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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Waiting Out The Waitlist

It’s April. That means the deadline has come and gone. All results are in. Yeah! Or, perhaps not.

There are only three answers to the college admission question. Two are definitive. One leaves you and your teen hanging. The “yes’s” are invigorating. (They like me; they really like me!) The “no’s” can be crushing. The dreaded waitlist just sits there like a lump in your stomach.

AIGA design archives

AIGA design archives

The Facts
The reality is, more students apply to any individual college than can ever be accepted. Simultaneously, every institution has its own unique goals and priorities. The demographics, artistic ability, majors, GPA, etc. of each incoming freshmen class needs to meet those goals. Taryn Wolf, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at MICA, shared that MICA was on the Common App for the first time this year. Consequently, their application numbers were way up. That’s good for the college and the class as a whole; it just makes the waiting game tougher.

Sadly, choices of who is accepted may sometimes come down to the fact that a college is looking for more illustrators than industrial design majors this year. It’s not personal, although that rarely makes anyone feel any better.

Managing The Wait
So, how do you and your teen master the dreadful waitlist experience with the least amount of stress? It’s a three-step process, with the last one requiring time, dedication, and patience.

stamps logoStart by accepting an offer of admission. Congratulations! You’ve got a kid in college! Make sure to get your deposit in by May 1st, National College Enrollment Deposit Day. Second, I’d encourage your teen to communicate with those schools he won’t be attending. A polite thank you, but no thank you is greatly appreciated (and it may help someone else gain acceptance from that waitlist!)

Then it’s time to get proactive. Staying on a waitlist begins with a response. Karina Moore is the Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management at University of Michigan’s Stamps School of Art & Design (Stamps). She put it clearly, “students must take action and accept the offer in order to be placed on the waitlist.” Then, your teen needs to get busy demonstrating how and why he should be accepted for enrollment.

Knowledge is power. Once he’s on the list get your teen to contact his admissions representative and inquire why he was waitlisted. GPA too low? Dedicated interest not apparent? Listen to the reply and respond accordingly.

Keep Calm waitingColleges welcome and often encourage sending in updates. But please don’t bombard them! Updating a file with solid GPA improvements, a new achievement, a mentor’s recommendations, or new artwork is appropriate. Encourage your daughter to build a website of her new work and send the link. Even better: go visit the school. She should make an appointment with her rep while on campus. Hand delivering that additional work provides an opportunity for greater interaction and a personal pitch of the value she’ll bring to campus. Taryn was encouraging here as well; “the interest and enthusiasm that some students are showing will be meaningful,” when it comes to accepting students off the list.

The waitlist process is different for each college and sometimes each program. Stamps has its own procedure which means your teen isn’t on the same list as those seeking acceptance into other University of Michigan departments. Students waitlisted there are encouraged to email new accomplishments and creative work to stamps-admissions@umich.eduMICA-hopeful students should contact the college for a direct email address.

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Fashion at the Oscars

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road

Bear with me. I know we’ve turned the calendar to March, but I’ve got February on the brain. February, film, and fashion that is. Blame it on the Academy Awards.

Elegantly styled, cool blue and soft yellow dresses blanketed the red carpet at this year’s Oscars, but what caught my attention was contrary to the glamour and gold. It was Mad Max: Fury Road, winner of this year’s award for Best Costume Design. The distressed clothing in the film, intended for survival in a dystopian society, is proof positive that not everything about apparel design needs to focus on beauty.

Welcome to the world of Costume Design! Fashion Design’s first cousin doesn’t respond to the needs or whims of each passing season. Rather, it answers to a production house, director, or actor. Costume designers are imagination specialists. Instead of focusing on style and looking to set future trends, they typically reflect the past – or a fictitious future in the case of Mad Max – and gain inspiration from a specific time or place.

Both are storytellers, using fabrics and soft materials to express their point of view. Yet they each target a different audience. Fashion designers integrate their knowledge of textiles and clothing with what’s happening in the world around them, using current events and trends as their inspiration. Their intent is to generate sales and clothe the public.

University of Florida

University of Florida School of Theatre & Dance

Costume designers communicate the story of one individual at a time, informing us of a character’s lifestyle, wealth, and social status by the clothes on his back.

Most colleges and universities teach Costume Design as part of the Drama department, giving students full exposure to the world of theatre. If your teen has a passion for fashion, but also loves the stage – or history – make sure you include Costume Design as part of your college research. Each of the colleges listed below offers a BFA in Costume Design.

Break a leg!

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