15 Jul 2011

more stew than chicken soup

Me exploring an installation by former student, Christopher Jaurique. Photo by Adriana Clark-Ruiz

Me exploring an installation by former student, Christopher Jaurique. Photo by Adriana Clark-Ruiz

As mentioned here before, I am the recipient of Otis College of Art and Design’s 2011 Full-time Teaching Excellence Award. One of three teaching awards Otis presents each year.

Today, the Assistant Provost asked me two questions; my answers will be shared with all the teachers at Otis’ Convocation in August. My first thought was, “Sheesh! What do I know?” However, in writing my answers I discovered I have confidence in my opinions about what makes a good teacher and clarity about the level excellence I hope to some day achieve. Nonetheless, sharing these thoughts with colleagues I respect, and who have years more experience than me in the classroom, is intimidating.

How do I answer these questions concisely—in just a sentence or two—yet with a depth to avoid flippancy and express my gratitude for being asked my point of view?

How do I create answers that read less like platitudes and more like one half of a conversation? After all, I am not writing content for a fortune cookie or a new edition of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Can my answer acknowledge I’m somewhere in the middle of this process of becoming excellent at what I do?

And most worrisome, what if someone disagrees with what I write?

But then there’s the heart of being an academic. Someone will always disagree with me. All sides of an issue can and should be argued. And we teachers have the responsibility to lead those conversations and foster a dialogue that allows for different points of view so our students can learn to develop their own opinions rather than parrot ours. That being said, I’m not convinced I’ve answered either of these questions in a controversial manner, but welcome any thoughts via email to share here later.

2011 Teaching Excellence Award Questions

What do you most value about teaching?
Being a teacher is fun! Every day students challenge me to be a more enthusiastic maker, supportive mentor and effective communicator. I enjoy seeing students develop their voice, come to realize there is thinking in making, and expand their understanding of themselves and their work.

What do you consider the most valuable attribute of a great teacher?
The teachers I admire—and find the most effective—combine a passion for their subject with an open source philosophy about sharing knowledge and an intense curiosity about the world-at-large. A great teacher models the collaborative, hard-working and courageous behavior we ask of our students.

27 Apr 2011


Sunset on the Pacific Ocean looking towards Catalina Island.

Sunset on the Pacific Ocean looking towards Catalina Island.

Each year, as the semester winds down and I watch our seniors in graphic design prepare for graduation, I feel the compulsion to cram as much advice and reassurance about "The Real World" into their already preoccupied minds. Ultimately, my intentions are good, but perhaps sending them Jamie Wieck’s blog post The 50 Things Every Graphic Design Student Should Know would prompt a better conversation and end my frenetic monologue.

Wieck doles out life lesson-esque advice, some more design-specific than others. Much of what he has to say highlights that success and getting work is about communication and relationship building. He suggests multiple ways to deal with professional jealousy and ego. Three points particularly resonate with me:

#3 Success is not a finite resource. College fosters a zero-sum mentality: that someone has to fail for you to succeed. In truth, another’s success doesn’t limit yours.
#41 Work with the client, not against them. You may think you’re right, but look at the client’s solution along with yours. Occasionally you’ll be surprised.
#47 Share your ideas. You’ve nothing to gain from holding on to your ideas; they may feel precious, but the more you share, the more new ideas you’ll have.

I came upon the 50 list because my friend, former colleague and former intern J. Namdev Hardisty tweeted the link to say he takes issue with number 14 “Never take an unpaid internship. This is not a necessary evil—a studio that doesn’t pay their interns (at least the minimum wage) is a studio not worth working for.”

Namdev counter-tweeted, “Use of the term ‘Never’ shows someone out of touch with reality. My unpaid internship at Intermedia Arts started my career.”

As someone who benefited from an unpaid internship myself, and the person who hired Namdev for the unpaid internship he mentions, I could not agree more. Unpaid internships have their place, but only if those administering the unpaid internship understand their responsibility to the emerging designer. That responsibility changes when they—or in my case, the organization they work for—cannot afford to pay a designer to learn on the job, but can offer a tremendous learning experience.

If I could amend Number 14 (and Wieck is looking for revisions as well as 50 more Things to add to his list before April 30) it would read more like this:

“Choose an internship where they have as much to offer you as you have to offer them. Look for mentors, not bosses, because those are the internships that will prove most valuable in the long run.”

Other additions I will suggest for the list are the following:

#5x Good work requires practice as much as talent. If you rest on your laurels, you’ll cease moving forward.
#5x Don't throw anything away! Save everything you make that is rejected or goes unused on a particular job. It will make you feel less attached to what you’ve made and more open to critique, because you know the results are not headed for the dustbin.
#5x Say thank you. Gratefulness is the opposite of entitlement. Say thank you to your peers, your boss, your clients and yourself.

Thank you Namdev, for pointing me to the list. I will be watching closely to see what other suggestions make it on Wieck’s list in coming days, and thinking about how I can build more of these points into the lessons I teach each day.

15 Mar 2011

"making" a poster

I love when my students pass along links featuring schoolwork on their blogs or personal sites. I am always interested to see how they frame the assignments and document how they arrived at their final outcome.

Sophomore Isabelle Nicole Ahadzadeh, a student in my Communication 2 Studio, sent me this video today documenting the “making” of her poster for a fictional reading of David Sedaris’ “Naked”.

To get the final image, Isabelle shot and re-shot the cookie baking at least three times, in addition to exploring several other conceptual and visual directions.

Final poster by Otis sophomore Isabelle Nicole Ahadzadeh.

Final poster by Otis sophomore Isabelle Nicole Ahadzadeh.

Bravo Isabelle!

29 Dec 2010


"Bits" by Paul Elliman. Image sourced from the Rietveld Academie design blog

"Bits" by Paul Elliman. Image sourced from the Rietveld Academie design blog

Winter Break means I have time to collect and reflect. Because the start date of my Experimental Type class is approaching, though, it's time to place special emphasis on the reflection aspect of my research.

Here are just a few of the thoughts on “experimental typography” I have been collecting this year. I don’t know what any of them mean to me—or the class—yet.

Teal Triggs. Type Design: Radical Innovations and Experimentation (London, UK: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2003)
“The typographic layout structures the characters—into words, lines and ultimately texts—to produce meaning in the way they are organized visually. The way the typographer presents the 'page' takes into account content and form, the materials, the way the page is produced and knowledge of the target audience.” (8)

“Experimental typography is also about the expressive potential in the arrangement of type ‘either by achieving a quiet uniformity of similar elements or by the visually exciting use of contrasting ones’ (Carl Dair. Design with Type [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1967]: 48.)” (8)

What would happen if the character's form was allowed to change of its own will?

“Also relevant are the writings of social scientists Fiona Ormerod and Rox Ivanic, who argue that a text is not just a form of visual and verbal representation ‘but also a material object with distinct physical features which are, in themselves, semiotic’. A text is a material object and is a reflection of any physical processes associated with its physical production and use.” (Fiona Ormerod and Rox Ivanic. 'Materiality in Children's Meaning-making Practices.' Visual Communication [vol. 1, issue 1, 2002]: 67.) (55)

“....Experimental typography, in a sense, is a conscious failure with the hope that something beautiful and new will be born.” (Pablo A. Medina, 79)

“....Typography is nothing without meaning, and meaning is nothing without questioning. And to experiment is not to seek an answer but to serve the question.” (Lucinda Hitchcock, 151)

“Like a scientist, I have always enjoyed investigating systems. Systems or processes that allow the known and unknown to intermingle to create the unique and the unusual.” (Susan LaPorte, 155)

“It can be said that it is possible to truly experiment in the field of typography. This is made possible by the specific expectations we all have when reading: right to left,…and top to bottom in parallel rows of text. Confounding these expectations is effective since so much we read we take in blindly without thinking. Every so often it takes a glitch in the transmission for us to notice something....Currently the most interesting experimentation seems less about the manipulation of form than about risking departure from the canon.” (Nick Bell, 203)

“[Bell] often creates wordplay to highlight the ambiguity of language, much in the same way that Roland Barthes asks us to question the linguistic message: ‘Does the image duplicate certain items of information in the text, by a phenomenon of redundancy, or does the text add a brand-new item of information to the image?’ (Roland Barthes. The Responsibility of Forms (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985): 27.). Bell selects words, already embedded with meaning, and positions them in an image plane to provide the reader with a second tier of information.” (205)

“…new typographic forms come from one of three sources: historical reinterpretations, vernacular appropriation or formal extrapolation. Of these modes, it's when priority is given to formal extrapolation (pure mark-making) that we define type as ‘experimental’. Needles to say, these are not fixed modes, they are in flux and overlap.” (Elliot Earls, 215)

Hitoshi Mitomi. New Typo-Graphics with Font Samples (Tokyo, Japan: Pie Books, 2005)
“…we no longer build like we did 30 years ago, we don't dress in the same fashion as 30 years ago, so why should we still write like we did 30 years ago? This is the starting-point of a new generation of typography, guided by the idea of shaping the future creatively and meaningfully. The objective is to create a new form of typography that aims at replacing outdated standards, which turn out to be more and more anachronistic and useless, with new signs that are valid and respond to contemporary structures.”

“Nowadays, typography is increasingly seen as what it really is: an independent and autonomous art form. And like any other form of free artistic expression, modern typogrpahy has all existing possibilities at its disposal to express itself....Developoing typogrpahical structures is close to exploring contemporary social and cultural trends and influences.”

Jeanette Abbink and Emily CM Anderson. 3D-Typography ( New York, NY: Mark Batty Publisher, 2010)
“My ideas come from working, crafting, and understanding the material and its qualities.” (p 215, Ana Garforth)

Email exchange with colleague
"sigils" is a form of chaos magick. they take a simple magical phrase, eliminate all the vowels and all the repeating letters, and then layer the letters around and on top of each other, compressing it into a symbol.

Via manystuff.org
"Although many conceptual artists of the 1970’s who work with language and typography have explored many of the same ideas comprehensively, the mere appropriation of these past forms is not enough to reflect the currently evolving design morphology. It is by way of thorough exploration of the nuances of modern language and communication that will free contemporary typographic design from past aesthetics into a new form."

Bruce Mau. An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth
"Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child). Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day."

"The wrong answer is the right answer in search of a different question. Collect wrong answers as part of the process. Ask different questions."

31 Aug 2008

on noticing

Detail from a public sculpture in Charleston, South Carolina

Detail from a public sculpture in Charleston, South Carolina

So I just read this great conversation / article from AIGA. The article is from July, but the concept of "noticing" that Steve Portigal and Dan Soltzberg discuss feels timeless and relevant both to the purpose of this blog and to my teaching.

The men are discussing and defining the role of "noticing" in their design practice and their lives. This is something that I have been exploring and trying to find an application for in my own thinking and making. In fact, it is beginning to feel a bit like a personal quest. In this article, Portigal and Soltzberg make a case for and celebrate the act of what they call "noticing," and define what they see as the parameters and purpose of the activity. Portigal, using a recent trip to Japan as an example, explained it like this:

In a place like Japan at times I wouldn’t know what it was I was documenting or even be able to explain why I was taking the picture (beyond describing the scene as “cool”). But once I’d noticed something and photographed it, chances were good that I’d notice it again—as if that click of opening the shutter coincided with the creation of a new info-capture zone in my brain.

This process of noticing once and then noticing again is how you start finding patterns and uncovering themes.

Hmm...well said. This has been my experience as I have photographed my way through neighborhoods in Los Angeles or towns and cities I've visited. I've thought of my excursions, and hence my photos, as part purposeful and part instinctual. This instinctual part has been particularly important for me because I often over think—or let my ideas and concepts take such a leading role in—how I approach a design that I leave no room for intuition or accident.

Because this "noticing" or what I've thought of as "collecting" has been beneficial for my own creative development, I've been wanting to find ways to incorporate it into the classroom. In 2007, I asked my Type 2 students to document the vernacular typography of a city block, or neighborhood, or even a single word of their choosing, then develop a quick project to present their findings to their classmates. (Thank you to one of my own teachers, Kindra Murphy, for the inspiration for this assignment.)

Some made videos, others dioramas and even others wrote songs. The project was certainly open-ended and meant to be quick—they only received one week to document their findings and create the presentation of their research—but this meant that the observation wasn't sustained nor necessarily full of depth or purpose.

What it did do, however, was awaken my students eyes to the world around them, getting them to look outside of design annuals and the internet for what they were calling "inspiration." Through the exercise of looking, they noticed they are surrounded by typography and the written word and began discover their personal preferences or themes, just like Portigal. But even more important, to me, the exercise fosters and reinforces a person's awareness and curiosity, explained by Soltzberg this way:

Noticing definitely draws on a set of skills...but at the heart of it you have to genuinely be interested in the world around you and in other people.

Yet, I have not continued with this assignment. For all the positives—getting students excited about looking and the world around them, teaching how to make presentations, learning to think and make quickly, and developing peer to peer communication—I still have been bothered by the absence of depth or purpose. It's that "noticing once and then noticing again" part that still feels missing.

And then came the Sister Corita presentation I went to this summer, where I learned of her experiments of sustained looking, exercises asking students to observe a crack in the sidewalk for 1 hour each day, for 1 week. Here again is that idea of "noticing once and then noticing again." I admire the patience required for, and the principle of, this assignment, but I just couldn't ask my students to do this, at least not exactly. But, I've wondered since then, couldn't I ask them to document—with a digital photograph—something they've observed and write about what they see in their sketchbook or post to a blog where they can read what everyone else has "noticed" that week? Wouldn't this be a great way to get them looking at their world, but also learning how to articulate what they see and eventually develop a point of view about it? What if they had to write about the same photograph 3 weeks in a row? How would the language they use to describe what they see change over several weeks? Would what they actually see begin to change as well? So this is an idea that has been consuming me these several weeks and then here is someone who's already done it:

I’ve assigned students to routinely maintain a noticing log, either a blog (words with pictures) or a Flickr account (pictures with words). The exercise helps sharpen noticing skills by giving people permission to simply observe and document. There’s never any requirement to suggest a fix; indeed what they observe may not be broken in any way. It just has to arouse their interest, and in documenting it make the details of that interest explicit. Establishing some discipline for this behavior can be very helpful.(Portigal)

So there it is. Not that I needed anyone to tell me it can work, but I guess sometimes I do.

11 Jul 2008

sister corita

cover image of "Learning by Heart" by Corita Kent and Jon Steward

cover image of "Learning by Heart" by Corita Kent and Jon Steward

On Wednesday, I attended a private, small-group tour of the Corita Art Center here in Los Angeles. I left the talk and tour incredibly inspired.

Certainly I had seen and read all the blog entries and news articles that made the rounds during the Corita exhibition at the Hammer and with the publishing of Come Alive! The Spirited Art of Sister Corita. Last fall, I had asked my Seniors to read and consider her "rules":

From this barrage of general interest, I felt like I had a surface understanding of her life and her work.

However, the tour given by Director Sasha Carrera and my colleague Juliette Bellocq, deepened my appreciation for Corita as more than an image-maker and "activist artist." As a budding educator, I could not ignore Corita's gift for teaching and not only hear her advice, but feel it. She challenged her students to see in new and different ways, demanded hard work and dedication to a creative life.

Juliette passed around her copy of Learning by Heart: Teachings To Free The Creative Spirit which contains classroom exercises to train one's eyes. Corita saw it as giving her students "the gift of wanting to see." Others remind me of Fluxus compositions or instructions, like in Yoko Ono's Grapefruit. Juliette mentioned a reading exercise that asks you to read a text, as slow as possible, in the same place at the same time day after day. The idea is that eventually you would begin to hear the words differently and the words could become image or sound strange or mean something new. Another was to have students watch two Eames films simultaneously or watch one with a different soundtrack, then push students to have a conversation that would lead them astray, to expand or pull out something new from the films because of the resulting juxtapositions.

The same kind of juxtaposition we see in Corita's own work, like when she places Beatles lyrics near scripture near advertising copy. From here come her "new meanings."