Magic happened when Wacom brought two teams of animation students together and gave them a week to produce 45-second animated shorts. Computer Animation student Dillon O’Keefe was on Team East. Each team collaborated only on Zoom and each team member was paid for the intensive week of work and also received a new Wacom One graphics tablet and animation software to keep.
“True to reality-TV format, says O’Keefe, I went into the challenge not knowing any of the details. They told me I was accepted [chosen from candidates all over the Americas] and asked if I wanted to participate without really telling me what the project entailed or would happen in the coming weeks. Being someone who usually takes chances, I sort of blindly said yes.”
The exercise was not a contest. It is run by Wacom as a series called Cartoon Crunch.
“Cut-throat it wasn’t,” says O’Keefe. “The lack of competition made one less thing we had to worry about. The West Coast team seemed like they had it together, full of great artists!”
Team East’s concept started with all four team members pitching ideas to each other. O’Keefe says “a team member pitched a story about a witch making a potion to bring back a zombie cat. We all loved that idea and started building on it.”
“Witchy Business starts out with an interesting storyline — especially so near Halloween! The team then came up with great artwork for the pan across the witch’s room,” says Computer Animation Professor John Goodwin.
O’Keefe says “when you have that immediate collaboration you know it’s the start of a good idea.”
Check out the teams’ finished videos here:
And what changed from start to the final product? That’s documented in a day-by-day video with almost two hours of detail and advice from experienced mentors. (Those who might consider Computer Animation as a major can view it here: Cartoon Crunch Day 5.)
The list of changes includes tweaks like camera angle adjustments and timing. “It’s cool watching it all come together,” says O’Keefe.
Here is what O’Keefe calls a rough animatic, taken from an animated gif to help get the timing and ideas across for what will be the final animation.
O’Keefe notes that Team East members juggled different roles but that “We all had certain strengths and also collaborated on certain things.” He ended up as director, overseeing overall production, and working on story elements, character design, timing, rough and final animation “and then the big final step of editing it all together with color shadows and backgrounds to make it look complete.”
O’Keefe says Cartoon Crunch “really pushed us all to our individual limits. Passion is what drives everything. If you’re motivated and passionate enough, you can create whatever you want.”
There is much more “business” from O’Keefe. Prof. Goodwin says a must-see is Rat City on Shrroms: “It’s another great telling of a story with wonderfully executed art work,” he says.
“One of the best things about my Russian heritage is a straight-forward, no-BS approach to life. But taken too far it can conjure up a cold Russian winter!” says Anya Shakhmeyster. The Fashion Design alumna (’12) recently launched a menswear collection that modernizes the hard-edged masculine style of the Soviet era.
Anya’s collection, Shakh, is an ode to her grandfather, a product of Soviet masculinity. “He was stylish and charming. He wore the perfect hat and coat for each season from fedoras and panamas to wool overcoats and trenches,” she says.
“He had a powerful presence, but was a closed book. My collection reflects on what the vulnerable side to him might look like.”
At FIT Anya won the 2012 Critic’s Choice Award for Sportswear, as part of the graduating Future of Fashion show. Her study abroad year in Milan at Politecnico intensified her interest in menswear. “My professor, Helen Field, encouraged me to create men’s collections while everyone else was working on womenswear,” she recalls.
“Anya has always had a uniquely clear conceptual focus, says Professor Sharon Rothman who mentored Anya in her Thesis Portfolio class. “I loved her exciting journal presentations, full of emotionally charged images and sketches.”
What Russia represented in the 50s, through 70s, explains Anya, was competitiveness. “Think Yuri Gagarin and the space race, and the emphasis on the military and sports.
Clothes had to have purpose, especially uniforms worn by athletes and government officials. “Fashion represented the tough, urban male,” says Anya.
“Clothes had to be comfortable to work in, easy to wear, and functional. No frills, no extras.” Yet not without detail: “Athletes wore lightweight wool shirts with bright color combinations, raglan seam lines, and thin lines accenting muscle and strength,” says Anya
“I see the modern man through the lens of a healthy masculinity. Where confidence and assertiveness is alive but met with openness,” she says.
“It’s important to create seam lines to give more attention to the curve of the back. A man’s back is a symbol of strength and purpose and should be celebrated,” says Anya.
“When I design a collared button-up, I’m thinking about how to discretely place a mesh pocket hidden inside the left chest for AirPods. How can I make sure it stays elegant and doesn’t go tech? Something too colorful or busy isn’t for the guy who wants something more traditional, more streamlined.”
Anya’s Ironia shirt is named after a classic 1976 Russian film “The Irony of Fate,” set on a New Year’s Eve in Moscow and St. Petersburg. “The checks on the taxi cabs swirling in the moonlight are juxtaposed with palm leaves of Southern California, where I live. The tonal print is subtle. Its understated technique goes in and out of view in the light.”
The Tolik turtleneck, below, has quarter-inch pipings and subtle artwork at the hem.
“Focusing on details is my way of representing the multidimensionality of men. The seams accentuate the shoulders and back, the playful palm leaves evoke a SoCal breeze,” says Anya.
“Menswear is magic for me,” says Anya. “So much is hidden. What’s happening inside the jacket? What color is the piping that’s hidden away? What is that pocket for? With womenswear things tend to be more obvious, and on the surface. With menswear, beautiful details might be there, but hidden. I take pride in enhancing them.”
The style and ease of California surf culture has been an influence on Anya as well. “Yet the effortless vibe can sometimes be too casual for what I’ve wanted to create.”
That was until she discovered the surf culture of the Kamchatka Peninsula of Siberia (who knew there was surfing on the Bering Sea?) Kamchatka shares a northern section of the Pacific Ocean with Alaska.
“I thought wow, two unlikely things can come together like the urban grit of Russia and the peacefulness of surf culture!” she says.
After launching in late September, Anya was a guest on Brandon Alexander’s New Age Gents Instagram series “Let’s Talk.” They discussed the evolution of masculinity. Her pre-launch party (pre-COVID19) brought together friends and supporters for the panel discussion “The Power of Masculinity.”
All of the garments in her collection are made in Los Angeles with fabrics sourced from Japan. “Her quality approach to comfort and simplicity is inventive and mature,” says Prof. Rothman.
Good design can help deliver an important message: Vote! It all helps counter efforts of voter suppression, claims of fraud, and attempts at voter intimidation. The work from Professor Tevonian’s Foundation of Graphic Design class is an example of how we can help the public make its vital decision to vote.
Postcards with bold design and expressive typography that serve to get out the vote: They are the results from the semester’s first assignment in Professor Tevonian’s class.
“The goal was to encourage voting, not by commanding the viewer, but by showing why it is important,” says Prof. Tevonian. “Vote, Make Your Voice Heard” was the text that was included in each design.
After a year of foundation classes and an intro to typography, sophomores majoring in Communication Design Pathways take a class in one of several specializations before choosing a BFA major.
“The first assignment of this foundation class provides a taste of the profession,” she says.
The specifications for the 6″x5″ postcards required the use up to two colors and the rendering of two different solutions–one using an image and the other to be completed with typography along. This was to be accompanied by a matching stamp for each solution.
“Now that the project is finished, each student is mailing out three postcards to ideally ambivalent citizens and will ask them if the postcard influenced them to vote,” says Prof. Tevonian.
“Depictions of a ‘voice’ being heard through symbols and typography were not enough for this assignment,” says Prof. Tevonian. “There had to be connections to the essence of the country, with reference to the flag and Statue of Liberty.” One “theatrical example,” was Wei Zhen’s Statue of Liberty (second image) with red fingernails, she says.
There was class discussion of using how to make an image “inclusive,” says Prof. Tevonian. Nicole Kubinski’s design (below) achieves this through the use of abstract and neutral icons. “Next semester’s study focuses more on the use and creation of symbols and metaphors” she says.
“The principles of design were followed quite well and often with elegance,” says Prof. Tevonian. These included use of the grid, consideration of white space as part the solution, and an awareness of hierarchy that was expressed through contrast of type size and amount of white space.
“Students seemed to be under the positive influence of their Typography II class from last semester, which involved intensive study in the use of type to express ideas, along with the use of the grid,” says Prof. Tevonian.
“Most of the students were more comfortable using black and white, however, there were exceptions. They mostly viewed all colors equally except within certain contexts such as Sun Rui’s postcard (above) using the pink female symbol as part of the word ‘vote,’” says Prof. Tevonian.
“For now, says Pro. Tevonian, “imagine flags flying, the band playing, and please, do vote.“
“My original goal was to make the most beautiful doll in the world,” says Fine Arts sophomore Jada Hairston. “I wanted my dolls to be pretty objects. What else could dolls be, right? But as I was developing my college portfolio in 2018, I realized that’s kinda boring. I was writing my artist’s statement and thought ‘what if dolls were not just beautiful? What if they were made to have more thought, more depth then just hollow plastic?'”
Hairston continues: “It’s a given that dolls represent beauty and idleness in whatever culture produces them. Even now I am motivated by my middle school dream of making the ideal doll,” she says.
The looks of Hairston’s dolls have changed over time. “My vision morphed from making them vapidly beautiful to them having a storyline and personality. There is innocence, like most dolls, but there’s a deeper story there. They are not girls, but women who have experienced life, tragedy and are living with whatever has happened to them. They are not perfect, they make mistakes, but they keep living.”
Hairston began making dolls when she was 13. “It started as something simple. I was collecting dolls in middle school and there was a doll I wanted, but couldn’t afford. Being a beginner artist I tried to replicate it but didn’t have strong enough skills to execute my ideas.”
And yet, her early work enhances her current classwork:
“I can see how the expressive brushstrokes she uses in the paintings she’s making in my Painting III class have a precedent in how she adds colors to the surfaces of her dolls’ faces, ” says Fine Arts Chair Julia Jacquette.
Her creations start with an idea, she says. “The face, the costume and body arrive from constant thought. I use sculpey clay to sculpt everything. The inside of the doll is hollow. Then like beads being strung on jewelry wire, I string the dolls together. On top of the head there is a wire peg. I tie the elastic string around that wire. There is also that same wire at the feet and hands,” explains Hairston.
“My current process is definitely enhanced by my FIT experience. When I was a highschooler I tended to be disorganized and it reflected in my work. I also used to rush. It’s why a lot of my dolls eventually fell apart,” she says.
“In Fine Arts, says Hairston, “there is an emphasis on structure rather than pretty details. In the past, I wanted everything, body and all, to be super detailed and very doll-like. Now I make sure everything is structurally sound and when that is done, I then worry about the fashion and face,” she says.
Hairston says her current phase of doll-making was prompted by COVID-19. “At the beginning of the year I reached a point where I plateaued. I was making fewer dolls and it was taking me much longer to finish one, which is unusual because I’m a very quick artist. My ideas were clogged up. Not only that but my life was a lot more busy.”
Before the pandemic, Hairston says, she had less time for doll-making because of her commute from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, on top of classwork.
“When COVID-19 happened, I suddenly had this free time to work on projects and explore new ideas,” she said. I had ideas tucked away in my mind for years that were being unleashed. I would spend 10 hours straight just making a doll. I feel like because of quarantine and being home all day, my skills have accelerated.
Hairston says her “art goal” this year is to incorporate doll-making into her class work.
Admiration and inquiry of Bengali women are at the center of award-winning knitwear design major Mohua Goswami’s CFDA collection. Goswami’s work showcases the free-flowing and personalized styles of the Bengal region in eastern India, where her family roots are. They are also influenced by the multicultural region around Pune, a city inland from Mumbai, where she grew up.
Goswami’s collection, Grihini, was inspired by important women in her life. “It’s my attempt to give a physical form to the musings of a demure Bengali housewife, the ‘grihini.’ It is from a place of curiosity; I was born into a Bengali family, but never lived in Bengal. My family was attracted to the educational, cultural and business opportunities around Mumbai, India’s business and financial hub. Wanting to know more about what it means to be Bengali is what drove my collection.”
Goswami spoke to her grandmother about her grihini life in 1950s Bengal. She also watched her mother play the same role in real-time in Pune as society evolved. But Goswami also notes the influence of legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray’s films.
“While society during his time [1950-1980] could not yet fathom a separate existence of women other than in relation to men, Ray portrayed these images successfully in his narratives. Rather than trying to show men and women as equal or not, Ray showed them as complimentary to each other. It’s in his depiction of women, that the character of a grihini changed what it meant to me,” she says.
“Mohua Goswani’s designs immediately captivated me with their ability to combine a personal vision with a larger cultural narrative. Her inventive knitwear thoughtfully combines pattern and material with results that speak to our moment. I am moved by the research that Mohua performs prior to creating her designs. She is clearly inspired by her family and its history, but equally committed to connecting that past with the future of fashion. Her determination and the power of her talent can be seen in every design and her CFDA award is well earned.” – Troy Richards, Dean, School of Art and Design
“As I was working on this project, I was subconsciously equating the housewife with the Devi–the many-handed goddess,” she says. “In Hindu mythology, the goddess is also a wife and a mother, as well as the protector of good and the destroyer of evil. That analogy crept into my illustrations,” she says.
“The purpose of fashion is not just to toy with the visual pleasure of the audience. There has to be an element that invokes certain feelings in the creators themselves. It has to be personal. That’s how we keep the novelty of fashion alive, by making it clear the different ways of telling a story,” says Goswami.
Ray had a “special knack” for portraying women. “One of his best films, ‘Charulata,’ analyzed the character of a grihini. Charulata is the childless, intelligent, and beautiful wife of Bhupati, a newspaper editor.”
In the acclaimed opening scene, Charulata moves from one window in her house to the next, observing the world with opera glasses. “She is like a caged bird in her mansion. We sense her curiosity and desire to know the outside world” says Goswami.
“As she moves to the interior corridor, her husband walks past her without noticing her. She sees him the same way she sees the outside world. Distant. Without a single word being said, we sense Charulata’s loneliness and boredom.”
Of course, history has documented trailblazing feminists, who shattered the glass ceiling. “But we often forget the woman hidden away in kitchens and backyards, putting food on the plate and making sure the house still stands – the grihini.”
Goswami’s challenge was to give a “physicality” to the nuances of a Bengali housewife. “My collection took from the subtleties of her world and wardrobe, and how they are linked. As she ties her keys to the end of her saree, she creates beautiful lines in the drape. The keys suggest crossing the threshold from woman to wife. As she evolves, so do the layers on her saree. Layering, lines, and a mix of masculine and feminine energy became the foundation for this collection.”
It can take Goswami considerable time reading and viewing movies before she’s ready to create her designs. “I can spend weeks with no results. Then I read a book, and one line sticks with me and I decide to base an entire collection on it.”
Next, she puts everything on paper, in her design journal. “This helps solidify my inspiration and translates it into design elements. It’s also the best way to explore different directions my collection might take. I then pick and choose from among them” she says.
Goswami won the CFDA Design Scholar K11 Innovation Award for her collection. “It was an honor just to be nominated, and a great surprise to win!” she says. “It is essential for an upcoming designer to gain exposure, and this award has done that for me. It has also helped me to network with like-minded creatives.”
“My collection took from the subtleties of [the Bengali housewife’s] world and wardrobe, and how they are linked. As she ties her keys to the end of her saree, she creates beautiful lines in the drape. The keys suggest crossing the threshold from woman to wife. As she evolves, so do the layers on her saree. Layering, lines, and a mix of masculine and feminine energy became the foundation for this collection.” – Mohua Goswami
Working under COVID has shaped elements of her creative process “When the pandemic hit in March, I was finishing touches to my Grihini collection. The pandemic has taught me to adapt. My creative process involves being amidst the action, going places, being physically present to take the atmosphere. With COVID, that came to a halt. I had to develop a collection within the four walls of my bedroom. With virtual museum tours, access to a vast sea of information, and the ability to meet with people virtually, bridges the gap,” she says.
Goswami intends to pursue a career in knitwear design, textile development, and sustainability.
“With the pandemic the fashion industry has been given an opportunity to focus on solving a lot of its problems. With everything I have absorbed these past four years, I hope to channel all my energies towards that.”
On a page in Goswami’s design notebook appears a question about whether the grihini knows how to cook shukto. Most likely yes. The traditional Bengali dish is one that Mohua’s mother Oona has long mastered. She generously shares the Goswami family recipe with us here:
How do you teach remotely a curriculum grounded in creativity? Creatively. The high level of teaching and student engagement within the School of Art and Design shows how quality instruction can take place under unusual circumstances. First assignments are often what set the pace.
This semester, there’s no such thing as being too far away to attend FIT. These first assignments we’ve gathered, show how prepared we are to educate the next generation of creatives.
Remotely, it’s still a classroom, still a lab, albeit on a screen that’s likely to be no more than 17” across. But one thing is for sure. Learning is possible, and interaction with peers is possible, from wherever you are. Powering up, isn’t just about getting to class!
The following first assignment descriptions are extracted from the more detailed versions that our students receive.
Professor Curtis Willocks: PH251 Advanced Photo Solutions
When we spoke to Prof. Willocks he was on Governors Island conducting experiments with speedlights for a future assignment. “If I want them to do it, I have to do it first” he said.
“For the first assignment, I want them to use whatever lights are available – flashlights, night-table lights, window light,” he said. “They are to create an image of how they feel, how they relate to the concept of isolation because of COVID-19. I want them to be creative and draw on what’s happened to them over the last few months. Someone may be in an apartment with six or more people, others might be out in the country. This is something that makes them think.”
For this in-class assignment says Prof. Willocks “they need to think quickly. I don’t mess around, come on. Sometimes you have to set the pace the first class, the first hour! The first step it’s about creation.”
Prof. Willocks references similar assignments that were done for magazines and other publications during COVID-19. “I want them to think, then work quickly.”
Professor Susan Rietman: TD356 Tabletop and Related Products
Want more on your plate? Students’ first assignment, ceramic products-formal dishware, for Prof. Rietman’s class, is part of a three-step project for fifth semester students. Says Professor Rietman “It’s one of my favorite classes to teach because students get really excited when they produce marketable product designs.”
Students will create a series of four coordinated designs for fine china rendered at actual scale: a dinner plate, salad/dessert plate and cup and saucer. They develop a design concept by using historic/traditional references in a unique way and rendered in mixed media on watercolor paper.
Prof. Cheryl Griesbach:IL326 Traditional Painting Media: Methods and Materials
This first assignment is to create an expressive, detailed and realistic portrait of a friend or family member. Students are encouraged to investigate their subjects’ personality “to add interest to the painting.” With their subjects’ input, students develop a concept using lightning, background, any props available, and Photoshop to make an exciting image.
This senior painting class is a “selective” and not a required course. Says Prof. Mak “It’s their first opportunity to use all the painting skills they have learned at FIT, and to find a voice through painting. Students’ first assignment is one they’ll work on all semester. It’s less about technique and more about learning how to express themselves.”
Students can use any medium — oil, tempora, acrylic, collage, and for some a mix of painted or embroidered 3D – and the human form to convey an emotion.
Professor Jerry Delova: FD462 Designer Sportswear Incubator
In preparation for the class, students this summer started a journal consisting of tear sheets, and concepts, fabrics, and precious objects that speak to their aesthetic and ideas as a designer. For the first fall class, students will give a short presentation of their journals and research so that class members can better get acquainted.
Prof. Delova describes the course as a “pre-thesis class, to investigate, experiment and conceptualize ideas that students carry forward into their final spring semester collections.”
Prof. Michael Coan: JD142 Introduction to Gemology and Gem Identification
Prof. Coan will be teaching students to examine and identify gem material, their synthetics and look-a-likes, using physical samples he has sent them by mail. Students all get the same selection, but the quality and imperfections in the gems will be different.
After defining critical nomenclature, Prof. Coan will have students practice a technique called “sight identification.” He says “We can learn a lot simply by looking at a gem but we have to know what to look for. Students will examine specific gem specimens and record their observations. We will be adding a higher power of observation to the mix, as well — the 10X Jewelers Loupe.”
Prof. Coan invites prospective students to come to the first class and find out what “flawless” really means!
Professor Craig Berger: VP321 Sketching and Visualization
The students in this course will likely not have done field analysis and sketching, which is what most exhibition designers and architects do when conducting research, Prof. Berger says.
For the first project, students must analyze an exhibition space both in person and online and sketch the space plan, elevation and perspective. Because of COVID-19 that space will most likely be a retail or public art display space.
Labor Day gives the students an extra week. The two-week assignment, due September 15, students will have produced: an exhibition picture and a real life, two exhibition rooms (one from a book or online and one live and interactive), a floor plan, rough dimensions, a rough elevation view with varying line weights, at least one detailed or many sketchy perspective views and a presentation with title block, designer picture and name, scale, location.
“The beginning of the semester is about encouraging students to experience the physical world— not just form, but the air around form, the spaces between objects,” says Prof. Werring.
“We understand form and scale because of the space that surrounds form. We take space for granted. The same with sound. We understand sound because of the silence around it, just as the intervals between words allow us to understand language.”
“In painting and drawing, all areas of a flat, two-dimensional plane are equally important. An artist employs both positive and negative shapes. Students struggle trying to describe forms. So sometimes it makes more sense to draw the non-thing in order to describe the thing,” says Prof. Werring.
For the first assignment, Prof. Werring shows students moon studies made by Galileo, based on his observations through his crude telescope. “As Galileo’s moons wax and wane on the page, they exemplify the interdependence of figure and ground relationships on a flat plane. He paints the black sky to describe the light of the moon. Space becomes physical.”
A similar thing happens in the work of Giorgio Morandi, who painted still-lifes, dusty bottles and objects in muted and subdued tones. “The more you look, the more you notice a beautiful tug of war between objects and the space between them. Their interplay creates movement and tension. His edges become slippery, allowing for objects to recede and negative spaces to advance.”
Prof. Werring provides black and white reproductions of a Morandi painting and asks students to create a large value scale with white, light gray, medium gray, dark gray, and black. The students then cut and tear from those five values to create a value collage from their Morandi reproduction.
The struggle to do this assignment produces beautiful results. “The collages feel constructed, built, handmade. Some are rough and ragged, others are clean, meticulous….The assignment puts the emphasis on practice and not the end result. It allows the students to be in dialogue with another artist, and with themselves.”
Prof. Hidenori Ishii: TD473 Advanced Digital Studio
The first five-week project, a high-end scarf design, has special relevance given the need for face coverings. Still, Prof. Ishii is not limiting the class to the obvious. “Students can really take advantage of this project in many ways,” she says.
Students will be assigned a theme based on one of three current fashion trends. They select a target market, write a brief about the target customer, and develop a color palette that follows the current trend.
After her approval, students design one complex high-end scarf layout using the School’s software. The scarf must incorporate a field, a border and a smaller print repeat that will be incorporated into the border or field. The final scarf will be printed on paper. Students are required to color match their design palette to their final printout.
Professor Stephanie Tevonian: GD216 Foundation in Graphic Design
By their third semester, students take an introductory class in a choice of majors before deciding which one is right for them. Prof. Tevonian teaches one in Graphic Design. She starts with a two-three week assignment that touches on the basics. Students design a postcard and appropriate stamp starting with two different approaches (using only typography, and then original abstract imagery or symbols).
This year, the theme of the card encourages voter turnout. Through the design, they show why this is significant. The initial copy, subject to change, reads: Vote, Make Your Voice Heard, November 3, 2020. Students will design the stamp in class to match their card.
The subject is an obvious one right now, but students have to show why it matters using only the visuals.
(Since this is Prof. Tevonian’s first time teaching this course, we’re going with a photo (above) that shows a belt she wears mid-semester “to remind students to laugh and remember that communication is through many different means and methods.”)
The theme for this first class project is Finding Inspiration in Tough Times “This has been a rough year for NYC,” says Prof. Lennox. The city will rebuild, but we have lost so much. Stores and restaurants have closed and cultural institutions struggle to outlast this storm. Think about what life in NYC would have been like without the challenges of the pandemic.
Students will consider: What favorite places might disappear? Pick one place, person, or thing in the city to be inspired by.
Students will share their inspiration with pictures and sketches. They will include color inspiration and three thumbnail sketches that can be translated into a twill fabric. Students will photograph their work so they can present it remotely.
All images provided by faculty members featured in this post.
New this fall Prof. Weaver will be teaching Visual Storytelling for Evolving Media II. He’s illustrated such groovy graphic novels as the “Joey Fly, Private Eye” series. He is writer/illustrator of the monster-ific picture book “Do NOT Build a Frankenstein!” And he’s a frequent contributor to Highlights Magazine as a Hidden Picture artist. His most recent picture book series is “Flip & Fin.”
Get to know more about him!
The first story he created was of a cat and a spider under the dining room table when he was three years old: “I’ve always made stories through pictures. A favorite medium was flip books starring stick figures getting crushed by rocks, or a mural on a long piece of paper telling a story, usually about the Ninja Turtles or The Ghostbusters.”
“I want to encourage students to tell stories through their art, because there will always be a need for new voices. I’m so excited to help them grow as storytellers, and find the best way to do it.” – Incoming Prof. Brian Weaver
He won over his English teachers in middle school: “I would add illustrations to my stories, such as my take on Romeo and Juliet: ‘Pencilo and Penliet,’ about a pen and pencil that fall in love. In the end they throw themselves into the gap between the office desk and the wall, never to be seen again. Tragic!”
Finding new ways to tell stories: “I’m keeping a daily journal about my life in the COVID-19 lockdown. I like using standard comic techniques like word balloons, thought balloons, and captions, but also less tradition comic elements. Sometimes I’ll throw in a photograph, a screenshot of a text exchange, or an aside to introduce a character… It’s an efficient, unique way to tell the story.”
Says incoming Prof. Weaver: “I’ve been a guest speaker at FIT for over five years. I am absolutely floored at the quality of work I’m seeing from the students. I swear at their age, I was making the most awful stuff. I think it speaks to the quality of education they’re getting from their teachers, and just as importantly, I believe, from their peers.”
He’s often hired to animate, and tell quick one- or two-minute stories: “I love brainstorming with a director and a team on the best ways to make a visual gag work, or to tell the story in the funniest and most efficient way.”
Engaging the young reader: “I’m also working on a chapter book that’s inspired by the collaborations between Ronald Dahl and Quentin Blake–Dahl with his dark, twisted humor, and Blake’s beautiful loose ink line. The books were chock-full of illustrations. The Twits had at least one drawing per page! I love how the writing and the illustrations work together to keep a young reader turning the page.”
The need for storytellers and new voices: “I live for storytelling–and the more creative, the better. The media is changing faster than a lot of us can handle, but content is king. I will encourage students to tell stories through their art, because there will always be a need for new voices. I’m so excited to help them grow as storytellers.”
Starting amidst the pandemic: “I admit I’m a little intimidated at beginning the school year in this pandemic, mostly because I won’t get the opportunity to meet my students in person. But I was a guest critiquer in early May and it went very well. I viewed their artwork through screen sharing with no problems. It very easy for us to have a dialogue about their projects. They were passionate about their work, with no lack of motivation. If I’m beginning my teaching career in a remote classroom, so be it! We’ll make it work!”
There’s a wave of rebranding taking place across the country in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, and a realization that Black dollars matter as well.
For many major brands, it has been a long time coming.
“The names and images on so many products were weaponized from their inception,” says Communication Design Professor Elvin Kince. “It has been part of a system that reinforces certain myths, stereotypes, and the social and economic hierarchy of America. For this reason, it has been tough to get rid of them.”
“We need to empower students to get ahead of these issues and participate in decisions in the organizations they will work for” says “Sandra Krasovec, Program Coordinator of Packaging Design.
The need for rebranding is only one manifestation of racism and “present sudden awareness” says Professor Elena Romero of AMC and a correspondent for LATiNAS on CUNY TV. “It is not likely to be a short-term societal concern that will get swallowed up by the pandemic.”
Changing the name of an established product or service is not always simple. The name and packaging of Aunt Jemima is certainly racist, but how many other pancake mixes can most people name? On the other hand, a football team does not have to be chosen on a supermarket shelf. If you’re in Washington DC you really don’t have many options. But now, only after decades of complaints, is the Washington Redskins on the brink of change.
The situation differs from the 1970s, when companies realized their brands, slogans, and even corporate names meant different – often derogatory — things in different languages. As businesses globalized, they turned mainly to consulting firms that used then-new computers to search through hundreds of languages and check for bad or awkward words.
Reducing racism in branding today, however, requires more than a dictionary or thesaurus. And it requires a sustained effort.
Prof. Krasovec has seen rebranding efforts recede once public outcry has died down. “Black Lives Matter is the catalyst” she says. “Hopefully society sustains its outrage and we can do a better job teaching the next generation.”
“Maybe this American branding issue has hit a critical mass of rejection of the older ways and attitudes” says Prof. Kince. After all, ‘Black Lives Matter’ itself is a great slogan and a basic truth.” Yet it is controversial and even provocative to those who want to deny or dismiss the concept. Black lives matter doesn’t actually seem to matter to those who scream ‘all lives matter.'”
“We have a wide range of students of different backgrounds and experiences. To teach as if there’s one experience or expectation may not serve the student body as well as it once might have. For instance, when I was a student, our designs were focused on White Anglo-Saxon Protestant tastes” says Prof. Kince.
To answer the question of “What makes it different this time?” Prof. Romero suggests looking at historic moments that got corporate America to face systematic racism:
She notes the election of Barack Obama as symbolic and a historic first. “Finally America could see a Black man and his family beyond the usual stereotypical images perpetuated in the media. But we did not become a post-racial society as some predicted. Old wounds were still there” she says.
“We then moved from campaign slogans pushing ‘change’ and ‘hope’ to ‘Make America Great Again,’ leading to a retreat from ideas of diversity, inclusion and equity” she says.
The killing of George Floyd, of course, was not isolated. “Its impact was compounded by a long history of discrimination and outright ‘legal’ murders and incarceration of Black men and women making the time ripe for a cultural shift. BLM is a second Civil Rights movement” she says.
“Finally, the effects of COVID-19 made people re-evaluate life and the pursuit of happiness: COVID-revealed racial disparities and the fragility of life. This produced a new calling out of injustices, forcing individuals and organizations to take a hard look at what was considered to be the social norm or at least acceptable.”
THE TEACHING MOMENT
Prof. Krasovec says students have to be equipped with more than platitudes.
“I worked on Uncle Ben’s in the 80s. Even then the name was in question. We took it off. We put it back on. As a young designer I was naïve but it made me uncomfortable. Brand managers were reluctant about changing. Now I agree it’s definitely derogatory. It’s alluding to plantations and an acceptance of slavery. Back then it was considered brilliant branding, but it’s shameful that they’re still around” she says.
“To train students to be sensitive to stereotypes, I have used that and other brands as examples. I worked on the Mars Inc. brand Suzi Wan. It was not considered racially insensitive by brand managers.” Yet Suzi Wan was based of the name of a 1957 novel Suzie Wong, a Hong King prostitute.
Diversity in corporations matter says Prof. Kraovec. “I remember using a pattern from Asian-Indian symbolism meaning infinity, but with no attention to a small inner piece resembling a swastika. A print run had been completed when a manager called and asked if we realized what the pattern looked like. The package was pulled and redesigned. These experiences made me more culturally aware about developing brand identities” says Krasovec.
“The future will not have these degrading references so easily available” says Prof. Kince,“but that’s a start, not the final goal.”
It’s important to address these issues “without sugarcoating” says Prof. Kince. “The various ways bias is used in society should become an active part of the classroom conversation and curriculum.”
After all, biases makes the economy less efficient and thus makes everyone poorer.
“We have a wide range of students of different backgrounds and experiences. To teach as if there’s one experience or expectation may not serve the student body as well as it once might have. For instance, when I was a student, our designs were focused on White Anglo-Saxon Protestant tastes” says Prof. Kince.
“We need to practice what we preach” says Prof. Romero. “Whatever we say we are, or are not, how does that translate in our pedagogy, curriculum and faculty? We need to continually evaluate our course work. Are topics of race, class, and gender infused in the subjects we teach, not only in terms of history and context, but in terms of reaching audiences such as BIPOC, LGBTQIA+. And we need to diversify our guest lecturers and faculty.”
Prof. Romero favors “creating learning spaces that include student voices and experiences. Have students participate in projects where they’ll create solutions to real-life problems. For example, in AMC, we might develop anti-racist campaigns and propose solutions for businesses.”
Says Prof. Krasovec, “Our students come from all over the world. They come with their own cultural biases and are sensitive to these issues. The challenge is to make those needed discussions comfortable.”
She remains cautious about industry. “I don’t think brands are doing enough. They’re just saying they are. The pandemic and global climate change have put a lot on their plate – new package safety and sustainability issues will continue to push innovation. Tackling systemic racism will force a new dialogue on the ‘why’ of brands and what they mean. All are within our ability to teach.”
“The future will not have these degrading references so easily available” says Professor Kince, “but that’s a start, not the final goal.”
“The stars and big smiles around Black figures in my portraits tell the viewer that this is a person who deserves to be present and that the person deserves to ‘shine.'” – Emmanuel Agwam, Illustration (‘22).
The smiles, stars and bright symbols in Emmanuel Agwam’s portraits express “a positive perspective on Black people and Black experience. Most people consider that a celebration” says Agwam. “I consider it a demand, that Black people be represented in a positive light.”
Agwam’s work has gained notice this year from both his professors and peers. In early 2020 he was featured in “Royal State of Mind,” a platform for young Black creatives, and was interviewed by “20XX Magazine.”
Illustration Professor James Hoston suggests that Agwam’s imagery is laden with meaning, from his use of color to “signify a present state of mind” to his contribution to a “positive vernacular” that was once negative in minstrel shows mainly during Jim Crow.
Agwam’s affection for his subjects is clear.
“Everything and everyone I paint right now involves these characters that I have love for. Sometimes the people in the work are friends, family, past lovers. Sometimes they are people that don’t exist. Most of the time, I will simplify the characters and add things so my friends and family won’t know it’s them,” says Agwam.
“I am struck by the smiles of his subjects” says Professor Hoston. “I think of Chester Cat in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’ The smile is crafted in a similar angle and with extra teeth showing as a flat aspect across the face. It’s seen as a mischievous grin.”
Agwam studied Illustration Rendering Techniques with Prof. Hoston. “Emmanuel has a great color sense in his painting. He embellishes to his own tastes. He has a natural talent for painting.”
Fine Art, says Agwam, is now his career goal.
“Until last year all I knew was that I wanted to make a living from my artwork. But I’ve outgrown the mentality of putting money over creative satisfaction,” he says.
His works’ prominent use of rendered textures, and in creating a narrative with each piece, comes from illustration, he says. But his choice of subject matter comes from fine art.
“Everything and everyone I paint right now involves these characters that I have love for. Sometimes the people in the work are friends, family, past lovers. Sometimes the subjects in the work are people that don’t exist at all. Most of the time, I will simplify the characters and add things to them so my friends and family won’t know it’s them,” says Agwam.
Aguam says he is at a crossroads as a fine arts artist who practices illustration.
“In my alone-time I study fine art, but while in school I study illustration. I take from both. I’ve noticed that fine art and illustration are not really two separate entities. Many painters use elements of both in their work just as I do.”
Prof. Hoston references connections he sees in Agwam’s work: The “appropriated” art and sculptures of Betye Saar, whose work was recently on exhibit at MoMA, and the black commical minstrel movement in vaudeville during the eras of Jim Crow and slavery from 1840’s till 1870’s:
“Emmanuel has captured an expression used in the past, as a negative, but has instigated that same expression, into a positive vernacular for his paintings” says Prof. Hoston.
“Depending on your age and history within the United States, his paintings can teach you something about his struggle. The use of dark tones for the figures and bright colors to muted colors, in the background, isn’t something new. I feel he wants to signify his state of mind, in the present tense.”
Agwam laments not being able to see more art exhibits during COVID-19 and says he’d like to see more museums fulfill their educational missions.
“It upsets me that galleries have the ability to do online walk-in exhibitions but often choose not to. There are disabled people and people like me who live far from these galleries that, even pre-COVID, wouldn’t be able to view works in-person.”
Agwam finds ideas through conversations, literature, and recently movies.
“Movies have opened a plethora of new subjects and ideas to explore. Those experiences raise questions, sometimes a multitude of questions that I ask myself. Then I answer those questions in the painting.”
“Grossly simplified my life goes like this,” he says:
I eat cereal, watch anime or I’ll sit on the bed and think.
I begin preliminary sketches of the painting and find references if needed. The thumbnails get developed and redrawn as a final layout of the work.
I paint the work, sometimes I’ll leave the work for days to weeks and come back to it, sometimes I don’t.
Agwam does not consider his art political. “Black lives are not a political subject to me, but anyone is open to feeling that way — though I will kindly and swiftly disagree!”
Black Lives Matter is not just a movement, says Agwam. “It’s survival. It’s a reality that I’ve lived with since I was a child. It’s not anything new. The difference from 10 years ago is that it’s being shared on a gargantuan scale. People who have turned a blind eye or who have been ignorant to the issues, are now able to see what’s been going on.”
The greater “turmoil and rage” right now is necessary, says Agwam. It could change artwork and opportunities for Black artists.
“I like the direction in which Emmanuel is heading with his paintings,” says Prof. Hoston. “I believe he can have a great future while exercising his freedom to comment on today’s issues.”
Follow Emmanuel’s work on Instagram @obi.agwam. Sales from his artwork from his webstite otmnyc.com benefit Black-owned businesJases.
At a time when at best it is just getting safe for most museums to admit live visitors, consider “The Gates,” the massive Christo-Jeanne-Claude installation in Central Park, in February 2005. There were 7,500 orange saffron arches along 27 miles of park pathways… room for at least 24,000 visitors at a time, six feet apart!
Christo Javachevff and his wife Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon were famous for large, ephemeral installations, which live on both in our minds and in curious ways. Many were among the largest artistic installations built since the age of the pharaohs.
“Their artwork made a huge impression on me at an early age,” says Fine Arts Chair Julia Jacquette. “Their installations got a lot of attention in the 1970s when I first became aware of contemporary art and artists. The proposals were playful and yet monumental, like the one to wrap the Sylvette sculpture by Picasso in the NYU faculty housing on Houston Street, or the actual wrapping of the arch in Washington Square.”
Most Christo-Jeanne-Claude projects followed that long and winding path to approval. “The Gates” was conceived in 1979, but took over a quarter-century to achieve.
Puts the months of COVID-19 isolation in perspective, doesn’t it? These times will pass.
From FIT’s academic perspective, think of the skills required:
Artistic genius. Check!
Facilities and exposition planning. Check!
Publicity and fundraising. Check!
Fabrication and sustainability. Check!
And of course, photography. Check again!
Photography Professor Max Hilaire, whose photos are shown here, said following the recent May 31 death of Christo “Two of the most monumental art installations I’ve greatly enjoyed are the ‘The Gates’ and the ‘Mastaba,’ in London, in July 2018.”
Hilaire reminds us that Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009 (she and Christo were born on the same day, June 13,1935), “had the affinity to bring joy and beauty to an audience and create indelible memories.”
But, he said, he must “underline the fact that Jeanne-Claude was undeniably the driving force behind Christo’s success. She deserves a significant portion of his reputation for being the front person who had been key at bringing his projects to fruition.”
As a young feminist, Fine Arts Chair Julia Jacquette noticed that “originally, just Christo himself was credited as the artist. That began to change in the 1980s. The artwork began to be referred to as being by ‘Christo and Jean-Claude.’ That Jean-Claude had not been given credit as a collaborator for years was tremendously disheartening to me as a young woman artist. That she finally was being acknowledged was a relief, but seemed long overdue.”
On that sunny winter Sunday in New York City 15 years ago, the buzz about the Gates project, “proved to be a revelation to the great height of the human spirit,” Hilaire said.
“The saffron fabric gates whispered in the wind while displaying their translucency in the sun. The gates snaked through the superficies of the whole park with a crowd determined to walk the whole distance,” said Hiliare.
Hilaire recalled the “Mastaba” at the Serpentine in London as well: “The birth of the idea for “Mastaba” dates back to 1958 and materialized in 2017 to 2018.”
Mastaba, an Egyptian word, refers to a pyramid tomb with a flat top. The planned original setting was Lake Michigan but the negotiations for that location fell through.
The visual impact of a colorful semi-pyramid in a lake translates best in films and aerial photography, Hilaire says:
“At 492 feet high, 984 feet wide, 738 feet deep, it makes its presence felt. It required 410,000 oil barrels, painted in different colors inside and out and arranged to create a pointillistic effect at a distance. The sketches and drawings for that project stressed every detail and the joint effort for the achievement of such a masterpiece.”
“There were factors aside from the artwork that were notable to me as a young artist. Christo and Jean-Claude created numerous project proposals — often using a combination of collaged photos and drawings — and sold those to finance their proposed projects. The drawings-collages were explanatory and cool looking; the strategy itself was impressive: making artwork, about the artwork, to fund the artwork.” – Julia Jacquette, Chair of Fine Arts and author of the graphic memoir “Playground of My Mind.”
Hilaire noted that Christo was an optimist and never concerned himself with the ephemeral aspects of his projects. When asked about the monumental aspect of his art he replied: “they are not as huge as a bridge or a skyscraper.”
One might imagine that Christo and Jean-Claude had studied everything that FIT has to offer. Their skill sets include Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design; Photography; Fine Arts, Fabrication; Marketing and Public Relations.
The granting of access, engineering, labor and cost … remain the most time-consuming hurdles to deal with. His tenacity combined with his wife’s determination formed an immeasurable creative force. Every component used in every project was sold or recycled.
“Christo’s success shines in his effort to make us experience something entirely new, beautiful and unforgettable,” says Hilaire speaking of Christo’s passing.