As an educator I enjoy creating it all, the big picture moments of curriculum development, to the focused points of classroom assignments. From day one my students understand that I see them as illustrators, and it is my job to show them what that means conceptually, technically, and professionally. In the classroom I create an environment where students understand how their experiences work together to prepare them for future challenges. I proudly plant my flag in the sequential learning camp and believe that this approach helps students become uninhibited problem solvers.
Philosophically I believe strongly that illustration and communication design walk hand in hand in the design world and I emphasize this connection at almost every level within my classroom experience. While illustrators may use the tools of fine art, it is vitally important that students understand that they speak the language of design. To reinforce the connection between communication design and illustration, I introduce fundamental concepts such as type and image relationships and the importance of visual hierarchy, in tandem with illustration history, media techniques, composition and color, in project assignments. It is essential that students understand how their work functions in the real world; to that end I develop assignments for print, screen, and product that challenge students to work creatively within diverse parameters. Critiques are an essential component in the learning process and to that end I always engage in 1:1 conversations and have group discussions for important stages in the illustration process. I strive to keep my critiques lively and focused and infused with just enough humor to keep everyone on their toes.
While I have taught every level in an illustration program, I believe my greatest strength is working with the sophomore level student as they embark on their first steps in the major. I thrive in the moment when students “get it” and understand why critically reading text for editorial assignments is necessary, why they must do research and collect reference so their work is informed, how simple ideation techniques can unlock new ideas, and how they can use every step in the illustration process to communicate a focused message. In the sophomore year the “why” and “how” learning moments are critical in establishing a solid foundation that will support their efforts later on. The “why” learning moments provide an opportunity to connect students with the demands of the profession and helps them understand that illustration is a partnership between the illustrator and the client. The “how” moments are skill building experiences that build image making skills: how to draw clear thumbnails, how to use reference materials, how media techniques and color can enhance message. In the sophomore year my mission it to bring students to a point where fundamentals are internalized and everyone understands what illustration is—a process.
The junior year is a transitional time as students realize they are now considered young professionals. This can be a difficult year for some who have not fully accepted the professional reality of illustration. At this stage in the program I expect students to be employing fundamental skills without direct prompting, and to take charge of the illustration process in a professional manner. I also look to integrate outside client projects into the classroom in the junior year which provide students an opportunity to see first hand what being a professional illustrator really means. As the junior year progresses, students will have had assignments in book, editorial, advertising and product, but there is one challenge they may not have had—a self-directed project. If a program has a final capstone experience, a self-directed project in the junior year serves as a good trial run in exploring a topic they might be considering for the senior year. The self-directed project is often an effective reality check that clarifies where students can improve their studio skills and approach to project management. Additionally, I encourage students to consider taking on internships to hone their professional skills and establish connections to the design community at this time in their educational careers.
The senior year is directed toward setting individual professional goals. At this level students fully understand that they are now viewed as professional illustrators. Through specific professional practice coursework, students learn the importance of contracts, self-promotion, billing, building effective client relationships and everyone’s favorite—record keeping for taxes. A capstone project is an opportunity to develop a focused body of work for a specific audience defined by the student. At the conclusion of the senior year, the illustration student should be able to identify where they want to go professionally, and have developed a polished portfolio that highlights their best work and ability.
I have also developed several elective courses that are consistently requested by students: Intro to Sequential Art, which begins a focused study of the art of comics, The Modern Myths, a hybrid course that blends writing and image creation for a video game concept, Entertainment Design, a visual development course, Beardsley, Mucha, and Erte, Oh My!, a freshman course that investigates these three artists and introduces Adobe Illustrator, and Lights, Camera, Illustration, a freshman course that emphasizes research as a tool for video game concept art.
In the end, it is my goal as an educator, to create a studio environment that encourages discussion, discovery, and builds a strong community of learners. I genuinely care about my students, and because they know this, they do their very best to meet my expectations, and in doing so, they quite frequently surpass them— which is totally cool.