The semester’s first assignments

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.

“Isolation” by Jessica Garcia


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.”

“Isolation 2” by Jessica Garcia

Prof. Willocks references similar assignments that were done for magazines and other publications during COVID-19. “I want them to think, then work quickly.”

Textile Surface Design

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.”

Julia Ermacor, class of 2020

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.

By Amanda Bueno Veras

Last semester, Amanda Bueno Veras submitted her portrait (above) from this class and won the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Competition 2020 for $2,000.

Professor Kam Mak: IL484 Advanced Color Rendering I

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.”

Oil painting of Joan of Arc in battle, by Nicholas Keslake

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.

By Faythe Stone

The painting (above) by Faythe Stone was created in Prof. Kam Mak’s class by Faythe Stone. It was a winner in The National Arts Club 2020 Will Barnet Student Show.

Packaging Design

Professor Cliff Bachner: PK318 Design Process Studio

“Our first project for the semester is creating a brand based on our students’ individual family heritage and/or immigration histories” says Prof. Bachner.

Big Bastards juice, by Luke Paccione

“The project consists of creating a new brand name and identity as applied to three packaging forms with distinctively different proportions within the food and beverage category.”

Delicious Dictator snacks, by Jay Kim

Fashion Design

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.”

Jewelry Design

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!

Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design

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.

By Ralph Emrick

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.

By Ralph Emrick

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.

Fine Arts

Professor Joel Werring: FA151 Painting 1 & FA143 Foundation Drawing 1

“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.”

Giorgio Morandi still life 1932 scaled

“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.”

Galileo’s studies of the moon

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.

Student value collage after Morandi

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.”

Textile Surface Design

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.

Art Deco Scarf Design, by Lucy Catterick

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.

Final Scarf by Ju Hee Yoo

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.

Communication Design

Professor Thomas McManus: CD134 Capturing Creativity

Professor McManus offered two different assignments he alternates between at the beginning of the semester.

One is The Exquisite Corpse: Create an “exquisite corpse” by working with two other students to create an animal in a zoo by not knowing what the other students are doing in the making of the drawing.

Exquisite Corpse assignments: Mouse, Cat, Muscle Man

The other is “The Getty Challenge: Go to the Getty Museum website and try to recreate a masterpiece there using only the materials you have in your home.

The Getty Challenge, by Christine Lee

Graphic Design

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.”)

Textile Surface Design

Professor Kimberly Lennox: TD334 Complex Wovens

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.

From Assignment 1 of Prof. Lennox’s Complex Wovens class

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.

2 responses to “The semester’s first assignments”

  1. Stunning blogposts! Sophistication and imaginative energy in every project and its description.

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