Since graduating from FIT in 1978, Professor Miriam Russo (now Miriam Enders) and I have kept in touch for what is now 35 years. We used to periodically write letters, then email, and now we’re friends on Facebook! I was thrilled to get a friend request from Professor Russo, who’s 91 (yes, 91!), and so happy to interact with her on social media! I regularly post my artwork on Facebook and even now, she continues to motivate and praise me. She recently gave my ink/watercolor “New Orleans” a whopping “A+!” in the comments section. I laughed out loud it was so delightful! Professor Russo, always supportive of my endless endeavours, is still grading me most upliftingly!
I recently visited New York City and we had the most delightful lunch! We exchanged many fun memories from our years at FIT. It’s been 35 years since I graduated from FIT, and I am incredibly grateful to have Professor Russo in my life.
Soon we will meet up again and browse through the Whitney Museum for an afternoon.
Sibylle Pfaffenbichler started out with drawing workshops at the Art Students League in New York City, received a BFA summa cum laude from the Fashion Institute of Technology/State University of New York, and took advanced art studies at the Long Island University. The famous textile designer Vera hired her out of college to design scarves in free-spirited watercolor paintings, her first artistic professional endeavour. Pfaffenbichler eventually chose the path of fine art and has worked as an independent artist ever since. She now lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and works out of a big studio in an old textile mill.
Jay Gatsby’s name evokes images of flailing limbs and spilled champagne. His creator has been (somewhat fairly) cast as a fair-haired, Princeton party boy. What endears the character and the author to our collective psyche goes beyond Bacchanalia. As cultural icons, both Gatsby and Fitzgerald represent an emerging America, where a bootlegger and a bookworm born into the “wrong” class can recast themselves. Or can they? Despite his best efforts Gatsby still didn’t pronounce Oxford in a manner that made it clear he had attended. Fitzgerald “could never forgive the rich for being rich,” and amid fortunes lost and gained, he was born and died penniless. Class. For Fitzgerald and all of his characters, clothing is about class.
As a graduate student at FIT, I wrote my master’s thesis on clothing as cultural history and character development in the early fiction of Fitzgerald. In March 2004, I fled the city with a backpack full of books to Beverly Hills, where I wrote the MA thesis over Spring Break on my best friend’s couch. Eight years and a PhD later, my FIT classmate and friend, Tae Smith, called me up and told me to get my postpartum body to New York City. She was the costume researcher for Baz Luhrmann’s production, and they wanted to talk to me. Postpartum body, baby, and books got on an airplane and went to New York. When the high priestess of costume design, Catherine Martin, calls…umm, you go.
An afternoon in May 2011, Tae and I waited for Miss Martin in an oversized closet filled with vintage 1920s clothing. The design team had collected beach pajamas, sequined shawls, and mound of accessories from all over New York to be used for inspiration. In that room, Tae and I didn’t talk. We just touched, and sighed, and flicked over the still-remaining price tags, and pointed out dates that we knew the vintage dealer had gotten wrong. No white gloves; no meddling curator, just me and the stuff.
What Catherine Martin wanted from me was not epistles on Fitzgerald’s cultural context or my thoughts on his underwhelming female characters. She wanted specifics: “Was it this silver fabric or this one?” “Well, it has to be this one because the other is a synthetic that didn’t come out until the late 1940s.” “Can we change Nick’s white flannel pants to a tweed suit?” “Hell, no. Those flannels tell everyone at that party that he is a man of the Ivy League.” Sketches hung on the wall, fabric swatches strewn across her desk, and a gorgeous Australian woman with long, shiny black hair presented Martin with the team’s latest vintage find: a black suede clutch with an ivory greyhound’s head. I still have dreams about that woman’s hair and that clutch. It’s not often I am jealous of someone’s job. The life of a professor lets me research, write, and teach. But that day, I was jealous of Catherine Martin’s job, the black-haired beauty’s, and Tae’s.
Two years later, I am one of the many Fitzgerald fans and fashion lovers who await the arrival of The Great Gatsby. My website, Fitzgerald & Fashion, is a manifestation of the thesis I wrote nearly ten years ago on that couch in LA. Maybe the website is not the most traditional form of academic publishing, but arguably the next phase of it. A blog under “Gatsby News” offers the latest happenings with the film and my own analysis written from the perspective that this film is an interpretation of a novel.
When the film is understood as an interpretation, what matters is not that the hemlines match our picture books or that the spectator shoes are brown. If you’re looking for historical accuracy, hit up a couple episodes of Downton Abbey. What matters with this film is that Luhrmann uses costume in the same way Fitzgerald used fashion—as a means of distinguishing between old money, new money, parvenus, self-made women, and working girls. The meaning of the clothes mattered to Fitzgerald and as my time in that oversized closet confirmed, it matters to Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, too. We’ll be talking about the costumes not because they are beautiful (which they will be), but because they are the social context of the film. In fiction, film, and real life, clothing is social context.
Deirdre Clemente served as a historical consultant for the costume on the forthcoming The Great Gatsby. She is a historian and curator of 20th century American culture, specializing in fashion and clothing. She is an assistant professor of history at University of Nevada Las Vegas. Dr. Clemente earned her MA in Museum Studies from FIT in 2004 and remains an active and proud alum. Read more about Dr. Clemente at www.deirdreclemente.com.
FIT is renowned for its sustainability initiatives, from implementing green projects throughout campus, to bringing sustainable design issues to curriculums, to raising awareness at its annual conference. No doubt, Sustainability at FIT inspires graduates to incorporate green practices in their personal and professional lives. Melissa Mendez (Production Management: Fashion and Related Industries ’10) is one alumna who is committed to producing an environmentally-friendly product with her soy candle artisanal business, The Bronx Naturals. Learn more about her work and how FIT has helped her in her endeavors.
Tell us about the ways The Bronx Naturals candles help the environment.
I love this question! My soy candles help the environment in many ways. The material that I use is 100% natural soy wax. Soy wax is a natural material and non-toxic, and the fragrances I use are also non-toxic and Phthalate Free, therefore soot and other harmful elements are not released because they are not there! This makes my candle family-friendly as well as a great alternative to anyone who may have asthma or other respiratory conditions. Soy burns cooler and longer, which makes the value better as well. The glass that I use can be reused as a drinking glass or pencil/pen holder after the candle is finished and there is minimal packaging–the possibilities are infinite. Soy is very green!
What inspires your fragrance concoctions?
Diversity! All of my candles are very different. I like to think that each type of candle could represent different personalities, and moods. I also create special fragrances for events such as bridal showers, weddings or any other special occasions, Scented or unscented are available. I really enjoy when a client sends an email and asks, “Can you blend Lavender and Pear? That scent has a sentimental meaning to me!” I enjoy the challenge of creativity!
Can you tell us about your choice to study at FIT and how it’s helped you in your business venture?
I chose to study at FIT because it was my dream college. FIT is a college that has a very focused curriculum and is very directional. I believe those characteristics fit my personality and work ethic. There are so many resources to take complete advantage of at FIT. The one that I especially loved is having professors who actually worked in the industry. I got the chance to ask very specific questions related to production, fashion, wages, work-life balance and was better able to understand if I could work in that industry and if it fell into place with my personal values and aspirations in life.
Is there a particular class that prepared you for your work?
Professor Mario Federici’s class, one of my favorites, has had a lasting impact on me. It allowed me to see that anything is possible and it helped me devise a business plan and marketing strategy for The Bronx Naturals. In this class, we had to create a company and source the supplies, create spreadsheets, production plans the works. The project was for apparel, but I have used many of the same principles to file my companies’ incorporation papers and to reach out to potential clients and businesses to carry my candles! Knowledge increased my courage.
What do you hope customers feel from the scents of your candles?
I hope that customers feel relaxed, energized, sensual and peaceful. Ultimately each candle is very different and will provide a different experience to each individual. My main goal is to Brighten up people’s day! I want my customers to feel great!
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Work hard and have patience, ask the right questions. Don’t worry, you will be smarter if you do. No is not a ‘no’ forever. Ask again, try a different approach and every lesson is one to learn from. Never throw them away!
I am so excited to once again take part in FIT’s annual Dance-A-Thon, where students stay up on their feet and dance for 12 hours to raise money and awareness for kids in poverty. Yup, 12 hours! These fundraisers have become very popular across college campuses as student philanthropic projects, and the FIT student body will once again be supporting Kids in Distressed Situations, Inc. (K.I.D.S.) for this third annual event.
For over 27 years, K.I.D.S. has provided over 70 million underprivileged and disaster-struck children with nearly one billion dollars of brand new clothing, toys, shoes, juvenile products, books, and much more. Thanks to these generous donations from retailers and manufacturers, K.I.D.S. has been able to provide children, and often their entire families, with self-esteem and hope.
Want to help? Why not be a part of this year’s Dance-A-Thon! We welcome all donations and we encourage you to spread the word to your friends, family and co-workers. For every dollar donated, K.I.D.S. will match it on a 10:1 ratio in new product. That means your $10 can turn into $100 of most-needed essentials!
1. Visit the website: kidsdonations.org/fitdanceathon
2. Click on “Donate Now”
3. Fill out all required information under “Contact Information”
4. Under “Optional Information,” click on “In Honor Of” and write the dancer’s name you are sponsoring in the text box.
5. Make sure to fully complete the “Payment Information” and “Security Code” sections.
6. Click “Submit”!
7. You’re done! Thank you for helping support K.I.D.S!
The event will be held on April 26th, 2013 from 7pm-7am in the David Dubinsky Dining Hall located at Seventh Avenue at 27th Street. Please feel free to stop by! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions please contact: Mandy_cho@fitnyc.edu.
It was twenty-eight years ago that Shelley Sarmiento “accidentally” began working in the retail industry. After a chance encounter with a friend of a friend who was about to launch White House Black Market, Sarmiento stepped up as the company’s Executive Vice President and Co-Owner. Sarmiento attributes her success to chance, but after getting to know her, it’s clear that her knack for startups and her zest for adventure has a lot to do with it.
Sarmiento’s entrepreneurial qualities are as vibrant as ever. She completed certificates through FIT’s Center for Professional Studies, currently teaches a course there, and launched Little White Fashion Truck last year. She was on her way to Nashville when we caught up with her to talk about returning to college and what the road ahead looks like for her business.
You’ve had a successful career in retail. Why did you decide to return to school?
I decided I wanted to go back to school to learn about aspects of the industry that I love but never had time to explore. FIT offered courses that covered areas I had the least exposure to on a daily basis, such as hands-on design and garment construction. I am also an education fanatic and crave knowledge by nature!
And now you’re sharing your knowledge with students as an FIT instructor. What’s that experience like?
I took Professor Jaye Edelstein’s class several years ago and she approached me and asked if I might be interested in teaching at FIT. I was overwhelmed by the honor. Teaching at FIT is a great privilege and I absolutely love each and every second of it. The students at FIT epitomize invention and creativity and having the honor of being part of their great journeys is something I am very proud of.
How did the idea of launching a mobile boutique come about?
I was commuting from Maryland to NYC and working 3-4 four days a week out of town and spending way too much time away from my teenage daughters. I simply needed to be closer to home. I used to stand in line for grilled cheese at the “Grilled Cheese Foodtruck” in New York and it inspired me to buy a bread truck off of Craig’s List and start a mobile Fashion Boutique.
Those are great inspirations! When did you launch?
I launched Little White Fashion Truck about a year ago and we now have two trucks on the road and third scheduled to open for June. My mobile journey is innovative, successful, proﬁtable, and so much fun. Little White Fashion Truck uses social media to market itself and to developing our very own Truck Culture!
Where are the trucks currently stationed?
I presently have Little White Fashion Trucks on the road in Maryland, DC/NoVa with my Nashville Truck scheduled to debut in June. I have plans to launch ten trucks by year’s end.
What aspect of being mobile as a boutique do you love most?
My favorite aspect of Little White Fashion Truck is everything! We are an innovative concept that has uncharted potential and we get to meet the best people each and every day.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have many treasures in my life: I am engaged to Derek St. Holmes, who’s the lead singer and guitarist for Ted Nugent. I have two beautiful daughters, Sophie and Ivy. I have my best friend, Nash, a 180 lb. Mastiff puppy. I have my two miniature donkeys, Cowboy and Sunny. I simply have the greatest support system and coolest family ever. I am just so grateful for their love and never ending support for my crazy vision and intense ambition!
What is a little-known fact about you?
Probably the only little-known fact about me is that I aspire to one day retire on my ranch in Nashville and ﬁnally learn to play the guitar. I have been working on this behind closed doors for about ﬁve years and I really enjoy it. I am horrible at it!
Something tells us you’ll nail the guitar in no time! What advice would you give to those pursuing their wildest dreams?
No idea is a bad idea. Live your passion. Don’t be happy just talking about it. We are all born average and any effort made above this is extraordinary. Just ﬁgure out how extraordinary you want to be and go for it!
For more information about FIT’s Center for Professional Studies, please visit their website.
The Office of Alumni and Faculty Relations recently welcomed husband-and-wife design team Babi Ahluwalia (TDM ’99) and Sachin Ahluwalia (Fashion Design ’96) to FIT’s Faces & Places in Fashion lecture. Babi and Sachin Ahluwalia, who met at FIT sixteen years ago, spoke about launching their eponymous contemporary womenswear label, Sachin +Babi, and their luxury home furnishings brand, Ankasa. Elizabeth Uss (AMC ’98), Senior Producer and Reporter at Videofashion News, interviewed the Ahluwalias about their trade, their experience and their perspective on the business. Watch these alumni engage in a lively discussion!
What would you say is the most important thing you learned while you were at school here?
“What better to learn design and to apply it ten blocks up? You go to school, you finish your papers, your portfolio, your sketch, your presentation. And then you pound the pavement and find internships. I think it is the application of technical design and utilizing it right away, and all things available, the resources.”
“From a creative aspect, being at FIT, being in the city, being six blocks away from the Fashion District was an invaluable experience for me. FIT is not like other campuses around the world. You’re not isolated from the real world. The students, the professors that I had, my first internship with my fourth semetser mentor. I think every aspect lent itself to where I am today. I was very fortuante to have been here at the time that I was because it gave me all the necessary tools and pushed me toward the path that I chose.”
Erica DeMane, Fashion Buying and Merchandising ’77
With spring just around the corner, farmers’ markets throughout the city are sprouting with vibrant colors and luring crowds of people eager for all things fresh! On any given day, one can find Erica DeMane (FBM ’77), respected chef and food writer, weaving through the markets with a shop-local mindset and a mental catalogue of the freshest seasonal ingredients.
We asked DeMane, who specializes in Southern Italian cooking, to share some in-season ingredients for a fresh springtime dish. DeMane was happy to talk to us about her favorite local market, her love for fashion and cooking, and offered her wonderful recipe for Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil.
How has the Union Square Greenmarket evolved since your college days?
The Union Square Greenmarket, which began in 1976, with a few worn out hippies selling crates of wilted organic greens and potatoes, was a dreary establishment. When I graduated from FIT in 1977, I moved to University Place and 13th Street, a block from Union Square. I’ve watched the park blossom over the years and it’s now home to the gorgeous food market. I stroll over from my West Village apartment and come home with a ton of stuff and let it spill out onto my counter, thinking about all the great dishes I could create. What a beautiful, inspiring place.
As the author of The Flavors of Southern Italy, Pasta Improvvisata, and Williams-Sonoma Pasta, have you held any cooking demos at the market?
In 1999, I had my first cookbook signing and food demo at the Union Square market–my little booth stacked high with my new book Pasta Improvvisata, and decorated with huge sunflowers and goofy bouquets of string beans, arugula, and tall bunches of basil. This was July, high summer, and the colors and abundance at the market, with me dishing out my orecchietti with zucchini and fresh sage, was thrilling. I remember Geoffrey Beene, the clothing designer, stopping by to sample my dish and purchase one of my books (he was also famous for being a great cook). I’ve since done many Greenmarket signings and food demos there, in all seasons, and even worked on their Greenmarket cookbook.
What should we look out for at the market?
It’s now spring and the market will just be getting into gear. I know the progression of vegetables so well by now that I anticipate their appearance in the stalls weeks before they arrive. First to show are fiddle head ferns, not something that excites me much since I find their taste reminiscent of lawn clippings. But then come ramps, little, wild, locally foraged leeks that are so intense in flavor and so great in salads and fish dishes. A few weeks later is when the market really comes alive, with piles of local asparagus, wild watercress, chives, freshly dug spring garlic with skinny stalks that haven’t even formed cloves yet, and the first of the local strawberries with their perfumey aroma that has at times brought me to tears.
Do you have a favorite farmer?
I always buy local and in season because the flavor and quality are superb. I also want to support my local farmers. I very much like Migliorelli farms since they grow a lot of Italian vegetables such as broccoli rabe, the crazy long zucca lungha zucchini variety with its tendrils that are used by Southern Italians in soups and pasta, and all sorts of eggplants in amazing colors like violet with white stripes, or the huge round, bright purple Sicilian type.
You still have a great love for fashion from your days at FIT. Woud you say there’s a relationship between fashion and cooking?
For me there is a huge connection between fashion and cooking. The technique must be there in both, but the final product must be magical in all aspects. Creation in the kitchen can be sweaty and messy, but when I present a finished recipe that looks so effortless and gorgeous, I’m proud of the entire process. I place a lot of importance on presentation, color and composition in my dishes–very much like my fashion choices, which have always been very bold and distinct.
What is a little-known fact about you?
I’m actually quite shy but since I act flashy and bold, hardly anyone understands this about me. I still wear rather wacky outfits, a lot of red, stripes. Clothes and cooking both have a lot of power. Both are great covers for timidity.
What’s a perfect springtime dish that incorporates seasonal produce?
Spring garlic, one of my most exciting discoveries at Union Square about 15 years ago, is great this time of year. I smash a few of them up and let them steep in good olive oil for a few hours. It’s great brushed over grilled bread, but it’s also an excellent way to add a fancy hit of flavor to a spring soup. I came up with Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil. Try it out and enjoy on a sunny, breezy Spring day!
Leek and Arugula Soup with Spring Garlic Olive Oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 skinny stalks spring garlic
2 lightly packed cups skinny, spiky-leafed wild-type arugula, stemmed
5 baby leeks, chopped, including some of the tender green part
2 large boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
5 scrapings of fresh nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups homemade or high-quality prepared chicken broth (or use a homemade vegetable stock if you prefer)
Pour about ¾ cup of good olive oil into a small bowl. Chop up the garlic, the entire thing (you’ll probably have garlic with very small underdeveloped bulbs and a tender stalk). Then flatten the garlic pieces with a smack from the side of your knife. Place the garlic in the olive oil, and let it sit to develop flavor for about an hour or so. Strain the oil into a clean bowl, and set aside.
Set up a medium-size pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add the arugula, and blanch it for a minute. Pull it from the water into an ice bath (or into a strainer and run cold water over it). This will set its bright green color. Drain well.
Now, in a large soup pot, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, and sauté until softened, without letting them brown. Add the potatoes, and season with nutmeg, salt, and black pepper. Sauté a few more minutes just to coat the potatoes with flavor. Add the broth. Bring this to a boil, turn the heat down a notch, and then continue cooking at a lively bubble, uncovered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes. Add the arugula, and let it wilt into the liquid for about 2 or 3 minutes.
Purée the soup in a food processor, and return it to the pot. Taste for a good balance of flavor. You should have a mellowness from the leeks and potato with a slight bitterness from the arugula. The soup shouldn’t be super thick, so add a little more broth or water to thin it if needed. Adjust the seasoning.
When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup gently, and ladle it into bowls. Give each bowl a generous drizzle of the spring garlic oil.
You’ve led a successful career working at Goldman Sachs, Ralph Lauren, and now at Tiffany & Co. as Merchandising Manager. What stirred your interest in working in the international market?
When I was an undergrad studying Finance and International Studies at the University of Connecticut, I studied abroad in Australia, which is really what stirred my interest in the international market.
You took your interest to the next level pursuing graduate studies at FIT. Why did you choose the Global Fashion Management program?
Being one of the most reputable institutions in the industry, FIT offered the perfect program for my career development. The Global Fashion Management program is the only business program of its kind geared towards developing global fashion executives. It was a full-time program that also allowed me to balance my full-time job, so I was able to implement what I was learning at FIT directly in my work.
What did you value most about the program?
The two-week seminars abroad each semester really left the most impact. The Global Fashion Management program collaborated with Hong Kong Polytechnic University in Hong Kong and Institut Français de la Mode in Paris to provide first hand international exposure to the industry. The experience I gained in Europe and Asia was a crucial component to this program.
How has the program helped you advance in your job?
The international aspect of the program and the holistic view of the industry has directly helped me excel at my job. I have seen what it takes for successful brands to stay competitive and progress in this fast-paced global economy. I gained a strong understanding of the expression ‘Glocalization’ and believe international companies must evolve to instill brand consistency globally while adapting locally. The cultural knowledge I gained and the contacts I made around the world through the Global Fashion Management program will continue to help me throughout my career.
Last month, we were thrilled to hear that the New York City Economic Development Corporation selected you as one of the winners for the inaugural Fashion Fellows program! Tell us what the mentorship program entails.
The NYC Fashion Fellows program was developed as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Fashion.NYC.2020 initiative to preserve New York City’s fashion industry. The year-long program is packed with seminars, workshops, networking opportunities and one-on-one mentoring. I feel fortunate to work for a great company and look forward to complementing my knowledge with this opportunity to learn from some of the most successful leaders in the industry.
Who will be your mentor in the program?
My mentor is Karen Giberson, President of the Accessories Council. She is absolutely lovely and has a wealth of experience and wisdom I hope to benefit from.
While the fellowship helps empower promising individuals like you, it also sets out to strengthen the fashion industry in New York City. Is this type of community building initiative something you are passionate about?
Absolutely. We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, providing endless opportunities to give back. The Fashion Fellows program is a joint initiative of the NYEDC and the 92Y so community building will naturally play a big role in this program, which I’m proud to participate in.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students?
Take advantage of all New York City has to offer. Build a strong network of contacts. Never stop learning. Through my journey, I have found the continuous pairing of experience and education to be the foundation for building exceptional leaders.
Global Fashion Management is a three-semester graduate program which focuses on the business of the apparel and related industries. Partnering with institutions in Paris and Hong Kong, the program’s objective is to prepare mid-level managers for executives positions. To read more about the program, please go to: http://fitnyc.edu/2865.asp.
Among all of the amazing quotes I’ve heard and read over the years from inspirational people who are at the peak of their careers, the most important quote came to me at last night’s Black Student Union (BSU) panel with alumni and special guests. In honor of Black History month, BSU hosted the 4th annual Panel event, an interactive discussion with panelists who have made it their goals in life to become entrepreneurs and turn their ideas of design, art, and fashion into something that can be received by the masses.
The panel featured Ken Borochov (Fashion Design ’04), designer of the accessories/adornment line Mordekai; Kimberly Goldson, creator of the line Kimberly Goldson (FMM ’01); Rob Norman (Advertising Design ’94) a professor here at FIT and owner of two clothing lines; Princess Jenkins, owner of the Brownstone; and Bo Williams, Partner in Hildene Leveraged Finance. All of these people spoke on what it takes to start a business, the hardships that will occur, the trials they went through in the process of trying to relay their vision and ideas to investors and customers, and an abundance of other things within the realm of entrepreneurship; but the few words that stuck out for me was the quote from Bo Williams, “The 6 S’s to Success”.
The S’s are composed of: Script, Swag, Study, Strikes, Stamina, and Start, all relating to the process of being in management and marketing.
Script is basically your pitch and how well you can convey your ideas in a concise manner to your investors and customers.
Swag is all about your confidence and self-esteem when you’re pitching an idea and whether or not you are timid or take charge.
Study encompasses the knowledge you hold about your business plan down to the minute details and the knowledge of your intended field.
Strike and any businessman or woman knows that no success is obtainable without your fair share of downfalls. The only question is will you able to recover and keep on striving toward your goal and that is where the “S” of Stamina comes into play. And after all of that comes the most important part:
Start, which basically means are you able to be involved and get the business of the ground.
The entire panel offered up great advice, from Princess on the act of locating your target customer and following the “80/20” rule, Ken on building relationships and networking, Rob on “thinking big, and acting big”, to Kimberly on engaging in social media. The 6 S’s, though, are what all the panelists followed in order to be where they are today.
As a student, hearing from alumni and other special guests last night was amazing. As I go out into NY for internships and interviews, I will remember to be proactive and modest but most importantly keep in mind those key S words: Script, Swag, Study, Strikes, Stamina, and Start, and success is guaranteed.
Congratulations on winning third place in the “Scared Stiff” contest for the new Mama film! Tell us a bit about the contest and what this achievement means to you. Last month, DeviantART and Guillermo del Toro and filmmakers Andy and Barbara Muschietti hosted a contest called “Scared Stiff” where, in the spirit of their new movie, MAMA, artists had to recreate their childhood nightmares. Hundreds of entries were submitted and the DA staff chose 25, which would then be judged personally by del Toro and the Muschiettis.
I was very excited about entering the contest because Guillermo del Toro is one of my top favorite directors and just having the opportunity of him looking at my artwork would make my day. But actually having my piece seen and picked by him is something I never expected! When I graduated from college in 2011, it was months before I started making any kind of money off my work. This achievement helped revitalize me and gave me some much needed confidence to keep doing what I love.
Your illustration, The Owl Princess and Her Night Terrors, is a vibrant depiction of a young girl and otherworldly creatures looming over. What scary childhood memory inspired your piece? When I was a kid, I spent most of my time alone in my room playing with a combination of toys. I loved making up stories and characters, and I had weird tastes, so I’d have my Godzillas wage war against my Barbies or have my Polly Pockets fight off dinosaurs. At night my imagination still ran wild, and seeing these shapes scattered across the floor in the dark would creep me out a little. I would be too afraid to walk across the floor in the dark at night, thinking maybe one would come alive and bite me, or the real thing were under my bed.
Are you a big fan of thriller films or Guillermo del Toro? I appreciate horror and thriller movies a lot. I like supernatural movies no matter how cheesy they can be. But I’m an even bigger fan of del Toro’s movies! Watching them is pure eye candy and the stories aren’t conventional, so you’re not sure what to expect. His work has best been described as fairytales for adults, and that’s what I am aiming for in my own work.
Did you find your style, subject matter or themes you usually use in your work fit with the film? I didn’t get to see MAMA until after the contest deadline so I was just doing my own thing. Then I got to see the movie and noticed the reoccurring images of moths, and a lot of nature imagery. But in MAMA the supernatural entity was like a guardian, while in my piece they are tormentors. In Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and others, a lot of his monsters are scary but have good intentions or act like us, where in my pieces the scary monsters aren’t normally nice.
What were some of your favorite courses at FIT? Book Illustration I and II by Eric Velasquez are definitely at the top of the list. I really enjoyed illustrating narratives and stories and creating bodies of work that were pure me. Eric also helped me focus my portfolio into consistent work and his advice pushed me onto the path I wanted to take, even if my portfolio was full of birds and folky monsters at the time.
I also enjoyed William Low’s Digital Painting course. every week he would start the class off with an hour demo, visually showing us what to do. Then he would go around to each of us in case we needed personal work. At the time I was somewhat clueless about working in Photoshop, and his way of teaching made it less intimidating. Other favorites were Pre-Columbian Art, Essence of Comic Art, Art in NYC, and the Scifi/Fantasy course.
Do you have any other upcoming projects? I want to start a Kickstarter to fund and publish my first children’s book. I had the idea my senior year to make a richly drawn alphabet book of endangered species of animals. I wouldn’t stick with the usual species like tigers or pandas; in this one I would raise awareness about lesser known and beautifully strange species like The Kakapo or Urial.
What advice would you like to share with peers and current students? I found that, during my first three years, I would draw what my teachers expected of me, and in the end my portfolio looked like it was done by 5 different people and a lot of it was boring. It was just so basic and the subject matter didn’t thrill me. Then my last year I took more chances, conceptualized more and included things I loved into every piece, and the work began to stand out and become my own.
Also, don’t wait for a job to come to you. Start producing your own work and start selling it out of college. I began selling prints through Etsy and a majority of my early income came through that.