and mental health heavily influence the way I approach my work, and I often create with a focus on the beauty of vulnerability and potential connection; how might others react, relate to and feel comforted or challenged by my art? What is the relationship between visual communication and what it is to be human? How can conversation and observation benefit my practice? How can research expand my own views and offer new perspectives and insights? 

I have worked in-house with companies such as Starbucks, contributing to their promotional and social media teams, as well as within agencies and multiple startups in Seattle, Washington. Through these various experiences, I have been able to explore multiple specializations across digital and print mediums, though I have found myself most excited by branding, publishing, creative writing and especially mixed media collaging. I love being able to build something new by breaking apart the old; recycling, reconstructing, reimagining.

photo of me

I love stories. From film to literature to television, escaping into these new worlds has been a fundamental part of my life for nearly two decades. (Cue the Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron.) I truly believe that fiction has a profound impact on society, as from the moment we turn on our first cartoon, whether it be consciously or subconsciously, we begin to mirror the characters and strive for these false realities that hold us captive. Fictional media is both a catalyst and a reaction to a progressing or regressing society; a way to take risks, to live out fantasies, to enact change gradually as we begin to think, “Wait a minute, I understand this character.”

I wanted to lean into this passion of mine when I began my research project, and I found many threads between the stories I love as well as my identity as a feminist. The women in these stories and the women who craft these worlds have inspired me, moved me, and in many ways - raised me. Yet historically, they have been misrepresented and underrepresented on all fronts. You know how it goes; regularly reduced to side characters, plot devices, caricatures of what some man decided a woman was because his girlfriend said that one thing to him that one time. I’ve begun to explore the ways the media and entertainment industry continue to fail women under the power of the patriarchy, but also the ways in which women have made magic and continue to make magic in these spaces. Women are nuanced and complex, and whether they are the hero or the villain in your story, they above all deserve agency and depth.

For my final project as a result of this research, I created “Prima”, a literary magazine where the fictional woman takes center stage. Each volume will dive deep into a new genre, medium or demographic, allowing for a diverse range of experiences and voices to be shared through various creative responses.

Scroll on to learn more about Volume 0.

EveDigital Mixed Media Collages Including scans, found imagery, online resources and textures, biblical art and excerpts from feminist text "Women's Rights, a Practical Guide" by Anna Coots and Tess Gill.
Deborah, Mary, Vashti, Esther, Judith

Volume 0, Lilith

Recently, I have found myself in a stage of life where I am unpacking a significant amount of religious trauma, a personal challenge I have thankfully been able to dive into with friends, peers and family over the past year. I’ve realized that perhaps some of the most impactful fictional characters, on society and on my life personally, originated in the Bible. This revelation led to the theme for the first edition, Biblical Women, and I could think of no better name for her than Lilith.

That being said, I am under the personal belief that the Bible is a work of fiction, or at least historical fiction, as I do acknowledge that quite a few individuals did in fact exist. While that may be my belief - it by no means needs to be yours! And while this book may contain criticisms or less than positive analysis about certain themes within the Bible, I want to emphasize that above all I believe and champion religious freedom, and I have found plenty of beauty in this experience as well.

I also want to be clear that I am not a theologist. I’m a feminist, a creative, a lover and consumer of storytelling and fictional media. And I am an agnostic woman who was raised in the Catholic church. 

This book does contain research, though it’s mainly a compilation of creative responses, writing, interventions, art and ultimately - a celebration and acknowledgement of the women in the Bible, through my own lens and life experience. Rebuilding, recycling, reconstructing, reimagining. What could society have been like had there been more female authors in the Bible? Had there been more female apostles? Had women had a seat at the table at the Last Supper? Had Eve not been painted as the originator of sin? Why have male theologists tried so hard to reduce the importance of the women that did have significant stories?

Above all, I hope Prima can become a place to explore the complexity of the female character and serve as a creative outlet for other women who love stories and want to see them reflect us in a way that feels fulfilling and empowering.

Narrative Piece - Reimagining the Story of Delilah
Throughout the book I have many interventions, rewriting and reconstructing stories that I found did a disservice to the female characters they spoke of, and often didn't even grant a name.
Painting of Mary and Jesus by Vladimir Fiala, collaged with scanned image of the Book of Mary, which has been deemed “non-canon” by the Church.
Leonardo DaVinci’s “The Last Supper”, collaged to incorporate women, as it always should have been. I can’t help but to wonder what society may look like today, if women had been given a seat at this table.
ruth and naomi

Why Volume 0?

My goal for Volume 0 was to lay a foundation for what I wanted Prima to be. How could I create a literary magazine that celebrated women in storytelling by using storytelling itself as a method? For me, that looked primarily like writing and design, but as I began to create around the theme, I realized that I did not want to be the only voice included in this project. Instead, what if this was a much larger, collaborative magazine where a variety of women from diverse backgrounds could contribute their creativity?

For Volume 1 in particular, the focus is (of course) biblical. If you have any attachment or interest in this theme, I’d love to connect! Feel free to submit narrative writing, poetry, fine art, digital media, photography or anything of a creative nature that you fancy, and stay tuned for the official first publication of Prima.

When women stop reading the novel will be dead

Research Booklet

Split into two parts, "How She was Written" and "How She was Judged", this booklet is an 80+ page reader on how women have been represented in fictional work, as well as in the industries that create it. A blend of observations, interviews, surveys, and academic research, I wanted to better understand not only how the female character has been structured throughout history, but also how she has been marketed and viewed by society. Why is "chick-lit" considered an inferior genre? Why have female dominated genres been so gendered in their marketing? Why is there still so much rampant sexism in the film, television and publishing industries?

western canon
chick lit
comic book women

Supporting Research

During one of our weekly process groups in October, we were tasked to walk in the areas around our White City campus and document various means of public publishing. I found myself consistently being drawn to the "business card" like stickers pressed against the window panes of countless shops, their edges decaying away as weather and time took its toll. Nearly all of them had the contact information for general contractors, offering services from shutter installation to glass repair. The second part of this project was to then republish an aspect of our research in the same way, and as my research at that time was centered around mental health, I began to find threads to connect the two together.

According to the Office of National Statistics, the highest demographic of people committing suicide per year in the UK is men ages 40-49. According to the NHBC foundation, the highest demographic of people working in general contracting are men ages 45-49.

I saw this correlation as an opportunity to potentially speak to an audience that had a dire need for mental health resources. Instead of business cards for general contracting, I decided to make them for the most prominent mental health hotlines and organizations in the UK:

Saneline, NSPH UK, Samaratins, Calm, SHOUT

The goal was to republish their webpages in a way that would seamlessly blend with the already existing stickers. The idea is that someone, at some point, may stumble across them unintentionally and whether it be next week or years down the line, they make make a difference.

I wanted to mimic the existing designs of the business card stickers, while also leaning into a sightly more vibrant look and feel. This led to two sets of five stickers; one meant to blend completely, and one to draw in a bit more attention.
business cards
stickers before
Before Adding Resource Stickers
After Adding Resource Stickers