Is Graphic Design an Option for Your Teen?

I’m beginning to think that graphic designers rule the world. Seriously.

trader joes salsa

Think graphic designers don’t influence you? Guess again. Do you choose a product at Trader Joe’s because you like the label design? Thank a graphic designer. Do you read the nutrition fact panel on the side? Thank a graphic designer. And we haven’t even left the grocery store. The art form has applications in every field from advertising to education, science, healthcare, and more. Skillful graphic designers inspire us, keep us safe, and change our lives. They work with line, color, shape, form, space, and type in every medium. They’re master communicators hiding in plain sight behind a pen, pencil, or keystroke.

So who becomes a graphic designer? And is it a plausible career path for your teen? Here are some observations to consider.

tour de franceDesigners are inquisitive at their core. They’re creative makers who can spend endless hours devoted to perfecting the details of a drawing or design. Yet they’re also keenly aware of the big picture and how the whole fits together. They have an aesthetic awareness and appreciate connections that others may not perceive. And they’re often drawn to the conceptual or visual applications of math. Think geometry instead of algebra.

Graphic Design USA recently announced the top graphic design programs across the country. There are many familiar names on the list and some not as well known. It’s a great place to start a college search if your teen is intrigued by the world of graphics. Do your research to ensure your family finds the best college fit. Also, make sure to check our ValuePenguin’s list of the best cities for graphic design careers and the salaries that accompany them.

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Art College Search Tips: Back to Basics

Glassblowing: University of Washington

Glassblowing: University of Washington

Starting the college search process for the aspiring artist in your family takes a leap of faith. There are so many details to consider that it’s often confusing to know when, where, and how to begin your teen’s search.

Let’s keep it simple. At the beginning, your main purpose is to expose your teen to a variety of choices. Open her eyes and let her see, feel, and imagine herself in different scenarios. Then, as decisions are made she’ll be able to narrow the field to what fits her – and your – needs and wants.

Begin your search by focusing on a limited number of factors. I’ve chosen three to get you going. They’ll provide focus when researching from home and when touring campuses. And the answers your teen and family come up with will guide and influence other decisions down the road. There is no sequence to these three. I recommend exploring them together to see what you come up with.

Ceramics: California College of the Arts

Ceramics: California College of the Arts

Major Decisions
Is illustration your daughter’s passion? Can she draw non-stop from her imagination? Perhaps she’d like to apply her talents to the world of animation. Most art campuses have cinematic majors these days, but many liberal arts colleges and universities may not. Translation: pay attention, because not all colleges offer every major. However, make sure you keep in mind this staggering statistic: according to the National Center for Education Statistics about 80% of students in the US end up changing their major at least once.

BA or BFA?   We know that different institutions offer different majors. They also provide different degree programs. The general rule of thumb is that 60% of study and class time will be spent on arts programming on the way to a Bachelor of Fine Arts. The other 40% will be spent on support courses and general studies. The reverse is true for a Bachelor of Arts. Those seeking a Bachelor of Design typically follow a ratio similar to a BFA.

Big Fish In A Little Pond    Is an art and design school what your teen is looking for, or would she prefer to integrate her studies within a broader liberal arts education? The former will have her learning and living with artists 24/7. That’s invigorating but may also feel limiting. At the latter, she’ll get to mix it up with STEM, English, philosophy majors and more. That can speak to artistic inspiration, cross-pollination, and a soft place to land if she decides art isn’t her field after all.

Just remember, there is no “right” answer to any of these questions.  There is only what’s right for your teen and your family. And, once your high schooler begins to discover her preferences other questions will develop, but she’ll be on her way to finding her best college fit.

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Artists #Making It Work: Liz Robb

Liz Robb

Liz Robb

It’s often said that artists cannot make a living from their artwork alone. Parents of aspiring fine artists stress about it in their souls.

Liz Robb is a young fiber artist who is beginning to prove that worry to be unnecessary, especially for her parents. I interviewed Liz in the fall of 2014 soon after she completed her MFA and moved to San Francisco. At the time she was just beginning; figuring out how to make it as a successful fiber artist. A short 18 months later she’s building quite a name for herself.

Since we’ve last connected, Liz has exhibited at numerous shows throughout the west as well as at the International Textile Art Biennial in Belgium. She completed a two-month artistic residency at the Icelandic Textile Center in Blönduós, Iceland, has received numerous awards, and has had her art published in several design magazines.

Liz' Rope Curvature on display

Liz’ Rope Curvature on display

Lucky me, I ran into Liz this past weekend where she was showcasing her textural wonders at the StARTup Art Fair in San Francisco. The setting was unique. 40-some contemporary, independent artists displayed their work in individual hotel rooms of a 1950’s motor lodge turned boutique “California beach house” style hotel. No kidding!

At the show and on her website I found Liz’ most recent body of work to be focused and distinctive, with an obvious influence of her time in Iceland.

Whether you’re an aspiring artist or the parent of someone who dreams of being one, make sure to read my interview with Liz. Her words offer clear insight into the creative process and what artists feel as they develop their career paths.

Clearly, Liz’ days of Lyft and Uber driving to supplement her art career are receding in her rear-view mirror.

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Northeastern University: Create Your Own Path

CAMD students

CAMD students

Northeastern University’s College of Arts, Media & Design (CAMD) takes creative education to a new level. There are more great things to say about this program than can easily fit into one blog. Seriously. I’ve been researching the program for a family and just had to share my findings with you.

Beginning with the basics, Northeastern (NU) has almost 18,000 undergraduates, with 2,000 of them enrolled in CAMD. What’s unique here is the combination of available educational options. They lead to a plethora of opportunities, especially benefitting those who want to create their own path. Within the college students can graduate with a single major, two double majors, or combine two half majors. Huh? Yep! Undergraduates can explore and intertwine two passions – two half majors – and accumulate more credits than with one major, but fewer than doubling up.

The university is focused on experiential learning; getting up, out of your seat, and becoming involved. Students across all departments are required to engage in at least one form of experiential education:

  • Barcelona architecture

    Barcelona architecture

    Cooperative education (co-op) typically takes one semester. Students can co-op three times, providing up to 18 months of real-world education. Aspiring artists and designers gain professional hands-on experience. They engage with industry leaders, explore careers, and begin building their career paths.

  • Service learning creates opportunities for students to apply their creative skill set to the greater community, and vice versa. They become active participants, utilizing their newly gained artistic capabilities while furthering social justice.
  • CAMD students also have the opportunity to create individual research projects. Here they can take a deep dive into a singular focus with a faculty member, a group of peers, or on their own.
  • Study abroad offers a whole host of opportunities. Beyond spending a semester studying the Medici’s artistic influence in Florence or fashion in France, students can take a co-op, service learning, or research project abroad. Sign me up!!

Designers also have Scout, an on-campus student-led design studio giving them access to real clients as they solve real design problems.

Northeastern University

Northeastern University

Design, Game Design, and Media Arts majors earn BFAs. Studio Art majors graduate with a BFA through a partnership with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA). (A program note: beginning this fall SMFA will become part of Tufts University. I don’t yet know how this will affect the Studio Arts major at NU.) Other CAMD majors graduate with a BA. Portfolios are required for the BFA in Studio Art and are optional for other majors.

CAMD prides itself on educating and molding its students into engaged and vibrant makers, and ensuring that each one has a perspective of place in the global environment. I hope you go check it out.

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More College Tour Tips for Visual Artists

Boston College

Boston College

Teenage artists and designers are like everyone else this time of year. They’re anxious for spring and the accompanying warmer weather that gets everyone outside. I’d suggest guiding – and prodding if necessary – those thoughts of outdoor escape towards touring colleges. Spring break and summer are optimal times to explore as a family.

I’ve toured a lot of colleges and universities, and have found these few fundamental tips can turn touring time into very worthwhile experiences. Share them with your teen ahead of time and you’ll have some very successful touring!

Ask questions. In information sessions, while on tour, and of anyone you see. Remember that tour guides are paid cheerleaders. Listen to them, but keep in mind that random students will give you their unbiased view. Professors will have a completely different perspective. (For what it’s worth, parents are the ones asking most of the college tour questions. Getting your teen to speak up will keep them engaged and get noticed by admissions reps. File that under demonstrating interest!)

Take the tour! Getting oriented will help you and your teen visualize the layout of the land. How far is the dorm from the studio? Is the campus integrated into the surrounding city? Or does it have a defined border?

University of Washington textile studio

University of Washington textile studio

Get lost. As an avid traveller, I often find the most wonderful gems when not on a planned tour. The same rule applies to wandering around college campuses. I’d pay special attention to studio spaces; your teen will be spending the majority of her time there. Make sure to include off-campus spots too.

Document it. This is the voice of experience here. Even if you only visit one campus at a time, you will mix places up. I guarantee it! Make sure your teen records his thoughts and impressions with words and photos. You can thank me later.

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