Looking for a Place to Call Home: Jerome Walford Illustrates American Dreams

Professor Jerome Walford’s illustrations of everyday immigrant life explore aspects of the immigrant experience that merge into and enrich American culture. The images are a mix of the literal and dreamlike. The latest in his series are about to appear in Gwan Anthology, Volume Two, a collection of art and short stories by immigrant artists from around the world.

“Mother Daughter,” by Jerome Walford

A woman contemplating numerous bagel choices; an American flag T-shirt worn under the jacket of a devout Muslim, a beleaguered stranger with a streaming cup of coffee, these and other images with “unintentional patterns and alignments of people and places,” as Walford calls them, are the basis of his work.

“I focus on unexpected sightings that shed light on human experiences,” says Walford who teaches Computer Graphics and is also managing editor of the collection. “They are glimpses of things we can relate to.” 

The second Gwan Anthology, to be published by Forward Comix in spring, 2020, includes short comics, illustrations, and prose from over 30 artists and writers from 15 countries.

“Professor Walford’s work is inspiring for its ability to represent the immigrant experience and our city’s rich diversity, while imbuing all that he depicts with a sense of hope and beauty.” – Troy Richards, School of Art and Design

“Gwan,” or “Gwaan” is a word common in greetings in Jamaican patois. “’A what a gwan?’” isn’t just ‘How are you?’” says Walford, “but an invitation to a conversion about life and one’s personal journey. It makes it fitting as the title of an anthology centered on the immigrant and foreigner experience.”

Walford’s images of “seemingly ordinary occurrences” are often of things he notices on the subway, in parks, cafés, and other public spaces.

His “Mother Daughter” illustration (above) is of an encounter he observed at a subway stop in Brooklyn.

“It was striking, this young woman sees herself as American, while also wearing distinctive clothing suggesting an adherence to religion. It shows her love for the country and pride in her cultural background,” says Walford.  She’s shown as “a typical teenager rolling her eyes at her mom while leaning toward her with affection.”

“Mother Daughter” was a Selected Winner for American Illustration 38, a hardcover, juried annual regarded as among the best sources for top image-makers.  It was also on view at FIT as part of a year-long exhibit on theme of civility.

“Being Fruitful,” by Jerome Walford

Other work portrays “fantastical transformations,” as a means of making a larger point, says Walford.

“‘Being Fruitful’ was inspired by something that is not often recognized. Immigrants who come from challenging circumstances are often the most fruitful in our society.”

“Jerome Walford offers a diverse and real view of the world in his beautiful work.”- Tim O’Brien, President, Society of  Illustrators

The collection is not explicitly political, says Walford, yet it serves as a response to rhetoric on immigration. “We’re looking to present a strong and beautiful counter-argument to that,” he says.

Walford communicates in real-time with Gwan Anthology artists worldwide. “We do Skype calls. For some of us it’s the end of the day, and for others they’re just waking up! It’s fun! Some of the countries represented from abroad include Canada, France, Australia and China. In the U.S. artists hail from Nigeria, Jamaica, the Philippines, and Brazil.

“Lip Service,” by Jerome Walford

Perhaps no food lends itself to the depiction of immigrant life like the bagel. “Being introduced to all these choices of bagels!” says Walford about the illustration “Lip Service.”

“If you can’t decide there’s an ‘everything’ bagel. There’s just enough information to tell you that this woman is not from Eastern Europe but likely of Asian descent. I cropped ‘the news’ (from a newspaper in the bottom left) because no matter what other events are going on, we need to eat!”

Lip Service was shortlisted by Communication Arts annual illustration competition.

“Ascent of the Beloved,” by Jerome Walford

“Ascent” (above) “is a fictional piece with a real-world connection,” he says.

The illustration appears in Walford’s graphic novel series “Nowhere Man” that follows a young man who has visions of his father, a 9-11 responder, whom he envisions ascending the annual light tribute at Ground Zero.

His work on “Nowhere Man” was a way to use art to help process tragedy. “It started within the context of the story and evolved into something much more,” he says.

“Ascent,” is currently on view in the “Wow Moments” exhibit currently in the Lynn and Carl Goldstein Gallery on the ninth floor of the Feldman Center. It won a bronze award from the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles.

Walford wants the Gwan Anthology to challenge views “about people we see on a regular basis whom we may have initial perceptions about, ones that don’t tell much of the story of who they are, or what they’re going through,” he says.

“We use the phrase ‘looking for a place to call home,’” he says of the artists he works with.

A Kickstarter campaign is set to launch to help offset the costs of the first print run of Gwan Anthology Volume 2.

Follow Jermone Walford’s work on Twitter and  Instagram and his website: JeromeWalford

All images used with permission.


Posted in Computer Graphics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dean Brown: Making Jewelry for Buildings and for People

In a forthright conversation, Dean Brown reveals his experience as a jewelry designer, being a student again, his industry experience, and what it is like being an African-American male in his major. He also talks about how a public library, a metal working father, and his community made a difference in his life.

Jewelry Design student Dean Brown

Long story short:

I grew up in a family that worked in metal. My father came from Jamaica and opened an iron welding shop. When I was younger I didn’t care about it.

In high school I worked at a library and took home art books. My high school was next to a Michaels, back when there were only three in the city. I was making stuff out of polymer clay. I made a piece for someone and saw him wearing it. I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

He said “Oh I’m taking this to the jeweler to get the real thing made.” That thing took me forever to get just right, set it, sculpt it and make sure that when I baked it so it didn’t crack. But I couldn’t be angry because he was really complimenting me; he wanted to see it in metal.

Jewelry-making takes form

I started to think how far I was from actually making my own jewelry. My father had come here with nothing, drove a cab to start and saved enough to open a metalworking shop. I grew up around metal.

Torches and centrifuges

I started talking with my dad about how he did it. He showed me how to use torches and different tools. I bought my first centrifuge, a broken-arm centrifuge to cast bronze. I wanted to see what I could do on my own with mold-making. I made a few pieces and fell in love with it.

Are people going to call the cops?

It was a challenge. I was literally doing it on a fire escape outside of my bedroom on a major street. Every time I lit my torch to melt metal, I was worried people would call the cops and wondering how that might play out.

I started succeeding. I bought more equipment to polish, and equipment just to get my stuff out there. I started out with bronze, but once I got good with it, I started working in silver because it is an easier metal to work with, and more people appreciate its value.

Netsuke figurine by Dean Brown

From coffee to professional metal working

I was working at a coffee shop. There are lots of people passionate about coffee; I’m not one of them.  I was good at it. It paid the bills, but talking to people about the foam on their cappuccino when what I really wanted to do was sculpt wax and make jewelry wasn’t cutting it.

I got a job at a fabrication studio, Gotham Metalworks, working with large scale casting. I was casting huge sink dies to handle pressed-copper sheets for use replacing facades of historically significant buildings around the city.

Whenever those buildings got historic preservation designations, they became our customers. Their old copper-fitted facades eventually have to be repaired or entirely rebuilt. The old copper was easier to work with, as it contains lead, making the sheets softer. But when they’re restored, the copper can’t contain lead. It makes the job harder because lead-free copper is more brittle, harder. It is not as easy to press a design into it.

For large repairs, we would get a chunk of the original facade to make a die that looks exactly like that building. You end up reproducing a design that’s not necessarily yours, despite the joy of applying great craft. The craftsmanship is what people judge.

Jewelry for Buildings

The facade is what people see first. It’s like you’re making jewelry for buildings because these floral patterns and columns have to be preserved and done in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing but also structurally sound. They’re supposed to be up there for another 100 years.

I loved it. It was unlike anything I had done. I was getting health insurance. I thought I was set. My girlfriend and I were thinking about saving for a home. Then the rug got pulled from underneath us. I got laid off. Last person hired first person fired. They got outbid, or contracts dried up.

I thought I was doing such a great job, and felt I was being trained to replace my boss if he moved up to management. As someone who has never been laid off, been fired from a job, that mattered to me. It left me in a really dark place. Luckily I got good support at home.

Dean Brown bracelet

A look back before applying to FIT

On the other hand, I learned a lot in less than a year there. I learned to solder. I got to use all those power tools. I learned to drive a forklift.

I had started toward a journalism degree at Brooklyn College, but stopped to work at Gotham because I was spending all this money and the degree I was working toward I had no passion for.  I thought about FIT and how transferring my credits from a CUNY to a SUNY school would be good for me.

“Dean is a passionate learner. He is never afraid to start over. He never asks me to accept work that isn’t the best; he’s willing to do what it takes. Patience is a tool and he’s learning that. I predict he will create wonderful designs that include the DNA of his history and his hopes, beautiful,  sensitive work with the ineffable taste of who he is, where he’s been and where he’s going.” –  Jewelry Design Professor Wendy Yothers

I never know until someone tells me that I’m doing everything that I know; I just try to keep the ball rolling. I got my transcripts ready and applied. I was hiking with my girlfriend and kept calling FIT over the summer. People were getting their admission notifications with rolling admission. I applied in June, finished my application early July, and got accepted mid-July. I had to register that week and start classes in August.


FIT experience

My first semester at FIT has been my first semester at college after a four-year hiatus. It’s been really informative. It’s been really challenging.

Although I’ve been doing jewelry for almost eight years, I’ve learned so much in the few months I’ve been here. My soldering technique and putting different metals together, I draw this metal and this metal. I form these things and then I bring them together into a piece. That wouldn’t have been possible for me just a few months ago.

I melt metal and turn it into jewelry. People have no idea in my neighborhood that that’s how it’s made.

“I tell my friends that whether they want to be a sound engineer, or fashion designers or write a book or be in business of something, if you feel like you need to go to school to do it then do it because we can’t be YouTube students forever.” – Dean Brown

I just want to take all the positives from every experience. I come here and I’m kind of like a fish out of water because I’m like the only black person I see. I’m the only 28-year-old male that I see in this entire program. In fact, there’s only two other male students in the entire year of jewelry design.

For me, that’s nothing new. It’s not like my community doesn’t love jewelry. But I’m the only person I’ve known that casts and makes his own jewelry, over the last eight years. My friends and most people I know say that a lot of the process of how things are made has been lost. People would rather buy it on Amazon.

Not being able to have these conversations with anyone before I got here seems esoteric. It can get deep trying to explain what a broken arm centrifuge is. Yet I look at people’s hands and know that everything they’re wearing was made through that process. It’s like having a secret knowledge and then just wanting to go deeper into that world and I’m here!


I come from a family of makers. My mom was a sculptor and painter and my father is a metal worker to this day. But still, I’ve been alone in much of my pursuit.

I never pictured being here. Nine months ago I was on a different trajectory. Think about it, I started out being interested in jewelry because I was close to a crafts store.  I spent a lot of time looking at crafts as far as the history of how other people make stuff. I’ve always been into fabrics. I’ve always been into enamels.

I love really complicated executions of what appears to be simple techniques. I like bright colors. My girlfriend is from Tibet so I’m exposed to a lot of Asian art.

Navigating the all-too-common surprise

The common idea in this country that criminality surrounds the black man remains the biggest challenge in my life. Someone being startled when they turn a corner and see me. Security guards giving me an extra look. I’ve dealt with that my entire life so surprise is not surprising to me.

I overcome it on a daily basis, on the train here, on the bike ride here. I still got to make it to this bench. I still got to finish my assignments. I still got to prove to myself that I can do it. At this point people are gonna be people.

I get to class and they say “Oh we’re going to go to the jewelry show.” I’m not terrified to be in that room because I don’t know anything about gems. I’m terrified to be in that room because when people look at me they’re not questioning what I know. They are questioning who I am and that hurts because it’s not just white people, it’s all types of people wondering how I got this far when I don’t feel like I’ve gotten anywhere at all!

I have to play way straighter than the average person. I’m not saying that it’s like a gloom over my life because my life is dope like I have a dope partner, I have amazing friends, I’m actively doing what I’m passionate about, and I have people around me even my classmates; they’re maybe 10 years younger than me. Some of them look to me for answers and some of them treat me like the regular person that I am and I appreciate that.

Coming up from the library

I’m going to be someone who does workshops for youths because I’m someone who came up from a library that pretty much saved my life. I worked there as a volunteer in the children’s section before they hired me. I had to put in a year of volunteer work. My mom used to work there, too. We moved to her old neighborhood in Queens. The librarian knew her so they gave me a shot and It changed my whole trajectory of life.

I didn’t want to be a rapper anymore, I wanted to be a jeweler and probably because rappers wear jewelry.

The inherently political

We’re learning about stones and their impact on global trade and how they’re accessible and how they’re sold. When you start talking to people about that in our “intro into diamonds” class with gemology, learning in-depth about the stones that I see rappers and other celebrities wear? The knowledge behind that — knowing the destruction behind that as well, knowing what it takes to get some of these materials. Wow!

It’s gonna impact my work. I want to make political statements because it’s inherently political, you know whether you see it or not or whether to care or not everything with silver the brass whatever you’re working with trickles down to your neighborhood where people are wearing it but don’t understand how it’s affecting people on the other side of the world and I’m in a place where I’m working with this material.

I’m black and I can’t ignore that. It affects me one way or the other, whether I’m the black guy in the mine, or the black guy buying it from whoever. There’s this contradiction I’m trying to rectify. This space that I’m trying to fill where I can talk about where these things come from, but also why it matters that we have it in the first place because ultimately it’s just jewelry. That’s what I’m learning, this story I want to tell.

Learned so far:

I’ve learned metal forming, hydraulic pressing, how to properly use a jeweler saw to saw brass, new gold silver sterling silver, proper filing techniques, what sort of files to apply to get the cuts in the corners that you want in your pieces, a lot of finishing techniques, how to use magnetic polishers, the polishing wheels. I learned how to solder, how to care for  precious metals like how to mix metals.

That’s just studio stuff. Talk about what I’m learning in Intro to Diamonds or Gemology, that’s a whole ‘nother bag. It’s a lot of science that I’m picking up in those classes. In studio fabrication we’re learning idealization, how to take an idea and put it on paper and generate it in either an image that looks like the final product in Photoshop, Rhino or just on paper with paint brushes and stuff, a lot of rendering techniques.

Dean Brown at his bench

And then it’s still coming in and doing the studio hours to apply what you’re learning, so you’re not just hearing it and forgetting it. The list goes on.  I never really stopped until now to think about it.

I never soldered anything on a small scale before. I had to learn how to draw down wire to the right diameter, to form bails. I had to learn how to make clasps. That all happened here in the last eight weeks since this semester started.

Prof. Frank Fraley provides a reflection

When Frank walked right in, I was like, alright, maybe they’re not racist in here. I have a Black professor teaching me jewelry design. Seeing myself reflected in someone who I think is successful who makes jewelry and has a foot in this industry makes me feel like I could eventually do the same thing. I heard you’re never too old to go back to school my entire life. But we have an administration   that is not giving out any second chances.

If you have a dream, now’s the time. If this administration keeps operating the way it operates, it’s like it’s going to be harder to pursue your dreams coming from where I come from.

I just want this to be a sort of message to those people who are thinking of getting out of that coffee shop, getting out of that bike messenger life because I did that for a long time.

I tell my friends that whether they want to be a sound engineer, or fashion designers or write a book or be in business of something, if you feel like you need to go to school to do it then do it because we can’t be YouTube students forever.

photos: Rachel Ellner

Posted in Jewelry Design | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bound! Books, that is! Bookbinding Investigations Workshop

“A pdf doesn’t do this…” is a phrase that Irma Boom, renowned Dutch book designer, uses in lectures. “It refers to that which is tangible and tactile rather than screen-based,” says Graphic Design Prof. Sondra Graff.

It was also “the premise” says Graff, for the “Bookbinding Investigations” workshop and exhibit that she and various students, faculty and staff members recently held in the Pomerantz Art and Design studio.

Graff led participants in paper folding techniques such as “Folding to the Mountain” and an accordion method of Hedi Kyle‘s (an inventor of creative book structures), as well as non-adhesive Origami structures.

Graphic Design Prof. Sondra Graff demonstrating a folding technique

Lobsang Tsewang, Exhibition Installer for the School of Art and Design, taught a binding method using screw posts.

“It’s fun binding a book the traditional way rather than leaving it to technology,” says Tsewang (’17) who learned bookbinding from an art collective club while a Fine Arts student at FIT.

“You have more leverage and understanding of how the needle and thread works on paper,” says Tsewang who as an intern at the Joan Mitchell Foundation had initiated and led a bookbinding workshop. “We mostly use that for clothing, not paper. With clothing you pierce, with paper you puncture.”

On display were student, faculty and staff projects, as well as books on the topic of bookmaking.

One Graphic Design student, Emily Kelly, who is abroad for the semester, participated remotely. A video of her book “Tangigram,” a play on the social media platform Instagram was shown.

Slavko Djuric, Fine Arts & Photography Tech with his “Om and Schmutz” accordion book

Slavko Djuric, a technologist from Fine Arts and Photography, displayed his “Om and Schmutz” accordion book that he made during a fellowship at the Center for Book Arts.

Student and alumni work on display included a Hedi Kyle’s Flag Book by Troy Vasilikas and Debra Jenks; a Coptic binding by Juliana Campisi; a book made using Graphic Design Professor Vincenzo Vella’s method of binding by Anna Celine Karling Khan; a continuous book of multiple signatures by Caslon Yoon; an accordion with sewn pockets by Troy Vasilikis; an altered book, by Debra Jenks and a sculptural scroll by Tara Slattery.


Graphic Design Prof. Frederun Scholz had various book structures on display including a Japanese stab binding, a Coptic binding and case bound hardcover book. Prof. Graff’s work included sculptural book objects.

An accordion book with sewn pockets by Graphic Design student Troy Vasilikis (’20)

“Bookbinding takes books to a more expressive, conceptual and personal level,” says Graff.

Posted in graphic design | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A glassware design, inspired by seeing spring four times, will soon be on view

“The piece is inspired by the year I saw spring four times as I traveled,” says Jewelry Design Professor Wendy Yothers. “First in Lubbock Texas, where I was teaching; second in Michigan on the family farm; third in Taos, New Mexico in the Sangre de Christo mountains; and fourth, in Helsinki, where there was a light snow in July.”

“Spring” by Wendy Yothers

The glassware design, appropriately titled “Spring,” was made for the upcoming Art and Design faculty and staff exhibit “A Wow Moment” opening in November.

Yothers used a “spruce pine” recipe for clear glass that’s processed in the furnace at the studio at the Corning Museum of Glass where she has had a residency. Spruce pine is a type of clear glass for multi-purpose use that’s quite forgiving. She created the engraving with sintered diamond wheels on an engraving lathe. She made the silver lip and base at the Art and Design Jewelry department studio.

The School of Art and Design faculty and staff exhibit, “A Wow Moment,” will be on view  in the Lynn and Carl Goldstein Gallery, 9th floor Feldman Center from November 6 through mid-October 2020.

For more information about the Jewelry Design program go to: Jewelry Design FIT

To read more of Prof. Yother’s musings about her work, go to:

Photo by: Richard Duane


Posted in faculty work, Jewelry Design | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Designer boxes are refashioned in “Thinking Outside The Box” exhibit

More than 20 repurposed designer boxes from Gucci to Prada and Tiffany are transformed into a mix of fashion, style, and art by Illustration professor Leslie Cober-Gentry.  The canvases were created in several mixed mediums. Uplifting messages within the works heighten the vibes of the original packaging. Her series is now on exhibit at the RPAC Gallery in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

“I instruct my students to pick subjects they are passionate about,” says Cober-Gentry. “The audience most often will respond in kind.”

“Leslie Cober-Gentry’s work has a wonderful energy balanced with a grace and lightness that reflects her spirit and personality,” says fashion illustrator and Illustration professor Bil Donovan who served with Cober-Gentry on the executive board of the Society of Illustrators. “I admire and respect her tireless energy in pursuing the best for her students, working to promote the community at large and making a difference in the world through her art, projects and outreach. That energy is also evident in her work, where she continually pursues the best for herself, pushing the boundaries and specifically with this exhibit, ‘ThinkingOutsideTheBox.'”

Professor Cober-Gentry spoke about several of her box-to-canvas works and the ink drawings, spray painting, glitter highlights and mix of techniques she bestows on them.

“The Gucci box, “Harmony” [above] was painted in white pen. I had been creating orange Monarch butterflies and wanted this to have a calmer demeanor, so I painted the butterfly blue. Using collage for a few of the hearts and limited color, the Gucci brown and Gucci logos stand out. I worked with the color of the font.  Gucci’s admired gold font is iconic. I worked metallic gold paint into the box painting.  It was fitting to have two of my favorite quotes next to the box, one by Bob Marley and the other from the Beatles,” she says.

“The Tiffany blue box is beautiful on its own. The drawing I created is simple but elegant. Again I painted flowers and a yellow Swallowtail butterfly. I adore the creamy yellow against the Tiffany blue background,” she says. The found the black ink worked with the black Tiffany font and used metallic paint as a background with a small amount of hot pink flowers and green leaves.

For a Hermes bag, Cober-Gentry used a handwritten font for a by quote Kanye West, “Fashion is merely an opinion + I’ve got a lot of opinions.” Fashion designer Stephen Sprouse’s designs and typography have also been an inspiration.  “In between the larger quote, I wrote in smaller lettering, “good vibes, fun time, culture, music, art, harmony.” The iconic Hermes orange stands out against the black, metallic gold, and Robins’ egg blue.

A large canvas was used for a culmination of designer names. “I paged through fashion magazines, ripping out pages with designer fashion, names and typography. I wanted the logos to be ripped and raw, but be iconic, recognizable typography in the painting.  I painted a Chanel shopping bag in the center, and attached the Chanel shopping bag and spray painted the frame, creating ink drawings of designer clothes, shoes, boots, and bags from fashion pages as well as pieces from my own collection.” The mixed mediums include, gold and silver metallic paint, gold glitter, gouache, ink, and collage.

On a metallic-silver Prada box [above] Cober-Gentry created a head with the message “Positive Optimism” with flowers, hearts and a bird, emerging from the top. “The red ‘Prada’ typeface is iconic. The silver, glossy textured box was a challenge; I experimented with a new mix of mediums like white and black acrylic pens, gouache, pure white acrylic, spray paint, and gold glitter.” To tie the Prada logo into the painting, she created large, glossy, bright, red lips.

“The fashion house Fendi uses a beautiful yellow box. I wanted the yellow to show through the art so I added several small ink drawings of shoes and boots from current fashion publications and my clothes collection. The lips are in black ink to match the black of the Fendi logo. The eyes evoke current fashion, and flowers represent the beauty of fashion, art and design,” says Cober-Gentry.

This original blue Prada box has a dark blue Prada logo. “It called for metallic gold. One of the first boxes I completed, the art is simple and elegant with black ink line flowers and a monarch butterfly,”says Cober-Gentry.

“The beauty of this Chanel black and white box spoke for itself. I didn’t want to cover it with color. A simple black ink line enhanced the box, with just a small amount of pink. I changed an orange monarch butterfly into a pink butterfly,” says Cober-Gentry. The pink of the small Chanel box called for simple line.  Drawing ink flowers with a micron pen, added a small monarch butterfly and tiny ladybug, both painted in gouache.

A small pink Chanel box is covered in  black ink line flowers, a tiny Monarch butterfly and a mini ladybug.

This Chanel bag painted, became a sculpture, says Cober-Gentry. Named “You Are #1” it is painted in gold metallic spray paint, acrylic and black ink.

“The Prada box [above] had metallic silver type. I painted a metallic silver into the background,” says Cober-Gentry.  The box she covered with inspirational words, “peace” “love” “harmony” and “kindness,” and flowers and patterns with black and white ink. The larger pink heart is a metallic glitter pink collage with gold glitter highlights.

The first in Cober-Gentry’s series, “Butterflies Are Free To Fly,” was “true to the goal of creating positive-minded art filled with happy thoughts like beauty, fashion, music, love, and optimism. I thought this series should be inspirational for my life, and for students, family, friends and viewers,” she says.

“Given the coolness of cigar boxes and cigars as a fashion accessory, says Cober-Gentry, “I painted a Cohiba box with silver metallic spray paint, black acrylic ink line art, and red acrylic.”

Cober-Gentry created “Art Pillows” from several of her personal favorites. “I designed them to look like art in one’s home. The edges are evident on the pillows to look like they were taken from my sketchbook. It’s art made into three dimensional interior home design pieces.”

“The “OutsideTheBox” exhibit is currently at the RPAC Gallery in Ridgefield, CT until the first week of November. For more information go to: RPAC Gallery.

To see more of Prof. Cober-Gentry’s work go to: LeslieCoberGentry.

All photos by Scott Vincent


Posted in faculty work, fashion design, Illustration | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photography seniors advance their work with cinematic lighting

Cinematic lighting goes beyond creating sets with dramatic lighting and yelling “action.” The techniques require more precision than still photography; the lighting and exposures need to be exacting and consistent. There’s more use of light meters, half stops and third stops. There’s a lot from it that photography students can add to their toolbox.

Thomas Giarraffa and Steven Molina Contreras

Prof. Ron Amato teaches cinematic lighting for Photography and Related Media. BFA seniors take it as part of his Advanced Photography and Video Workshop.  He helps his students add to their skills to provide additional options for their work.

Prof. Amato and Sarah Abouelker

“The goal of the course,” says Amato, “is to give seniors a laboratory to experiment with techniques and technology they might want to use for their Senior Design Projects,” he says.

Sarah Abouelker

Amato directs his students’ attention to the work of photographers like Gregory Crewdson, Alex Prager and Tim Walker who are known for their staged, tableau images.

“We start the exercise by looking at photographs we identify as having a cinematic feel. While I scroll through the photographs, students build a list of attributes to describe what makes the photographs ‘cinematic’” says Amato.

Jean Miller and Cathrine McWilliams
Jean Miller and Cathrine McWilliams

Some of the attributes identified during the exercise, he says, are mixed light sources, pockets of highlight and shadow, color variance and saturation, and, most importantly, narrative.

Prof. Amato, Jean Miller and Cathrine McWilliams

“I fill the room with a range of light sources with different light qualities and color balances. I give them a scenario like a party scene or card game and we begin to build the lighting. The goal is for it to be believable but also a little fantastical” says Amato.


For information about the Photography AAS and BFA majors go to Photography at FIT

Photos used with permission.

Posted in photography | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Amanda Vallina captures Cuban glamour in “Miami Vices”

Amanda Vallina says that after moving to New York to pursue her BFA in Photography in 2015, her photographs started becoming a tribute to the city that raised her, Miami, Florida. Miami is heavily influenced by Cuban culture, she says, from cigar smoking to dominoes played at every opportunity. But once she visited Cuba, she resolved to explore how Miami’s contemporary and Old World glamour is a complex mix drawn from both.

Photo: Amanda Vallina

Cubans make up 52 percent of the Miami population, so Miami truly is a little Cuba. Most people who call Miami home still have relatives and a piece of their heart in Cuba. They have taken the city and made it like the Cuba they remember and loved. Some neighborhoods like Little Havana are even named after the places in Cuba they came from.

Photo by: Amanda Vallina

Vallina says it was necessary for her to experience Cuba “and take in the place my grandparents once called home. Part of the experiencing, I felt should involve photographing the people and the beautiful architecture there.”

Amanda Vallina

She made the trip in the summer of 2018. “I became heavily influenced by the architecture and pop of colors, which is the constant variable within my photographs,” she said. “I was able to capture the history and add my own twist and style with the choice of model and clothing in each shoot.”

Photo by: Amanda Vallina

Vallina describes her photographs as contemporary, but she says they “also reflect a time when women and fashion were synonymous with luxury, polish, and fantasy. Fashion to me is important.”

Photo by: Amanda Vallina

Gerard Dellova, Fashion Design professor and trend forecaster at Trend House sees Vallina’s work in a broader fashion context. “We’re seeing a lot of references to the 70s, disco era and the glam of the early 80s in fashion right now. The trend direction is very big. That’s where I see this. People are wanting that very playful, carefree, up, vibe, which is in contrast to political and social unrest.”

While Vallina’s work might be Miami or Havana, “it’s also reminiscent of Studio 54,” says Dellova.

Photo by: Amanda Vallina

Dellova also appreciates the aspect of irony in some of Vallina’s work. “This photo [above] of this glam refugee in a plastic glitter tube [referenced as a “raft”] is completely witty. It’s irreverent and satirical.”

Vallina agrees. “I was inspired by everything 80s from the portable radio down to the eyeshadow. The blimp in the corner is a subtle tribute to ‘Scarface,’ which is the most iconic movie based in Miami,” she says.

Photo by: Amanda Vallina

Before the trip, says Vallina, “I drew inspiration from women hanging on the arm of the man. I wanted to display the power of women and the luxury of fashion by switching power dynamics in my pieces.” For example, the photo of the model in the suit next to the luxury sports car (above) “would have been shown as a male posing in a suit next the car.”

Photo by: Amanda Vallina

Says Brad Paris, Chair of Photography, “We really recognized the way Amanda’s images work together from the full-sized prints. Some are classic fashion photography with a Cuban twist, some have a subtle irony, and several are laugh-out-loud funny. I’m particularly fond of the photograph of Amanda’s great grandmother drinking a mojito and watching the pool boy,” he says.

Vallina says her trip to Cuba “led me to reflect on the beauty that is in both Miami and Cuba.

“I went on my trip with the intention of turning my photo documentation of the island into my senior thesis. It turned into a project that showed the heritage running through Miami’s streets. It showed that Miami is like no place else.”

Photo by: Amanda Vallina

Vallina titled her thesis “Miami Vices,” seeing it as a long-term continuing project on a subject that she can document in different ways.

Follow Amanda Vallina’s work at AmandaVallina.com and on Instagram: @a.vphotos

All photos used with permission.


Posted in photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Red, White and Blue Student Backpacks Resonate

Each year FIT’s United College Employees union sponsors a Constitution Day postcard competition.  The goal of the students’ designs is to illuminate a section of the U.S. Constitution in a contemporary context.

In 2014 Graphic Design student Sooji Lee’s first-place image referenced mass shootings in schools. At that point there had been 387 of them since 1992 with more than two out of every three shooters 10-19 years old. The Constitution grants many rights but also brings responsibilities was the stated message.

Constitution Day competition first-place design by Sooji Lee, 2014

The image of red, white and blue backpacks arranged as an American flag is haunting in light of recent events. It was reported, for instance, that in El Paso, parents and their children were shopping for backpacks and other back-to-school supplies. Demand for bullet-proof backpacks has vastly increased.

Says Troy Richards, Dean of the School of Art and Design, “This winning design of apparently innocuous objects, school backpacks, is given an emotional charge when seen in light of school shootings that have left such a devastating impact on young people and our country. In today’s fractious political climate, our differences are being exploited, the result being mounting tension and outbreaks of violence. Hopefully, these tragedies will make us pause to consider the consequences of hateful rhetoric and ask, instead, how we might come together again as a country.”

Winners of the Constitution Day competition are selected in the spring for the week of Constitution Day (September 17). To submit a design for 2020, students can email their work to [email protected] and cc: [email protected] (history professor Daniel Levinson Wilk, who helps oversee the competition).

Posted in graphic design, in the news, student competition | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Samuel Tannenbaum: Modernity with a Shaker Sensibility

In a post-post-modern era of computer-aided design and retro-ornate popularity, what is old can be startlingly and gorgeously new. Samuel Tannenbaum, a 2019 Textile Surface Design grad, draws on his small town roots and his aptitude for textile design and crafting, to create original fabric designs and fabric-based artwork.  His work has a distinctive, elegantly spare, Shaker sensibility.

A quilt by Tannenbaum reminiscent of his mother’s quilting style that also references Shaker design. “They often used fabric from discarded clothing and home textiles,” says Tannenbaum

He discussed with us how it all came together and where he plans to go next.

Q: You reference your mother’s quilting style and family historic home. Was there an appreciation for folk art early on?

A: Oh, yes. My mother’s needlework and quilts are on display throughout our house, as well as her collection of angels. She owned a quilting fabric store and taught me how to sew at a young age. We made a quilt together while I was in elementary school.

An “in-process” style digital print on linen showcasing colored pencil drawings of furniture found in Tannenbaum’s childhood home paired with Shaker sayings relating to keeping a tidy home

cont. I was home-schooled. My sister and I would pick out a craft book from our library every week and make as many items as we could before having to return them for the next. My parents encouraged my projects and inspired me to go into textiles professionally. I have that first quilt I made with my mom displayed on a quilt rack in my bedroom.

A textural piece that highlights the way fabric is made. When producing warp for weaving, one often “chains off” to allow the yarn to stay in order. Tannenbaum took these groups of chained warp that would normally go onto the loom and sewed them down a backing fabric, highlighting a step of the hand making process

Q: The Shakers were an Early American sect known for their devotional lifestyle, craftsmanship and design skills. How does being influenced by Shaker design blend with your intuition and creativity? 

A:  The Shakers were making things to be simple, functional, and long-lasting but never gave up the aspect of coziness that made each piece feel homey. I am always looking to create work that references history but doing my own take, incorporating my style.  Like the Shakers, my upbringing gave me an appreciation for making things by hand. No matter the outcome, it was special because someone made it with their own hands.

A digital print inspired by American folk artist Charles Wysocki

“The relationship between fibers and abstraction, if often overlooked or ignored, has been present from the beginning of Modernism. Sonia Delauney and Anni Albers come to mind as talented artists who took advantage of fabric’s inherent geometry and chroma. I am reminded of both artists in looking at Samuel Tannenbaum’s work. Here is an artist who is curious and interested in exploring different traditions and histories—who successfully and literally weaves these disparate influences together in a compelling and unique way.”

– Troy Richards, Dean, School of Art and Design

A more artistic piece of Tannenbaum’s made from the scraps of another quilt in a more modern layout

Q: You grew up in Oneonta, a small college town. What was its artistic influence on you?

A: It is far from any larger city. I turned to activities that I could practice at home. I’ve always sought to create a space to live that feels entirely comfortable. I often turn to making things to fill my space with — quilts, pillows, scarves, wall art. My mom filled our house with an abundance of quilts and makes needlepoint and slipcovers. She showed me that textiles can be used to change the way you feel in a space. The right pattern can brighten your spirits, especially when your couch has stars all over it!

Working on the finishing touch of the quilt, knotting the top, batting, and backing together. Photo: Keira Wiggins

Q: Can you describe the skills you’re employing?

A: They include the worlds of fine arts and textiles. I incorporate aspects of fine art, such as collage and pencil drawing, into my print work. My main love is weaving. I enjoy taking a simple construction and making it look complex, or vice versa. I also use embroidery, knitting and crochet in exploratory ways that are not so traditional. My intention is to dive deeper into fiber art and to combine what I have learned in all of these disciplines to create experimental works of art, whether they be functional or decorative.

A close up of the quilt knotting process. Photo: Keira Wiggins

Q:  How has studying at FIT helped you develop your vision?

A: I gained an understanding of how the industry works and to prepare assignments to a certain standard. I would not have grown as much as I have as a designer and artist had I not pursued textiles academically. I gradually developed my personal style, which took a lot of trial-and-error throughout my coursework.

A decorative pillow made using the Bargello technique, a type of counted thread embroidery. It was used by Tannenbaum “to mimic simple color by number embroidery kits for children, an activity I  partook in when I was younger.” The design focuses on a variety of different traditional quilt square patterns, deconstructed and randomly placed into a composition together.

“FIT also gave me the opportunity to study abroad at the Chelsea College of Arts in London for a semester, which aided me greatly in discovering my artistic voice. This paired nicely with the traditional industry preparation. It allowed me to put my own twist on textiles and to provide something different for the industry.” 

Q:  You seem well versed in the origins of Early American design.

A: Yes, I minored in Art History and took as many classes as I could on a variety of subjects. I tried to base my textile work on a topic that I was learning about in whichever art history class I was taking. My interest in Folk Art and the early American style stemmed from my History of American Art class, and developed in other courses. This style I feel most connected to, even though I am influenced by a range of references, including the Ulm School of Design, Bauhaus, the Zero Movement, Agnes Martin, and Hieronymus Bosch.

A collection of Tannenbaum’s pique and matelassé handwoven samples inspired by vintage attic-found quilts and the menswear company Bode

Q: Tell us a little bit about your plans, and what you’re working on now.

A: Currently, I am working as a studio-retail assistant for the home textile brand MINNA in the Hudson Valley. I am also an in-house weaver for the fashion designer Gary Graham in Franklin, NY. I weave in the store as a form of performance art, and then my fabrics are used to create home decorative objects.

I am considering a Masters program exploring sustainable practices relating to textiles before I embark on my own business endeavor. I hope to eventually have a business selling limited-run home textiles and one-of-a-kind textile art pieces.

A grouping of samples from Tannenbaum’s thesis collection. There is a hand crafted map of his neighborhood with his home, elementary school, and local park.

Samuel Tannenbaum’s “Hands to Work” collection incorporates representations of significant objects from the artist’s childhood historic home with an idealized simple lifestyle. The collection references the Shakers’ simple, functional design. Daily tasks for the Shakers were preformed as a devotion to God. They are remembered for the phrase “Hands to work, hearts to God.” The references to childhood ways of making, colored pencil drawings and simple embroidery techniques reflect inspiration drawn from the devotional drawings, neighborhood maps, furniture and pantry boxes of the Shakers.

To see more of his work go to: SamuelTannenbaum. Follow him on Instagram at: @stannenbaum.

All images used with permission.

Posted in Alumni, Fabric Styling, Textiles | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jewelry Design Senior Exhibit: “Somehow we top the year before”

“Every year we wonder if we can top the last year, and somehow we do,” says Jewelry Design Professor Michael Coan, referring to both the graduating student work currently on exhibit and designs singled out for Accessories Design Council awards. Of note this year, are the boldly sculptural designs that illustrate how digital tools and hand-making are unleashing new levels of creativity. In the wall cases, where finished pieces are displayed next to renderings, the viewer can see the trajectory of the design work.

Here are a few of the collections you can expect to see in the Goodman Resource Center, on exhibit until May 29.

Tristen Douglass’ eight-piece collection

Tristen Douglass received the first place win for fashion jewelry. “There’s the basic regalia for any goddess,” says Coan, “with a special appearance of a pharonic scarab.”

Detail from Tristen Douglass’ collection

Douglass’ work consist of objects trouves (found objects). “She does all the mysteries of the Aztec mask to Delphic Oracle and the Triple Goddess,” says Prof. Coan.

Allison Mack, 2nd place winner

Allison Mack received a second place win for her “Modern Antique” pin and earrings.  “It’s an antique look that she made from resin, acrylic and cubic zirconia,” says Prof. Coan. Her red “Pavlocks” (bracelet with magnet closure for easy access) is also a winner.  “It’s delicate, intimate and powerful.”

Julyanna McNamara’s five-piece collection

Julyanna McNamara’s five-piece collection includes a “Courage”‘ brass knuckle. “They’ll see you coming with that and think twice. It’s loud admiration,” says Prof. Coan.

Perisha Bhaga’s four-piece collection

Perisha Bhaga received a first place win in Fine Jewelry. “The judges liked the crispness of her line and its sculptural scale,” says Prof. Coan. “They all have a Brâncuși-esque feel, wood bangle, and off-center ring and two bracelets (one with stone and one without). It really moves. It’s elegantly exciting.”

Detail from Perisha Bhaga’s collection

Says Prof. Coan, “Come see the latest, the up-and-coming, next generation, the future of jewelry designers.”

The School of Art and Design’s Graduating Student Exhibition showcases work of 800 graduates from 16 areas of study. Their work can be viewed throughout the main floors of the Marvin Feldman Center, Shirley Goodman Resource Center, The Museum at FIT, Art and Design Gallery in the Fred P. Pomerantz Art and Design Center, and John E. Reeves Great Hall. For more information go to: 2019 Graduating Student Exhibition.


Posted in Jewelry Design | Tagged , | 1 Comment