Two Jewelry Design students win Cultured Pearl Association awards

Two FIT second-year students, Victor Rouesné and Luna Gwak, have won the Cultured Pearl Association of America’s design competition, student division. This was the first year that student work was judged separately.

Victor Rouesné’s CPAA winning Voguedelier earrings

Students had to sketch (by hand or with CAD) their designs, which could feature any color, shape, or variety of fine cultured pearls available on the market. The judges were looking for designs that are “fresh, modern, wearable, and defy outdated thoughts about wearing pearls.” But fresh interpretations of old ideas were welcome.

The two Jewelry Design AAS students tied and were both awarded first prizes. Victor Rouesné won for his “Voguedelier” earrings. Luna Gwak won for her Ribbon statement necklace in 18k rose gold with akoya pearls, white diamonds, pink morganite, and light green beryl.

The earrings were inspired by Art Deco as well as Vogue covers from the mid-1920s. “We often think of pearls as white and round,” said Rouesné, “but they can come in a variety of colors and shapes, like baroque, blue, black, green, and pink.”

Pearl necklace design by Victor Rouesne for JD 238 Jewelry Design Ideations II. An amulet pendant represents a piece of fabric revealing a white pearl.

Rouesné said that if his design happens to be made someday, it will use yellow gold with white freshwater pearls ranging in size from 3 mm to 7.5 mm.

He designed the earrings for his jewelry design and ideations class. The assignment was to design pendant earrings that were inspired by Art Deco, but not something that looks like it stepped out of the 1930s.

Rouesné said he got positive feedback from Prof. Karen Bachmann, his jewelry design and ideations professor last semester. “It was my first project for her class and got such feedback on it so I had set high expectations for the rest of the semester. I also got good feedback from Prof. Michael Coan who teaches gemology.”

Before coming to FIT, Rouesné majored in fashion design in France, but did not have experience in silversmithing, working with any metals, or any knowledge in gemology.

He hopes to work as a jewelry designer for either a jewelry company or a fashion company if they have a jewelry line, to gain professional experience before creating his own jewelry company. “I hope to create a gender-neutral jewelry brand. The jewelry market is saturated with women’s jewelry brands while offering few fresh and contemporary men’s and gender-fluid jewelry.”

Luna Gwak’s CPAA winning ribbon statement necklace

Luna Gwak says “I was so happy when I found out that I had won the award! It gave me more confidence in designing a statement necklace. It was a great experience because even though the pearl is one of my favorite gems, it was my first time considering designs that feature pearls as the main gems.”

Gwak’s statement necklace was inspired by ribbon often used, she says, for gift boxes and as an adornment for people or objects. “The addition of ribbon adds excitement to the giver and receiver. I designed this necklace with a hope that people feel excitement and happiness. I  named it ‘Present for You’ necklace,” said Gwak.

“I used gouache for the painting. My gouache rendering skills, design ideation, and understanding of jewelry mechanism come from my FIT Jewelry Design studies. They were all helpful in designing and rendering this piece.

Statement ring design by Luna Gwak inspired by a bouquet for JD240 Jewelry Design Development assignment

“I cannot really tell when I started to love jewelry; it’s been a long time. After I studied Fashion Business Management in FIT Korea for a year, I wanted to study something that draw on my creativity, and that was jewelry design. When I graduate, I hope to work for a company to get more experience and knowledge about jewelry production.”

FIT also played a role in Ashleigh Branstetter’s win, the Spotlight Award—Baroque-Shape Pearls for 2022. This category focused on designs where 75 percent of the piece features one type of pearl—the baroque-shape pearl this year. “I’ve only taken  online courses at FIT,” she said. A seasoned professional, she enrolled in the FIT Rhino courses with Prof. Dana Buscaglia.

Ashleigh Branstetter winning Baroque-Shape Pearls

“She is the author of ‘Rhino 5.0 for Jewelry.’ I had purchased a CAD program called Matrix and had been learning independently.  It is a Rhino-based program, and when I noticed the Rhino online course, I decided to take it.  I can now design the CAD file on my own, or if I pay for a CAD file and need to make adjustments, I can do so.”

This year’s judges included Jean Francois Bibet, workshop and production director at Cartier, Patricia Faber, co-owner of Aaron Faber Gallery in Manhattan, Lenore Fedow, associate editor, National Jeweler; Maria Tsangaropoulos, supervisor of instruction at GIA’s NYC campus; FIT Jewelry Design professor Michael Coan (he recused himself from the student judging), Kathy Zaltas of Zaltas Gallery, in Mamaroneck, NY, and Peggy Grosz, senior vice president, Assael Pearls.

Follow Victor Rouesné on IG @VictorRouesne and Luna Gwak @dayeon_g.99. Visit Ashleigh Branstetter’s website at:  AshleighBranstetter.com.

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Jewelry Design program go to:  Jewelry Design at FIT.

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FIT Adjunct Cal Freundlich Makes Good Music!

Music has always played an important role in film, starting with silent movies accompanied by pianos played in theaters. Interesting plot twist: FIT has been making a bit of noise lately when it comes to this.

Cal Freundlich, who teaches CG-452 (Music Production for Interactive and Animation Thesis), scored “Found,” a documentary directed by Shuhao Tse. “Found” won the gold medal in the documentary category at the Student Academy Awards. A few months earlier it also won the Student BAFTA Best Documentary and Grand Jury Prize.

Cal Freundlich having been awarded the gold student academy award, 2022

The film is about a child stolen at age three. A dozen years later, police find him, but that joy was trapped by a new reality – the child’s existing family relations.

Catch excerpts from Freundlich’s soundtrack for “Found” here on SoundCloud.

“Shuhao, (a fellow NYU alum) did a beautiful job of telling an unbelievably delicate and emotional story, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it,” said Freundlich.

Freundlich’s two-semester course is centered around a collaboration with NYU students from the Steinhardt Screen Scoring Program (of which Freundlich is an alumnus).

“We are focusing on how to dissect, analyze, and most importantly communicate about music as creators, not as musicians,” says Freudlich. The idea is to give FIT thesis students the tools for a successful and nuanced collaboration with their composers in the second half of the year.

Freundlich says the aim of his score was “to reflect the fragility of such a high-stakes family story, as well as allow the audience to delve deeper into the emotion of both the parents and the child. Because the story is so emotionally charged, we really wanted the score to give the film’s heaviest moments just the lightest push, while also allowing audiences to decide how they feel for themselves.”

Cal Freundlich at the student academy awards

At FIT, “a fair amount of class time is dedicated to dissecting music and how it interacts with pictures. We’ve spoken in class about how to choose what moments need music, as well as how to map out a scene musically based on the emotional beats within it,” said Freundlich.

For one assignment, FIT students worked in groups to “temp” (add pre-existing music to a scene without music) several different scenes. “Each scene had at least two groups assigned to it, but each group was assigned a different musical genre,” said Freundlich.

The purpose was to demonstrate the power of music in film, animation and other media, and how drastically the music choices can impact the interpretation of a scene.

Freundlich completed the winning documentary’s score when he was a student last April, during the final year of completing his master’s program at NYU.

To see more of Cal Freundlich’s work, visit his website: CalFreudlichMusic and on IG: @cal_freundlich.

To learn more about animation at FIT go to: Animation, Interactive Media, & Game Design.

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Fine Arts Professor Nick Lamia’s wilderness experiences captured in two artistic mediums

Fine Arts professor Nick Lamia began photographing and painting abstract landscapes during an artists’ residency at the prestigious MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire over a decade ago. He would ride his bike along the countryside and come back and paint and draw the “lived experiences” he had captured in photographs. They would be captured again as works of art.  Lamia has since wandered over more territory and more terrain.

Photo: Nick Lamia, “Brewster, NY”

His abstract interpretations often exist alongside his photographs. These “observational recordings,” as he refers to them, help to inform the viewer of his artistic process and imagination.

Now some of his landscapes are being featured in a solo exhibition, “Tailwaters Project,” at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH from October 14 through November 12. The audience can modify a live installation at his artist’s talk on October 28.

Nick Lamia, “Bridge at Brewster”

It’s all part of a logical trajectory. Before moving to New York in 2000, Lamia taught environmental science and was a wilderness guide in California’s Sierra Nevada. He also worked as a mate on ocean going sailboats and led sea kayaking expeditions.

He says his love of ecology and the outdoors didn’t disappear when he moved to New York. It continues to inspire his artwork. “It’s often the overlaps of the built environment and the natural world that are especially interesting,” he says.

Lamia began teaching at FIT in 2017 when he was invited to take on a figure drawing course for non-majors. Since that first semester, Lamia has gone on to teach drawing, printmaking, painting and an Art and Technology class.

Lamia led a series of faculty print workshops to generate team spirit within his department and has taken on the role of Diversity Ambassador, promoting diversity on campus and acting as a liaison between Fine Arts and the FIT Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Photo: Nick Lamia, “Stockbridge, Vermont”

In New York, he says, one sees unending examples of society and nature conforming to one another in a way that is as stimulating as spending time in wilderness.

Lamia and ten extended family members moved to his mother-in-law’s home in Westchester for the first seven months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“For me, it provided more time to do things outdoors.” Without a studio, Lamia spent time tinkering in his late father-in-law’s basement workshop. “My paternal grandfather was a contractor and boat builder. I have a bunch of his old tools and I’ve always loved working with my hands.”

His father-in-law’s fly-fishing gear also rekindled an old interest; he began taking trips to local creeks and streams in search of trout.

Nick Lamia, “Stockbridge Swimming Hole”

Because the trout fishing options around him were all tailwaters (the watercourse below a reservoir) and trout fishing is generally carried out in an upstream direction, he’d eventually reach a dam.

Dense underbrush and tree cover along the streams blocked Lamia’s view of his surroundings. He remembers “while I was exploring these creeks and rivers, it was easy to believe that I was surrounded by wilderness the way Thomas Cole or Frederick Edwin Church would have been while they sought inspiring views of the Hudson.”

Photo: Nick Lamia, “Cathedral”

The illusion that he was far from any part of our built environment would sometimes become overwhelmingly powerful. When he glimpsed an enormous dam through the trees, it was as if he were seeing something alien. This was, he said, similar to what it must have been like for Native Americans to witness the arrival of European ships.

Lamia says his tailwater experiences mimic painting at its best:

“It’s an extended period of exploratory moves, experimentation and feeling lost followed by a brief moment of clarity when the inherent logic of the image becomes clear.” These moments inspire new art.

Photo: Nick Lamia. “Croton River, West Branch”

Regarding the practice of photographing promising locations and using his photos as references for paintings and drawings:

“Few people would guess these paintings come from real life…when one looks at the paintings together with the photographic references, the connections are unmistakable.” Then the goal is to create artworks that “evoke, rather than illustrate” his observations of the intertwining of society and nature.

Lamia says he feels fortunate to have been embraced by the Fine Arts department. “It’s a hidden gem in New York City and there is so much potential here.”

“West Branch”

Lamia is a founding member of the Faculty on Inclusive Learning group, for which he is helping to organize a second year-long series of online faculty discussions on topics ranging from cultural appropriation to socio-economic diversity in the classroom.

He enjoys teaching at FIT for its range of diverse students and the enthusiasm they bring to his classroom. He says he’s had a particularly good time taking on the challenges of guiding senior painters through their thesis projects during their final year on campus.

Nick Lamia

“I love it when students begin to connect their concepts with their craft. That’s what senior year is all about: bringing the technical skills they’ve honed as they progress through the visual arts program together with their personal interests and curiosity.”

When that happens,” he says, “it is beautiful and exhilarating to see. I am fortunate to be able to play a role in helping them to realize their ambitions.”

For his exhibit in Lebanon NH, Lamia is donating half of his portion of any sales to the Greater Upper Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited.

To see more of Professor Lamia’s work, visit his website at NickLamia.com and on Instagram: @nick_lamia_studio.

To learn more about the Fine Arts AAS and BFA programs, visit School of Art and Design Fine Arts at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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Mia Murphy’s photography soars on Times Square

Photographic skill, an overwhelming attention to detail, and persistent desire combined to land a dream assignment for recent Photography grad Mia Murphy. Her art appeared on a digital billboard installation at Times Square during New York Fashion Week 2022.

Billboard ad for Stoned jewelry at Times Square, photographed by Mia Murphy

It is a peak moment in her young career and the realization of a tenacious vision. “When I moved from San Clemente, California in 2018 to attend FIT, I told myself that I wanted to photograph a billboard in Times Square. That would be the ‘New York thing’ to accomplish!” said Murphy.

“By the time graduation came in May, I thought maybe it would happen by the time I turned 25.” But her vision came to fruition three years early.

Model Hayden Webb for Stoned jewelry campaign. Photo: Mia Murphy

Chance favors the prepared mind, especially when it beholds a vision belonging to a talented and skilled creative.

In August, Eve Gay, founder and CEO of Stoned jewelry company, flew her to Jacksonville, Florida to shoot a campaign. “When I arrived she told me, ‘So these photos will be on a billboard in Times Square during New York Fashion Week.’ I was like ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’ It was surreal!”

Model Hayden Webb’s “Bond girl” look.

She and Gay had previously discussed doing a “Bond girl” style photoshoot for a partnership with Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and St. James House. But the decision was made to go with the theme for the Times Square billboard that would feature the company’s Jubilee Collection.

Model Hayden Webb was chosen for the shoot. Murphy, whose previous professional work was for Wilhelmina Models, said of Webb: “Her beauty and skill set matched the look we were going for: classic and fierce.”

Each photo had to be especially crisp and clear, says Murphy, particularly the jewels and Webb’s face. And the light had to perfectly illuminate them. “We were sitting on the beach at 5 o’clock in the morning, testing lighting over and over again until it was perfect,” she said.

Stoned Fine Jewelry campaign. Photo: Mia Murphy

Murphy decided on her resolution based on the scale of the project. “I made sure every single photo was perfect,” said Murphy.

“Mia was technically and creatively prepared for this,” says Photography professor Curtis Willocks. “She loves what she’s doing. She’s passionate. There’s an old saying ‘you’re only as good as your last photo.’ But for her, this is a kick start. She’ll keep going and challenging herself.” 

For Murphy, communication, composition, lighting, and technical  knowledge of her gear were critical to the success of the shoot. “Communication, because without the whole team working together and being clear about what needed to be done, it wouldn’t have happened.”

The large-scale project required more patience with taking the photos. She shot with a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with 24-105mm lens.

Mia Murphy, Photo: Seth Clash ’22

The skills she acquired at FIT, technical camera work, lighting, composition, and the science behind photography, allowed her to be more confident behind the camera, she says.

“What also helped were weekly critiques. I thrive off of constructive criticism. One of my favorite professors, Ron Amato, helped me improve my work. He was honest about what I could work on, all the while knowing what I could do best and that I would grow as a photographer if I put in the work.”

She also credits professors Curtis Willocks and Jessica Wynne. “They had so many insights and gave me confidence to try new artistic approaches.”

Murphy says she shared a similar aesthetic with her creative team, which included stylists, and art director and the model, who had recently appeared on the cover of Vogue Germany.

Mia Murphy (right) celebrates with team members Eve and Dina Gay.

“Obviously I have been in situations where I haven’t met eye-to-eye with others and I still make sure to compromise and execute the photos,” said Murphy. But working with like-minded people led to this being one of my favorite shoots to date.”

Murphy’s billboard credit is in keeping with her career direction. “I want to work for magazines, name fashion brands and advertising and campaign work.” She continues to collaborate with brands, stylists, and models, and says she would like to find representation.

“Mia’s not only talented, she’s a good person,” says Prof. Willocks.

When it came to colleges, says Murphy, she looked at art schools. FIT was the only one she applied to. “I was so excited to be furthering my interests in New York City,” she said.

To see more of Mia Murphy’s work, check out her website: MiaMurphyPhography and on Instagram @miiamurphy.

To learn more about the Photography AAS and BFA programs, go to: Photography and Related Media at FIT.

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Prof. Jake Friedman and the Mouse Animators Who Roared: The Great Disney Strike of 1941

There’s a technical and conceptual revolution – in fact, multiple revolutions – taking place in the animation industry today. In an age that has fostered unique national styles, content ranging from shorts and feature-length narratives to games, animation almost indistinguishable from reality and reality overlaid with computer-generated effects, the industry’s creative workers would do well to understand animation’s history.

“The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War of Animation’s Golden Age,” by Jake S. Friedman (Chicago Review Press)

No, it didn’t quite begin with a mouse named Mickey. But Mickey and his friends powered animation’s early revolution. And Mickey’s “father,” Walter Elias Disney, born 1901, played an outsized role. So did a groundbreaking Disney animator, Art Babbitt, who took the, well, “art” form to new heights and helped assure that creative animators would receive credit and some of the money they helped create.

It took unionization and a 1941 strike at Disney’s studios to set the stage. Prof. Jake Friedman, who has taught animation history at FIT, has a new book, “The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War of Animation’s Golden Age.” It, along with two earlier books, shines light on how the business side of the current industry began to evolve. He’s also provided archival research for a PBS documentary on Walt Disney.

Disney strikers 1941

“How do we stand on the shoulders of giants if we don’t know the giants?” says Friedman. “I try to bring the history part of it into the Now, so we can connect to the creative choices of the filmmakers and, I hope, be inspired.”

He also says he wants to present the time and culture in which the animations were made, not as a time capsule, but as a reminder that everything we do reflects our own time and culture.

Friedman’s course History of Animation CG 344 may be the only animation course where students are graded on their essays. “I ask the students first to write about a few of their favorite animations from the first three decades of animation history,” he says. “Gradually, we hit all the decades, from the 1900s through 2010s.”

History of Animation professor and author Jake S. Friedman

Friedman says he wants his students to decide for themselves what they personally find valuable. “Art is subjective,” he says. “What matters to me won’t necessarily matter to you, and vice versa.”

He says he was inspired to write the book by “the late, great John Culhane, who taught History of Animation here at FIT and passed the mantle on to me.”

Friedman says Prof. Culhane told him 14 years ago “that I would write this book…he knew I was on the task.”

Animation historian John Culhane serving as model reference for Mr. Snoops in Disney’s “The Rescuers” (1977)
“Having worked at several non-union studios in New York I had always heard about the legendary Disney labor struggles…and the long defunct NYC animation union.  As employees at Titmouse studio in NYC and Vancouver just organized the first Animation Guild local outside LA this year it’s especially important to understand the history of unions in the animation industry.” – Dan Shefelman, Chair, Illustration & Interactive Media

Among the book’s insights are descriptions of what life was like for a young artist at Disney in the Golden Age, and how the strike changed the industry but nearly broke the studio. Walt Disney’s most innovative artist, Babbitt, became his most bitter rival.

All of this is told with the culture of Hollywood, and of the Disney studio at the time, as a backdrop. There was even involvement of a Capone gangster. The book includes a personal peek at real conversations and concerns both sides had.

Walt Disney, 1935 (publicity)

Ironically, Walt Disney’s father was a socialist and supporter of Eugene V. Debs, who famously opposed American involvement in WW1. Walt’s father would collect his sons’ earnings (Walt’s brother Roy was the financial powerhouse behind Disney) when they were young.

Says Friedman: “I suspect Walt was raging against his dad when he refused to back down against the growing labor movement in Hollywood. And at the same time, he empathized with his dad and saw how his dad was taken advantage of by others due to his gullibility. This included a pyramid scheme cloaked as a farmer’s union.

Young Walt practiced his drawing skills by copying “The New Adventures of Henry Dubb,” a comic strip by Ryan Walker, who was a communist.

from “The New Adventures of Henry Dubb”

Friedman quotes Walt as saying “I got so I could draw…the big, fat capitalist with the money, maybe with his foot on the neck of the laboring man.”

“Thus it is ironic that Walt started drawing by copying a pro-union comic strip,” says Friedman, “and the character of Henry Dubb was a gullible loser who refused to join a union and trusted his employers to take care of him – always to his detriment.”

Friedman credits Walt as the power behind the studio’s raising animation as an art form, but that after Walt, “Babbitt did more to raise the standards of Disney animation, and thereby animation as an art form” in those times.

Art Babbitt animating at Disney, circa 1932

Babbitt was also a generous mentor. His advice: “Caricature must be the expression of an artist…” and ”try to make yourself feel the way that character would feel under the same circumstances…try to think as he would think,” still holds.

Says Friedman: “Babbitt was the first to get into the mind of an animated character. He wrote a character analysis on Goofy and that changed everything. He was a superb teacher of animation. He talked about studying life, and caricaturing the world by adding your own spice to it, and using all influences as inspiration, from fine art to music to world travel. I can’t think of better creative advice than that.”

Like many managers, Walt Disney regarded unions as communist fronts, converting capitalist profits into bigger paychecks. Yet unionization appears to be increasing now due to labor shortages and inflation.

Friedman warns that the industry’s greatest change has been in digital effects, “which somehow fall between animation and live action, and so have no union representation.”

Art Babbitt (left) surrounded by fellow Disney strikers, 1941

“The Disney Revolt” was written to describe not only how animation was made, but also how a successful union was made.

Strike poster

Friedman does admit, however, that Babbitt, the animator-turned-union leader, “made some poor choices about leading that we can look at now with criticism.”

The book describes the role of Willie Bioff. “He was a bona fide Chicago gangster, who ended up controlling the largest labor organization in Hollywood, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Fighting him was the Disney artists’ original reason to organize. But during the strike he aligned with Walt Disney.”

Organized crime figure William Morris Bioff

Friedman says the country’s shock at this helped get Washington’s attention and force the new National Labor Relations Board to step in to end the strike.

“The Disney Revolt” will be available in the Gladys Marcus Library or can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Chicago Review Press.

To learn more about animation at FIT go to: Animation, Interactive Media, & Game Design.

Photos courtesy of Jake S. Friedman

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Spatial Experience Design Program Evolves with Industry

Professional needs and academic disciplines change over the years. That is the main theme of the By Design exhibit in the Art and Design Gallery running now through September 25.

The exhibit highlights innovations in spatial experience such as the integration of interactive and dynamic environments. This 4-part screen can combine into one large screen. Photo: C&G Partners

The exhibit was done in collaboration with Prof. Craig Berger, Chair of the Communications Design Pathways department, as well as students and staff. By Design is a retrospective exhibit and media show of “experience design” work such as sales booths and interiors, led by Keith Helmetag, co-founder of C&G Partners, a pace-setting design practice in New York City.

“By Design is essentially a teaching tool,” said Prof. Berger. “Students participated in its development as interns and fifth semester students will use it as a laboratory for future project development.”

This would include showing professional design processes, graphic development and display methodologies, says Prof. Berger.

Graphic display is central to the exhibit with floor tiles that add information throughout the space. Photo: C&G Partners

C&G Partners is among the seminal graphic design firms, responsible for many of the advances in modern multi-disciplinary graphic design over the last 60 years.

The company, where Prof. Berger has a working relationship, grew from Chermayeff and Geismar (now Chermayeff, Geismar and Haviv), to focus on the new discipline of experience design, which combines interpretive graphics, display, placemaking, interactivity, and media.

C&G now focuses on both cultural experiences including the current exhibit “Native New York” at The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and interpretive projects such as the graphics for Little Island public park in New York.

By Design emphasizes the interrelationship between placemaking and public art. Photo: C&G Partners

FIT’s Spatial Experience Design Program has followed a different path historically, but has reached a similar destination. The program began with a focus on the world of object merchandising and display, followed by a combination of display, exhibition and event design.

In the past decade the program has evolved further with support of the Communication Design Pathways and the Creative Technology programs to encompass new areas of experiential design including dynamic environments, interactivity, and the graphic and digital support.

FIT’s Spatial Experience Design program has developed exhibits that reflect the changes in experiential design such as the Rentbrella exhibit in March and senior capstone projects.

The Rentbrella exhibit in the Pomerantz Art and Design Gallery last Spring

The Rentbrella exhibit exemplified the creative use of landmark displays, lighting and projection-based media. Recent capstone projects incorporated spatial experience design trends from advocacy-oriented events to branded environments says Prof. Berger.

The Pomerantz Center Art and Design Gallery is an ideal platform for creative work, says Prof. Berger. “The space is public-facing, open to the public, and central to the circulation of the school. The goal is to promote these exhibitions as teaching tools for students to understand the potential of placemaking,” says Prof. Berger.

Capstone student projects reflect the final summation of acquired skills as spatial experience student designers. The program has been updated based on the model for design process set by designers from firms like C&G Partners

Leading firms like C&G Partners, Gensler and Pentagram are at the cutting edge of these new developments, says Prof. Berger. The Spatial Experience Design program works with them through internships, special projects and exhibits.

Interactive gender ribbons are featured in By Design and were part of a San Diego History Center’s LGBTQ+ exhibit. Photo: C&G Partners

“In November the students will profile lessons they learned from the By Design show for their own exhibit,” says Prof. Berger.

To learn more about FIT’s Spatial Experience Design program (formally called Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design) visit: Spatial Experience Design at FIT.

FIT’s Pomerantz Center Art and Design Gallery is open to the public every day from 9 am to 5 pm. The gallery is located at the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and 27 Street.

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Carnaval, Culebra, Encanto: Alexa Rivera Explores Puerto Rican Culture in Textiles

Alexa Rivera, a recent Textile/Surface Design graduate who took Prof. Susanne Goetz’s advanced screen printing class last semester, created a collection of designs inspired by Puerto Rico. The collection combines the island’s Taino culture dating back to before Columbus arrived, local architecture, and florals, to beautifully merge history and textile design.

This stripe print invokes a desire to explore the streets of Old San Juan and heritage of the Taino.

Rivera (’22 AAS) says she had never created something that told a story about her culture. She set out to do just that. “Initially, I wrote down a list of things that come to mind when I think of Puerto Rico, such as Old San Juan, El Morro, coqui, dominoes, and La Carnaval.”

Puerto Rico is commonly known as La Isla del Encanto or Island of Enchantment for its beautiful beaches, mountain terrain and inviting climate.  It’s the name Rivera chose for her collection.

Each house in this print has texture and depth as it would appear in Old San Juan. A second stripe shows Taino symbols, a reflection of the island’s past.

The culture of Puerto Rico has been a big part of her life despite growing up in a military family that moved frequently before settling in Suffern, NY. “When I was given this assignment, I had no idea the journey it would take me on.” she said.

“Alexa did a great job,” said Prof. Susanne Goetz, “bringing together Taino culture, architecture, and florals in a way that combines history and textile design in a really beautiful way.”

A blotch print, one of three in Rivera’s collection, which focuses on Vejigantes masks, a feature of the pre-Lenten Carnaval.

The assignment’s objective was to develop a collection in three color combinations for a specific market. Carnaval, for instance, is an exhilarating festival with bright greens, lively magentas, bold yellows, and blues. Culebra invites viewers to escape into the soothing Caribbean waters with warm neutrals and calming blues. Encanto brings light to native island colors — deep blues, warm reds, crisp white, and accents of gold.

Rivera prefers to draw by hand when designing, “simply because I like the process of using pencil and paper.”

She started by drawing about 30 motifs that would then be used in her three designs. She sketched doors, houses, cobblestone, coqui (frogs), dominoes, Vejigante masks (typically worn during the carnival), bongos, and other objects in detail.

Hand-drawn motifs

Most of the motifs are hand drawn on tracing paper with black micron or sharpie. This makes it easier for Rivera to see how they layer together in Photoshop.

Hand-drawn motifs

“Puerto Rico has such a rich culture I wanted to incorporate as much of it as I could,” she said.  She then scanned each individual drawing into the computer, thresholding and designing her layout in Photoshop.

Each of the three prints was designed around the same story but each has a different layout:

“The first design is a ‘tossed layout’ that incorporates a multitude of different motifs in different shapes and sizes. The goal was to create interest: Everywhere one’s eye sees something new to be curious about.“

“There’s so many motifs to incorporate, so a ‘tossed’ print seemed most appropriate,” says Rivera.

The second print was a stripe design inspired by Old San Juan’s streets. San Juan, founded in 1521, is the capital and a city far older than any European settlement in North America. There exists El Morro, a fortress built by the Spanish, blue cobblestone streets and colorful, intricate architecture.

Screen printing starts with a design, in this case a stripe layout, with each dye color separated and printed onto vellum or some sort of transparency to make the “screens” for printing. Fabric areas that overlap appear as a third color, or “trap.”

Rivera says she felt compelled to represent Native American history as well. Taino were the indigenous people of the Caribbean; especially large populations inhabited Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. About two-thirds of all modern-day Puerto Ricans carry evidence of Taino ancestry.

The Taino used symbols to represent different deities, animals, and words. Rivera says she took some of these symbols into her designs to reflect the history of the Caribbean.

Vejigantes motif

Her third design was a blotch print that focuses heavily on the iconic Vejigantes masks, a major feature of the pre-Lenten Carnaval in Puerto Rico. The masks represent demons and can be quite scary. But they are often juxtaposed with bright, playful colors.

vejigantes masks with florals

This print plays with vejigantes masks, softened with florals. Rivera says it is one of her favorites, despite the challenges of drawing the movement and liveliness of the expressions.

vejigantes masks with florals

“I wanted to create a print that showcased the variety and intricate details of the masks, she said, “while softening them with floral elements and keeping the design lively with the addition of musical notes and dominoes.”

Rivera is currently a textile buying intern for URBN Anthropologie. “Seeing the process of cross functional teamwork has been super rewarding,” she says. “As a designer on a merchandising team, I was able to listen to customers through a sales perspective and to implement changes through design. I had the opportunity to design a beach towel collection for summer 2023.”

Alexa Rivera in Central Park

To see more of Alexa Rivera’s work, visit her website: AlexaRivera2MyPortfolio.com.

To learn more about the Textile Surface Design AAS and BFA programs visit: Textile/Surface Design at FIT.

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Pastry Shops, Book Stores and The New Yorker: Welcome to Prof. Jenny Kroik

This fall, incoming Illustration professor Jenny Kroik will bring not only her ongoing successful career to the core IL-264 course in visual interpretation. She also brings significant teaching experience. Working mainly in watercolor, she has three New Yorker covers published.

“Arthur Avenue” New Yorker cover by Jenny Kroik

Prof. Kroik’s credits also include the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Town & Country, Time, HBO, PBS, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the past three years, she has been teaching at Bronx Community College, but has also taught at the 92nd Street Y, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and CCNY. It adds up to about 15 years teaching undergraduates and 10 as a freelance illustrator.

Nightlife of Fish” by Jenny Kroik

IL 264, with six lab hours a week, is the second course in a two-semester sequence that goes beyond image creation itself to encompass gesture, motion, and personal style, in all media.

Prof. Kroik offered a glimpse of her professional life, the places she frequents for inspiration, and how birds and urban nature have been a comfort throughout the pandemic.

“I love painting people and portraying them with kindness and joy,” she says. She uses pleasing and sophisticated color combinations. “I love the tactile qualities of paint, and seeing how it translates to print and screen.”

“Annie at The MET” by Jenny Kroik

Bookstores, bakeries and museums frequently appear in Kroik’s illustrations. “These places are fun to paint,” she says. “They are all places that seem peaceful and warm to me. I love to paint those spaces and the people that occupy them.”

She seeks them out – easy in New York City. “I always love to find new spaces to paint. I guess the MET, MoMa and The Strand, as well as Book Culture are the places I go to most often. All the bakeries on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx are amazing.”

“The Strand” New Yorker cover by Jenny Kroik

We asked what skills, aside from the technical skills of all great illustrators, are necessary to be successful. “The most important skill for me was to learn to deal with the stresses of the job,” she said.

“Learning mindful meditation was a big help, since a lot of the time we are waiting, worrying, getting rejections or just silence…or not even knowing what it is we’re supposed to do.”

Because illustration is a field that is constantly changing, things that worked a few years ago aren’t necessarily working anymore for getting jobs or visibility. “Meditation helped me to be comfortable with uncertainty,” she said, “as comfortable as one can get!”

“Next Stop Spring” New Yorker cover by Jenny Kroik

[Regarding her second New Yorker cover, Prof. Kroik told art editor Françoise Mouly: “I saw this young girl glued to the window, fascinated by the [subway] tunnel. It got me thinking about how one’s imagination is always active when you’re a kid. I started wondering, what can she possibly see? Beautiful flowers? I tried to see the tunnel through her eyes.”]

“Arianna” by Jenny Kroik

Says Prof. Kroik, “Trusting yourself and your instincts is really key, and it’s a hill you have to climb over and over again throughout your life.”

It’s important, she says, to find something that gives you a sustainable balancing point, “beyond things that give you temporary comfort, such as a big slice of pie… though that’s good, too!”

Marsha P. Johnson by Jenny Kroik
James Baldwin by Jenny Kroik

Editors vary in how receptive they are to new talent that reflects a broader range of life experiences. “It depends, but the ones I know I believe are always looking for new talent and new voices. That’s what makes for awesome fresh artwork.”

Prof. Kroik does follow the news cycle, but not exactly to anticipate possible assignments.

“I respond to what is happening in the world because it’s often hard to ignore. Sometimes I feel like my work has a new perspective to offer on a topic so I will pitch that idea, or just post it on my social media to talk about what is happening.”

“Nahid, Librarian,” by Jenny Kroik

Art, she says, can be a form of therapy when one feels helpless against  wars, disasters and injustice. “It is also a great way to organize and get people to listen,” she says. “Art is a powerful political tool.”

Prof. Kroik says she works pretty quickly most of the time, so deadlines are not usually a problem. “It can get stressful at times, especially when it’s midnight and the art is due the next day, and it’s still not quite right.”

“Dog Days” for The Pennsylvania Gazette, by Jenny Kroik

That’s not unfamiliar to what students deal with, although Prof. Kroik says she can’t remember an assignment with a deadline that was less than a week.

A rush job did come in while she was traveling recently in Italy. “I made sketches on the train from Naples to Rome. I worried about not being able to work well while not in my studio, making do with the tools I had on me. But it was kind of fun and turned out well.”

“Jenny Marsh” by Jenny Kroik

Prof. Kroik recently led a bird-sketch walk for the Feminist Bird Club. “It was amazing. They are such a lovely team. All the people who attended were great to hang out with. It’s lovely to see people who are passionate about art and nature,” she said.

“These are also things I’m passionate about, especially urban nature. Birds have been a great source of inspiration and comfort for me during the pandemic. The birding community has been really fun to get to know.”

Jenny Kroik

She admits to not being a morning person. “I usually work late at night, so mornings can be rough. My mornings are spent staring at screens…unless of course there’s a deadline,” she says.

To see more of Prof. Jenny Kroik’s work visit her website at:  www.JennyKroik.com and follow her on IG: @jkroik and Twitter: @jkroik.

To learn more about the Illustration and Interactive Media program go to Illustration at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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From Client to Designer to Laser, A Quick Wash, and Custom Clothing Appears

High quality custom clothing may cost consumers more initially, but it stays in style far longer – maybe forever. With today’s computer and laser technology, even sophisticated and unusual designs move quickly from the minds of customers and designers to finished, long-lasting products.

Students Alex Propios and E-Lorraine Johnson team up for an episode of “Off Field Fashion.”

“Sustainability isn’t just one thing. It’s a change in your mindset to achieve real change in environmental impact,” says Michael Ferrero, Executive Director of FIT’s DTech Lab. Ferrero is executive producer of “Off Field Fashion,” a YES Network series that teams up FIT designers with professional athletes and celebrities.

Textile/Surface Design professor Susanne Goetz recently oversaw an “Off Field Fashion” episode that featured laser technology. Goetz is particularly interested in new technologies, sustainability, and artisanship. Excerpts from the episode are here:

To put it another way, today’s customization tools combine key goals of what FIT wants to lead in the industry – customization, sustainability, clothes that are functional, and timeless.

FIT recently tested these ideas. Two of Prof. Goetz’s students, E-Lorraine Johnson and Alexander Propios, successfully created a jean jacket and jeans for two professional soccer players, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, a midfielder for the Los Angeles Football Club, and Gedion Zelalem, midfielder for the New York City Football Club, the reigning MLS Cup champion.

ROF. GOETZ reviewing DESIGN IDEAS WITH E-LORRAINE JOHNSON

“There’s more to customization than couture,” says Johnson. “My goal is to own my own plus-size design firm and to cater to bodies like mine that are under-represented. People say not to judge a book by its cover, but why not help make that cover fabulous?”

Technology plays a major role in customization, so FIT called upon commercial establishments that already use some of this technology. The teamwork, from student to faculty to production firm, was seamless.

“This technology already enables customization at commercial scale because it allows quick steps from concept to clothing,” said Prof. Goetz.

At present, much of the customization work takes place with surface design, but already it is changing the industry.

Ferrero described the challenge: To develop a custom design to be applied on denim for Tajouri-Shradi and Zelalem to wear during a fashion photo shoot.

As Johnson said, because “these are custom designs, [they are each] for one person so it’s really important to get to know them. Fashion is personal.”

E-Lorraine Johnson with Gedion Zelalem

After his discussion with the athletes, Propios designed a pomegranate motif, after the national flower of Libya, for his designs for Ismael. He noted that the Romans were importing pomegranate from there 2000 years ago.

Johnson said “Gedion is into his Ethiopian heritage. I wanted to pull out such elements as the Lion of Judah and possibly the star motif that’s known on the Ethiopian flag,” but after talking with him “wanted to give it a street style, a hip hop and graffiti contemporary look.”

Johnson’s street-style Lion Motif of Judah motif on the computer ready to to be transferred for the first pass on the garment

Some of this can already be done by remote video-conferencing and mailing samples back and forth. But soon, local fabric samples might be routinely picked up or viewed at outlets near the production folks and near the customers.

After researching Tajouri-Shradi’s Libyan background, Propios began drafting different designs for the florals and placing them in different spots on the denim. “Ismael is mad about his style. He loves to dress up and go  shopping. He is a citizen of the world. He seemed really open to what we had to offer him,” said Propios.

Propios and Johnson with Bill Curtin, owner of BPD Washhouse.

The production process itself, at BPD Wash House in Jersey City, went quickly–faster than the students had imagined.

“The speed of that laser is insane,” said Johnson. The Jeanologia laser, amid flashes of light and flame, burns off the denim’s indigo dye at different levels of intensity to “print” the pattern.

Computer-controlled laser burns the custom pattern into the denim’s indigo dye. “Let It Burn!” said Johnson.

Said Propios, “My designs go from hand-drawn motifs on to my computer onto their computer and just shoot down to the fabric with the laser … it was just so cool.”

As is typical in denim processing, BPD stone-washed the pieces. BPD uses a more sustainable version, formed from powdered “scrap” pumice molded into small blocks held together with an adhesive. They last six times longer than regular pumice.

“Innovative technologies like laser denim finishing allow smaller designers to experiment in a facile and interactive way,” said Ferrero.

The students discussing their experience with FIT President Joyce Brown

To follow Prof. Susanne Goetz on IG go to: @goetz.susanne; Alexander Propios: @alexanderpropios; and E-Lorraine Johnson: @elorraine.co.

To learn more about the Textile Surface Design AAS and BFA programs visit: Textile/Surface Design at FIT.

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Conceptual Display Advertises a Conceptual Exhibit

How does a team of four Spatial Experience Design students create a window display inspired by an artist whose work is elaborate, unfamiliar, and otherworldly? With imagination, skill, and in this unusual case, guidance from the artist himself.

Final window display that promotes Chris Schanck’s “Off World” exhibition

The assignment for the students’ Product Presentation class required the design and construction of a large-scale display that promotes a museum exhibit and incorporates one or more mannequins. The students, who just completed their junior year, chose Chris Schanck’s “Off World” exhibit currently on view at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle.

“As soon as we saw Schanck’s designs we knew we needed to use them for our project,” says team member Alexandria Casella. “We drew immediate inspiration from all aspects of his work.”

From the team’s proposal

Schanck’s idiosyncratic furnishings are a fusion of sculpture and furniture. “His work encompasses an unfamiliar world from far away, but it’s the world we live in now,” says Casella.

The prospects of capturing the esoteric nature of Schanck’s designs challenged and thrilled the students.

Installation view of Chris Schanck’s exhibition at MAD. Photo: Jenna Bascom. Courtesy of MAD.

Casella was taken by the boldness and originality of foam, velvet, and plywood merging gracefully.

Penny Kalfas admired the coral reef-looking, textured foam structures. It brought to mind how much of the ocean hasn’t been explored and how that lent itself to the “off-world/other-side/extraterrestrial” aspects of Schanck’s work.

PENNY KALFAS AND ALEXANDRIA CASELLA PAINTING THE MANNEQUIN’S FOAM IN SHADES OF PINK.

Sarah Rosengarten saw Schanck’s Instagram post of a bed he made for a friend. The headboard caught her eye; it was made with a technique they chose to apply to the flooring of their window to give the space dimension and volume.

Ana Belardi was inspired by a wall mirror piece from the exhibition. “The electric blue colors and organic curves framing the mirror was eye-catching,” said Belardi. The proscenium shape and color would be used for the outside of the window.

Penny Kalfas and Ana Belardi painting the foam on the mannequin in shades of pink.

“We decided that the mannequin would serve as the main focal point of the window,” said Casella. “The mannequin is the ‘other’ being. The question is, what is ‘the other?’ Is it gender? Sexuality? Religion? Culture? It’s for the viewer to decide.”

Finished mannequin

After some experimentation, Casella contacted the artist via Instagram. “Wouldn’t it be great to have his input? Amazingly, he responded 10 minutes later and was very receptive and interested in our process and ideas,” said Casella.

ALEXANDRIA CASELLA SPRAYING FOAM AND ANA BELARDI PAINTING THE FOAM PINK ON THE PLYWOOD GRAPHICS COVERED CARDBOARD BOXES WITH FOAM STRUCTURES.

The students met with the designer via Zoom. “He loved our idea and challenged us to be more conceptual with the window. It was an amazing experience to have first-hand critiques and insight from the artist himself,” said Casella.

It’s rare that a team of students get to work directly with an established artist in creating an interpretation of their work. We asked Schanck what inspired him to provide such valuable mentoring:

“I benefit from trying to explain my work to others in a way that is accessible, especially to students,” said Schanck. “I’m interested in the students’ point of view, because we are separated by a generation –  I wonder where the most impactful overlap occurs in how we see  the world.”

Alexandria Casella putting up the plywood graphics inside the window.

As a last step, the team covered the foam with many shades of pink paint and sprayed it with clear glitter to give it a glossier finish and to make it glow.

The team’s final display features stuffed spandex fabric for the floor and walls, spray foam for the sculptures throughout the window, and a mannequin that portrays the out-of-context takeover of the extraterrestrial world.

Says Kalfas “The display prompts the viewer to consider this abstract material and pattern that is consuming the ‘other-world. The mannequin might be a female being consumed by societal struggles. Or it might be an alien from the ‘other side.’”

How well did they execute the different facets of Schanck’s work that are on exhibit?

“Considering they come from mixed disciplines I was impressed with how cohesive their exhibition was,” said Schanck. “I found their written description of the project incredibly insightful.

“I work in a space that is not entirely clear to me. This is the part that requires faith. So, when others can find meaning in my blind spots, I am thankful for the exchange of ideas and perspectives.”

Schanck plans to put the students’ work on his website and to possibly use their descriptions of his work.

Professor Kong and Ana Belardi applying vinyl proscenium to the front of the window.

“Working successfully in a group is a great real-world simulation,” says Schanck. “Agreeing on a common goal, committing to sleepless and delirious nights and learning new materials and techniques in real time on a shoestring budget is possibly the most valuable part of this lesson and what it means to pursue a vocation in the arts.”

Spatial Experience Design team rejoices!

The window display will be up until early September. It can be viewed from outside the Pomerantz Art and Design Center at 7th Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets.

To see more of each team member’s work on social media go to: Alexandria Casella on IG: @alexandriacasellaart, Ana Belardi: @belardi_design, Panayiota Kalfas: @panayiotadesigns, and Sarah Rosengarten: @sarahrosengartendesign1.

To learn more about the Spatial Experience Design program (formally called Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design) go to: Spatial Experience Design at FIT.

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