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The illustrated letter: a practice-based investigation of epistolary storytelling through illustration

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posted on 2023-08-14, 14:31 authored by Mrinali Alvarez Astacio

This practice-based research thesis examines the picture-story letter, a term used in

this research to indicate a type of illustrated letter whose content is a story. The aim of

this research is to investigate the potential of this form of correspondence as an effective

storytelling medium and the particular qualities that the epistolary genre can contribute

to storytelling.

The research was carried out through a series of experiments in the making of picture-story

letters that look at how the letter’s materiality, epistolarity and ‘letterness’ influence

storytelling. Through practice, epistolary theories, such as parousia, homilia, ‘letterness’

were tested and applied to written and visual epistolary elements. Contextual research

on the epistolary genre, its history, theories and conventions informed my practice. The

picture-story letters of Beatrix Potter and JRR Tolkien are used as case studies in this


This research finds that the features of the illustrated letter can be integrated in storytelling;

its materiality, penmanship, colour, text and illustration have a role as narrative

devices. The unbound paper, its foldings and additions support the narrative and

provide interactivity to the reader. Additionally, in this research I was able to identify an

approach to epistolary storytelling that I term ‘epistolary illustration’. Besides its utility

in the making of picture-story letters epistolary illustration served as a creative process

that can be applied across genres.

The potential of the picture-story letter as an alternative medium for illustrated stories is

demonstrated, offering a wide range of creative possibilities for author-illustrators. The

epistolary genre’s contributions to the illustrated story are its format, epistolary element,

qualities and materiality, that evoke the qualities of a personal and private conversation,

providing an engaging experience to the reader.



Anglia Ruskin University

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  • PhD

Thesis type

  • Doctoral

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Legacy Faculty/School/Department

Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


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