College Tour: Art Center College of Design

In early April, I toured the Art Center College of Design in California. Set in a single modernist Ellwood-designed building that spans a ravine in the hills of Pasadena, the aptly named Hillside Campus is a visual study in contrasts. Harsh steel and glass are surrounded by eucalyptus trees and fragrant sweet jasmine.

Art Center walkway 2

Ellwood Building Walkway

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into this selective school, often ranked at the top of many college search lists. The reward for getting in is hard work and readiness for the real world.

As one admissions representative said, “you’ll never work as hard in industry as you do here.” Kit Baron, Senior Vice President of Admissions explained the reasoning behind the schools demanding curriculum and structure, tying it to the college’s core mission. Art Center “was founded not as an atelier but for industry, to listen to what client’s want,” she said. Translation: the school educates and helps students transition into the job world.

An example of the school’s strength is their Transportation Design program, which is constantly ranked #1 internationally. That stellar rating is reflected in the fact that every major automotive manufacturer has had an Art Center alum as a design chief or leader. Think about that; every major automotive manufacturer.

Class time

Beyond transportation, Art Center has 10 other undergraduate programs leading to BFA or BS degrees. Students are guided and challenged by approximately 400 faculty members, most of whom are also working artists. Classes are taught on the semester – or term – system, with three terms per year. A completed degree is based on eight terms, which means that students can graduate in fewer than three years. Most don’t though, typically taking 4–6 years to complete their education. There is no foundation year here, meaning students must be focused when they begin, but they’ll get to spend more time dedicated to their majors.

The smartly and strategically structured Illustration Department is the largest on campus. Five tracks exist within the department, directing students towards entertainment arts, motion, design, fine arts, or surface design. Each has a unique focus, requiring a different set of skills to work in their respective industries.

One of the hottest new majors trending across the country right now is Interaction Design, and Art Center has it. New due to our tech-focused world, it’s the study of apps and interfaces.

model shop projects 2

End-of-year model shop projects

Beyond the Ellwood building and adjacent Sinclair Pavilion for relaxation, there isn’t much else to this campus, reinforcing the focus on creating art. Students live down the hill, in off-campus apartments. A short drive away is South Campus, where Fine Art and Illustration students study, alongside graduate and community programs. The school’s long-range plan includes building dorms there in three years.

Art Center is not for the indecisive or inexperienced. Applicants already have a defined proficiency and a sense of direction. Prospective students apply directly into a major. The college accepts students on a rolling basis with just a few admissions deadlines.

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Tips To Keep You Creating

boy drawing by accurasee art productsMaking a living from your creative work is exhilarating. Whether you’re a designer or artist, the thrill is the same. A client selects your design because it expresses their message clearly and precisely; it delivers the picture that is “worth 1000 words.” A buyer connects with your artistic expressions; he gets what you’re communicating. It’s invigorating, rewarding, and motivating.

Living off your creative endeavors can also become discouraging and disheartening at times. If your message isn’t getting through, your career isn’t progressing as quickly as you thought it would, or the paperwork and business side of promoting yourself becomes overwhelming you can get discouraged and possibly question why you should continue. It can become frustrating and even depressing, no matter where you are in your career.

colorful-sculpture_500x454Illustrator and fellow blogger, Kate Leonard has some great tips for working through those discouraging moments, and keeping your eye on the prize that is your unique creative perspective. I thought they were worth sharing. An invigorating kick in the pants, so to speak. Hope they entice you to keep creating!

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What’s Missing From Your Portfolio?

 

 

(c) CloudKid animation

(c) CloudKid animation

MassArt alumnae Dave Schlafman and Matt Karl founded CloudKid, an up-and-coming artist-driven studio based in the Boston area. Their young company has received attention for creating award-winning games, animations, apps, and websites for the likes of Nickelodeon, Hasbro Toys, PBS Kids, Scholastic, and Disney Online. Pretty cool.

If you’re interested in animation and kids, this sounds like a creative and collaborative place to work. But here’s the thing; they recently posted a blog about the difficulty they’re having searching for a good animator. The message: drive and passion need to be visible.

The post offers up suggestions for future job seekers but is applicable to future college students as well. The insight and advice shared could help you land a job with CloudKid or help you gain acceptance into the college of your dreams. Either way, my suggestion is to read on, and keep drawing…

 

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Study Abroad

Lucca, Italy

Lucca, Italy

I’ll take my inspiration wherever I can find it. And lucky for me, during the past couple of weeks inspiration has come from time spent in Switzerland and Italy. From the jagged Swiss Alps to the rolling Tuscan countryside and the azure waters along the Almafi Coast, nature was at her finest, showing off sweeping landscapes and breathtaking views. Complementing it all was the wonder of art and design depicted in centuries’ old sculpture, fresh off the runway fashions, and everything in between.

It got me thinking about studying abroad, and how just one semester’s exposure to a different cultural experience can positively affect your point of view – forever. I can think of no better way to gain a global perspective than by living and learning in a different county.

Consider fashion design in Paris or Milan, photography in the south of France, animation and illustration in Hong Kong. The benefits of studying abroad are endless. You’ll be challenged by new ways of thinking while you acquire new insights and skills, new inspirations, new connections, lifelong friends, independence and maturity, and possibly even a new language. And with direct exposure to art history, (yes that is Michelangelo’s David), and cutting-edge design that the U.S. hasn’t yet seen, (where do you think Smart Cars came from?), you’ll acquire an appreciation for multicultural differences and influences, and a clearer understanding of your artistic place in the world.

church details, Lucca, Italy

church details, Lucca, Italy

I’m not aware of a college or university that doesn’t offer study abroad options to their students these days. Research the colleges that peak your interest. Some will offer their own specific programs while others collaborate with international institutions. Also, make sure you understand which courses are available each year, and what credits are transferable back to your home campus. Again – costs will vary, but scholarships are available.

Here are just a few of the programs I researched. I hope you’ll examine them and others.

University of the Arts

Cleveland Institute of Art

SCAD

SVA

University of Michigan (where study abroad is a requirement for all art and design students)

The experiences you’ll have abroad will stick with you forever. Paintings, sculpture, hillside vineyards, store windows, tiny designer cars, leather goods, and the presentation of pasta on a plate all influence and are influenced by design and art. And I’m just talking about what I experienced in Switzerland and Italy. There’s a whole world out there to learn from. Go check it out!

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#1 Tip To Succeed As An Artist

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A common joke in the 1950’s is often attributed to comedian Jack Benny.

“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice.”

Although the joke didn’t originate with him, the comedian did actually play in the famous Manhattan concert hall. And the message of the punch line is true to this day, no matter the instrument.

The same idea holds true in the world of visual arts. The more you do your art, the better you’ll be. And the better you are, the more chance you’ll have of attaining your artistic goals. Whatever your chosen art form is, it requires patience and dedication, attention and repetition.  Painters, animators, ceramicists, costume designers, architects and printmakers alike, all need to pay focused attention to their craft, over and over, and over again.

I think that’s why I love this quote from Ira Glass, story-teller, host and producer of This American Life.  We’re never too young or too old to learn this lesson.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Go forth!

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Photo courtesy of RISD