Joanna Rucklidge

Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design & Illustration, Sheffield Hallam University

Joanna Rucklidge

Tranquility in Nature

How to become a better illustrator (and citizen): spend time in imaginary worlds, talk to yourself, stay away from people, commune with nature, draw about it. A psychology and visual communication project by Dr. Elizabeth Freeman and Joanna Rucklidge


This project was designed to explore the relationship between visual communication and eco-psychology, with the aim of engaging illustration & graphic design students with issues around sustainability, nature connection & wellbeing via a series of creative prompts. Firstly, students imagine nature through writing and drawing; secondly, they experience an hour in ‘nature’ whilst recording a monologue; and finally, they develop a piece of visual communication.

During lockdown, instead of the field trip to a remote nature area, we encouraged students to independently access safe outdoor spaces, and we guided the creative activities, analysis and discussion remotely online. Combining disciplines, theoretical approaches, and physical spaces beyond the confines of a bedroom, a studio, or an educational establishment, the students learnt about themselves, their immediate surroundings, and their future aspirations. They were distant, but connected.

Research indicates that nature connection positively affects human well-being (Pritchard, Richardson & Sheffield, 2020) and attitude to environmental issues (Mayer & Frantz, 2004). Late teenage to early adulthood are a group that least connects to nature (MENE, 2014-15) and are most affected by mental illness. Mental distress has almost doubled amongst university students since lockdown (Public Health England, 2020). Incorporating nature connection into curriculum design could prove even more critical whilst restrictions and social distance continues. Nature – in all its guises – is continually available.

“I have learned… that it is important to connect with nature and we should try and create better awareness of environmental issues. As technology advances, we seem to be losing touch with nature and we shouldn’t, it’s not healthy…” Student A

“The project has been a huge benefit to me, allowing me a space to express how I feel, and to be myself, even in such strange times… It has helped change the way I look at nature, and my relationship with it…” Student B


Joanna Rucklidge and Dr. Elizabeth Freeman have worked together since 2016, devising a visual communication and eco-psychology project. This interdisciplinary collaboration involves image analysis, behavioural change measures and monitoring shifts in perspective. Outputs have included conference papers, an exhibition and a website. This work is ongoing, and continues to find new resonance during lockdown restrictions in the UK.

Joanna is a Senior Lecturer in Visual Communication at Sheffield Institute of Arts. She has worked in art & design education for over 20 years, consistently interested by how pedagogical experiences relate to environmental awareness. She studied BA Graphic Design at Glasgow School of Art and an MA in Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art. She also continues to work as an artist and designer tackling issues around waste, re-use and the value of resources.

Elizabeth is Associate Course Leader in the Department of Psychology, Sociology & Politics at Sheffield Hallam University. She completed her BSc at the University of Stirling in 2008 and her PhD in 2013 at the University of Leeds. She is a community-environmental psychologist, passionate about understanding human-nature interrelationships and exploring how natural environment experiences might benefit people and engender more positive environmental attitudes.