Industrial Design: A Different Art Major

By Carla R. Gonzalez

CCS Product Design student work

CCS Product Design student work

Knowing how to guide your creative student can be difficult, particularly if they show an affinity for both the creative and mechanical (robotics, systems and engineering, new technologies), and have an interest in design trends, cars, clothes, or gadgets. All these interests are relevant to Industrial Design. According to the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA) website, “…Industrial Design is the professional service of creating products and systems that optimize function, value, and appearance for the mutual benefit of both user and manufacturer.” So while a creative student may be hesitant to choose an art-based college or career, it may be worth researching art and design colleges that have programs in Industrial Design or related fields like Product Design, Transportation Design, Toy Design, or even Fashion Accessories Design and Shoe Design.

CCS Product Design student work

CCS Product Design student work

The career possibilities for graduates of such programs are widely varied and can range from designing home and kitchen appliances to cars and motorcycles, athletic gear, fashion and leather goods, watches, bicycles, furniture, and more. The best design students are often those who want to find ways of improving functionality. They understand the positive impact good design can have on user-perception, functionality, and desirability, and they have an interest in consumer trends and marketing. Industrial designers help develop a brand’s physical identity and build customer loyalty through design and user experience.

national endowment for arts 2013Potential design students need to know that not all design majors need to spend years learning to paint. What they will do is develop their ability to draw and communicate visually and to conduct research to develop innovative designs that meet current and future societal needs and wants. Industrial Design programs teach how to design digitally in 3D, design for an audience, create and print 3D prototypes, connect design to user experience, and work collaboratively with craftspeople, advertisers, and graphic designers. Many programs offer career preparation by integrating corporate-sponsored projects with real-world design problems into the studio classroom. They give students the opportunity to get in front of professional designers, adhere to real deadlines, collaborate, and engage in a healthy dose of friendly competition; all essential to understanding how jobs in the design industry really work. Industrial Design students can be assured that there are jobs out there, and that the demand for better, smarter, and more beautiful design won’t likely diminish any time soon.

College for Creative Studies is one of the top Design Schools in the US based on Alumni Success by LinkedIn. Carla R. Gonzalez is the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at College for Creative Studies. She can be reached at cgonzalez@collegeforcreativestudies.edu.

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Meet Fiber Artist Liz Robb

Every once in a while I come across a young artist whose creativity, vision and talent elicit a compelling and audible “wow” from me. Liz Robb is one of those artists.

A friend of mine introduced me to her work and I was immediately intrigued. Clearly, I needed to learn her story first hand.

basket of yarn2

Tools of the Trade

A fiber artist, Liz began her career as a fashion designer, and is now charting a new path as a fine artist. She holds a BFA in Fashion Design from the University of Cincinnati (UC), and a MFA in Fibers from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). In between the two she worked in fashion in New York and Wisconsin. Last fall I was in San Francisco, where she now lives and works, and had the opportunity to visit her studio. We talked about her chosen career path, her influences along the way, how she’s making it work as a fine artist, and suggestions she has for future artists. Here is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Art.College.Life.:        You were drawn to textiles at a young age. How did it all start?

Liz:           Sewing was always part of my childhood. My mom taught me, and in high school I made my own dresses for dances, which kind of sprung into going to school for fashion design. My ruling out criteria for colleges was I wanted someplace where I could take it from sketching to finish. That was important to me; a big part of my ethos was to actually make. Now, instead of just thinking and ideating and sketching I can actually execute a finished product.

ACL:         Tell me about your shift from clothing design to fine arts.

Liz:           I knew that I wanted to go back to school because I wanted to teach someday. I knew I had to get my masters if I wanted to be a professor. I didn’t think I’d need one in fashion design but I wanted to diversify. Since I was always knitting sweaters it kind of opened my eyes to building from the fiber up instead of just the fabric.

It was a personal challenge to move away from design into fine art. That was at the core of what I loved about making and creating, being more conceptual and art related instead of practical. Of course I got a lot of push back from my parents at first.

IMG_0492 studio wallACL:         Let’s change threads here (sorry!). You’ve got a wonderful indigo theme. What inspired you?

Liz:           While at SCAD I spent two months at their Lacoste, France campus. Denise Lambert, the master Woad (French indigo) dyer of France came to study with us. I was able to work intensely and it changed what I was working on and thinking about. I started dyeing linen and papers, and making impressions, which was a big shift for me. I made my first big weaving.

After returning from France I visited a friend in New Orleans. They have an art walk there every month, and I ended up doing a group show with five people. I dipped tassels, dipping and rewrapping, constructing and deconstructing, mostly working in indigo. Later on I tried plaster and then encaustic. I wanted to push it further. It was uncomfortable, and it was hard to put paint on something I had just woven.

ACL:         What have been some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to face?

Liz:            The scariest part for me was doing it; just starting. For applying for fashion design too, just thinking what do I want to do? Luckily, through the co-ops [at UC] I was able to rule out the things I didn’t want to do. The internships there helped me weed it down.

Choosing to go back to school was a big decision. I knew I had some dream schools, and I visited the ones I wanted to go to. It helped me a ton, visiting them and meeting the people and understanding the energy and culture there. That was a big influence for me.

ACL:          So now, looking to your future, what are your goals? And what type of marketing and networking tools are you employing to reach those goals?

Liz's studio

Liz’s studio

Liz:            I’m looking for gallery representation in three cities, and globally. My big cities I love are SF, NY, and Berlin or Tokyo. The Japanese market I think is really special.

I have a one-year business plan and a five-year plan. SCAD has a professional practice class – for undergrads too – where you work on your website, business cards, all your marketing materials, and business plan. I’d thought about it but didn’t know what it meant. Now I have it, and reference it often.

I’ve also got a few books that have helped me, from people who’ve done it themselves. Art, Inc., tells how to properly submit to galleries, what sort of paperwork you need, etc. I need to focus on the fact that I’m creating a body of work. I need to photograph it well. I’ve set up a website, and use social media to create multiple touch points where my audience can go to get to know me. I can be really shy and not want to market myself. I don’t like being in the spotlight, promoting myself so hard, but you have to. So I’m learning how to do that gracefully.

ACL:          How do you support yourself?

Liz:            I want to focus on my work. I know it doesn’t make enough money. I’ve saved a lot from working and have been supporting myself, kind of living like I was in school. To replenish it I’ve been thinking, do I want to work in an artistic field or completely unrelated? I’ve seen and heard both ways. I’ve looked at being a studio helper or installing shows, which is great for networking too. I actually just signed up to be a Lyft driver, which is part-time work that you can choose whenever you want to work. I figure if I do that Monday through Friday morning I can cover my rent and materials, and focus the rest of the day on me. It’s actually a great way to do it.

ACL:          If you could do it all over again what kind of advice would you have given yourself in high school?

Liz:            Everything I feel sounds like a cliché. I guess, just understand yourself. Write things down. What do you want to see happen for yourself next? Think outside of what you think is supposed to happen. For me, travel and especially volunteering helped me see outside myself, and my small world. I have friends who want to be the top if their field. Others want to move in different ways like philanthropy or work with non-profits. You need to be humbled; especially at that age, because everything has been so “you, you, me focused” It’s the nature of being a teenager, but you need to get outside yourself.

I respect people who can take a year off and find themselves, as opposed to forcing themselves into a program that they’re not interested in. Although I think you have to trust yourself; some people need that push to get to know what they want to do. It really depends on the person.

Liz (and Hank) in her studio

Liz (and Hank) in her studio

ACL:         Any other words of wisdom to younger aspiring artists?

Liz:            Stay authentic. Be authentic. That’s always what’s going to come through in the end.

You can see Liz’s fiber art at Art Works Downtown in San Rafael, CA, January 9 – February 27, and at the International Textile Biennial in Haacht, Belgium in February and March. In May she’ll debut a new line of fabrics for P&B Textiles at the Minneapolis Quilt Market.

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5 Tips From Portfolio Day

Portfolio Day review

Portfolio Day review

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to observe Portfolio Day, up close and in person. What a great experience!

Sitting alongside Thom Glick, CCAD’s Associate Director of Admissions, I witnessed first-hand, how beneficial the advice and guidance of a good counselor can be. Thom will be offering up his own portfolio guidelines for burgeoning creatives in a future blog post, but for now I wanted to share my take on a few of the tips he handed out for those working on their portfolios.

1 – Try to focus your work. Most colleges are looking to see your skill level as well as your passion. If you concentrate your work in the areas you’re most passionate about, admissions personnel will be better able to guide you towards a more successful college path.

2 – Work to develop your own voice. This sounds easy, but takes time and dedication. It’s about expressing what you see and how you see it. We all have artists, artwork, and design styles that influence us. Creating your own voice begins with finding the multiple influencers that speak to you, then interpreting them, and incorporating that interpretation into your own work. Thom Glick said it clearly. “Don’t copy exactly what you see; find multiple influences, make them yours and your style will develop.” Clara Lieu is a visual artist and Adjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. She describes it this way; “the best way to find your own individual style is to try out as many different ways of working as possible.”

3 – Having a theme can be a good idea. That doesn’t mean paint only trees, but maybe nature and scenery in different seasons, from different perspectives, created using different mediums. Stretch yourself. Nature can also be portrayed as a hurricane-damaged environment or new growth after a wildfire. Consistency shows planning and forethought which means you’re filtering and thinking strategically. Admissions personnel and professors love to see those traits and skills.

4Your work doesn’t need to be finished. Well, not all of it at least. But including unfinished work actually shows professors how you think, how you process, and what draws you to a subject matter. Besides that, your goal is to attend college so you can perfect your artistic skills. They don’t need to be perfect when you walk in the door.

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

5Review your portfolio. And as you do, ask yourself does this reflect my interests? Does it line up with what I want to study and create? If fashion design is your thing and you only draw static items (think: classroom still life) you’re not expressing what sits at the core of fashion: people and clothing that move. Taken a step further, you’re also not expressing your stated interest. That sends a conflicting message to those reviewing your portfolio.

For objective advice and counseling, Portfolio Day is a slam dunk! Sophomores, juniors and seniors can all benefit from the time invested. Find one near your neck of the woods, grab your portfolio, and go visit. You won’t regret it.

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More Ways To Get Inspired

Courtesy of Art Center College of Design

Courtesy of Art Center College of Design

Fall has definitely arrived. My front doorstep is beginning to pile high with leaves, and my inbox is overflowing with emails from colleges and universities. The change in season seems to kick-start the collegiate lecture and workshop circuit, just when I’m looking for some artistic inspiration and am ready to spend more time indoors. Perfect!

Colleges and universities show off their smarts by hosting community-gathering events, led by some very talented and creative individuals. What a great way to learn from those who are working in the arts, creating opportunities, and pushing boundaries. Here’s a chance to broaden your horizons, change your perspective, and get inspired.

I’ve highlighted some individual events as well as entire series’. Make sure to check them out, and do a bit of digging in your own backyard.

Pratt – New York
The Art of Dining: How Master Chefs and Designers Collaborate (October 23)

Columbia University – New York
School of the Arts
Fall 2014 public programs

University of Wisconsin – Madison, WI
Visiting artists 2014-2015
Holland Cotter, Art Critic for The New York Times (October 30)
Conrad A. Elvehjem Building, L160; 6:00 pm

Southern Methodist University – Dallas, TX
Meadows School of the Arts
Fall 2014 Lecture Series

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts – Philadelphia, PA
Visiting Artists Program

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3 Resources Close To Home

colored pastels 2It starts in high school, or even middle school; that panicky feeling parents get as they consider their teen’s future. What college will my child attend? What will she study? What type of career can it lead to? And – here’s where the panic kicks in – how do I help him find the right place?

When my kids were beginning high school I felt like I needed to know all the answers to these questions, and more. Truth-be-told, I didn’t know where to start, and didn’t know which questions would help move me forward instead of just adding to the panic.

With that in mind, here are three places you can begin your own research. They’re simple, easily accessible, and right under your nose.

1. High School Counselor

These tireless advisors are true advocates for your children. Given the responsibility of guiding students through high school, they offer the ultimate in academic, personal, and developmental support. Traditionally they work with each student for four years, which gives them the chance to truly know your child and help with the transition to college. They’ll offer specific college suggestions based on your child’s strengths and interests, provide advice on grade point averages and standardized tests, and assist with the quagmire that is today’s application process.

2. High School Art Teacher

Your high school art teachers are tour guides for your child’s artistic exploration. They introduce students to the basic principles of art and design, and expand their comprehension of the subject by engaging students with a diverse variety of artistic styles, artists, and media. As up close observers they’ll assess your child’s artistic skills, guide for strengths, and make suggestions in the form of medium, career, and even school choices.

3. Neighbors

If you have children in high school then I’m guessing you have friends or neighbors with college age children as well. Although they haven’t walked in your exact shoes, they’ve been down this road before and should be a wealth of information. They can make recommendations based their own experiences and offer up personal tidbits that you might not have heard of otherwise. Most importantly – for that panicky feeling – they’ve survived the process, and lived to talk about it.

As a parent, you’re the one with the front row seat to your child’s artistic strengths and passions. If you want to know how you can guide them to the best college fit, start talking. Even asking “where do I begin?” or “how did you begin?” will get you going. After you’ve started these conversations I’d suggest you start checking out some colleges, but we can talk about that next week.

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