Grief/Relief A Visual Language & Block System 
Claire Bula

Visual Systems,
Building Blocks & Narrative

This was a project for my Visual Systems Class where the prompt asked us to explore scale, proportion, rhythm and meaning through designing a two dimensional set of symbols and then applying that symbol set to a three dimensional storytelling device.

I selected the topic of the feelings related to grief because it’s something that people don’t understand until they experience it and something that’s really difficult to talk about and communicate to others about effectively in words. I wanted to see if I could create visuals for feelings. I started by creating eight symbols to reflect feelings related to grief. Top photo, left to right: angry, anxious, afraid, guilty, sad, empty/lonely, restless/
unsettled, detached. But when I thought about being in a grieving place, what that person wants is a way forward, so I decided to design the eight symbols related to the relief feeling that countered each grief feeling. Second photo left to right: joyful/hopeful, composed/peaceful, safe/assured/brave, unburdenedcarefree, cheerful/
buoyant, embraced/loved, calm/content, engaged/connected).

My three dimensional objects are a set of custom cut wood blocks for my mother to use as a tool to help her move through feelings of grief related to my dad’s death. They are designed to sit out on a shelf to be viewed as a general visual item and most viewers will see them as purely objects d’art; however, since my mother is the intended audience, an audience of one, she can activate the design more fully. When she feels one of the feelings in the set, she can pick up that block and on the bottom are copy drawings of my dad’s handwriting taken from letters he wrote to her or to me with a phrase he would have said to her in that specific situation to ease her mind if he were still alive today. The intent is that she can read the phrase and see his handwriting to be able to hear his voice in her head and move through that difficult emotional moment. People who never pick the block up will not see the personal sentiments on the bottom and be none the wiser (but if they do, that’s fine, they are not secret messages).

Across the top of the set I embedded a poem my father used to say to us in difficult times to help us through, encourage us, or make us laugh and everyone in our family says this to each other when we think someone needs it.

I chose a 2” x 2” wood block as the medium because you can hold it in your hand and the physical act of holding something can be grounding and calming. My father was an architect in his professional life, but I think being an architect was a huge part of his identity as well and he loved natural wood and materials, so a building block of wood with no varnish or paint was the natural choice of medium to express this set of symbols in a three dimensional object. I used the laser cutter at the Engineering Center at BU (EPIC) to burn out the pattern, which left a really interesting texture in the burned out areas due to the grain of the wood. It was unexpected, but relevant because grief takes something away from you, but there are unexpected gains in every hardship and heartache.

Laser cut pine hardwood blocks 
Spring 2020
Individual block - 2 x 2 x 2 inches
Set of blocks - 8 x 2 x 2 inches

Final Symbols for Grief and Relief

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