I’m learning a lot as a teacher
Every year, as January draws us into its cold, dark self, away from the uplifting final weeks of the prior year, I catch myself contemplating what the next twelve months will bring. From world events to my own personal blessings and trials, I wonder how life might change for myself and for all of us as a whole. At the end of each year, looking back, I am typically unable to say, “That year went just as I figured it would.” Rather, I usually end up declaring that I never would have imagined this, that, and the other thing happening. During 2010, the most significant change to occur in my life was being able to formally embark on the teaching aspect of my design career.
I have long wanted to be a teacher, and at many times regretted not seriously considering that option when I was younger. I have several teachers in my family and like many other hereditary characteristics, teaching seems to be in my DNA. As my design career progressed, I was always being reminded of my desire to teach. Such reminders would come while sharing knowledge with co-workers, helping designers more junior than myself become acquainted with the tools and tricks of the trade, and even when working my way through design challenges of my own which would inspire me to share the “lessons” with others. I was often told I’d be a good teacher, and that alone was a very well-received compliment. Whenever I was told that, it was yet another confirmation of my passion for teaching and I liked that it was evident to others. The true eye opener happened eight years ago (at the time, during my sixth year of working professionally), when I was invited to be a guest professor at the YWAM design school in Burtigny, Switzerland. It was that short stint of sharing my passion for design with a very culturally diverse group of students, that left me feeling truly alive. Not only was I excited to be amongst a group of students eager to take part in an industry that I was very passionate about, but witnessing the results of their learning, was amazing. It was much like one of my favorite aspects of design: a mere conceptual thought working its way into reality. In the case of teaching, I was watching students who knew little to nothing about about design and the tools we use, learning and producing based on their own imaginations and ideas. It was so inspiring to see the students’ skills and subsequent enthusiasm grow simultaneously as they completed projects with incredible results. The students were satisfied and proud of themselves and I was thrilled with their progress. The best part of the experience was the feedback that I received. Many students expressed their joy of design and their growing abilities to execute their ideas. Several complimented my teaching and told me that they had fun. Design/fun/teaching—with that, I went back to Canada determined to someday be a teacher. I had no idea how or when I would achieve that dream, but I knew that it was something I should pursue and would someday be doing.
Since that experience in Switzerland, I would often think about it and the feelings it left me with. Although there would not be any indication of how or when I might find myself formally teaching, I always knew that it was my calling to do so. After many years of keeping my eyes and ears open, the right opportunity presented itself last summer. After some intense interviewing and analysis of my experience and credentials, I was being given the chance to stand up in front of a class of students looking to get their money’s worth and initiate an education that would soon lead to a career in design or other creative outlets. No pressure. This past December, I completed my first term as a Professor of Graphic Design at Niagara College in Ontario, Canada. As a teacher now beginning my second term, I can definitely say I am truly enjoying it. It’s certainly challenging and like any new job, comes with a substantial learning curve. However, as a designer, I have not only become more passionate for the design industry, I’m being greatly inspired by the students and the work they are producing. My main objective: to have the students feel good about their progress and results. I try not to subscribe to fear, but were I required to declare one in regard to teaching, I’d have to say that disappointing my students would be it. They deserve my best and I believe that when I offer that to them, they do the same for themselves and for me.
What I really want to express with this entry is my enthusiasm for the future of the design industry and the up-and-coming designers that will keep it moving. This has been inspired by much of the work that was done in my classes during the last term.
Teaching first year design courses allowed me the opportunity and challenge of working with students who in most cases were new to the software, Mac operating system, and graphic design in general. As expected, some students were overwhelmed, frustrated, and even questioning their career path. Yet many, and in the end some of those previously mentioned were, or ended up becoming, very excited by their own results and progression. This, in turn, made me excited for them. Honestly, so far, as a teacher, there has been no satisfaction equivalent to that of seeing students ‘get it’ and go for it! I witnessed the discovery of passion and skill that in many cases was not evident to those who found it in themselves. Several students exhibited great drive and commitment to not only completing the work, but going above and beyond what was expected of them. Upon seeing final projects, I was amazed by some of the details that students who hadn’t even worked with Illustrator or Photoshop before were taking the time to consider and execute. One student was new to all of it and early on expressed her disappointment with how “slow she was going”. Yet, in that same student, I clearly saw great potential and knew she’d discover it. Seeing all of the students discover either their potential or their interest in other educational / career directions to take their creativity, was an interesting way to see progress happening in the class and in the art and design industry.
The main project assigned to my first year classes was using Illustrator CS4 to illustrate the front and back sides digital cameras. Upon completing the illustrations, they were to create an ad based on that camera and employing the brand logo, generating a tag line and some short body copy.
I’d like to share a few of the final pieces I received and have included two advertisements. If you are an accomplished and skilled designer, it can be tempting to look for flaws or think this and that could have been done better. What I ask is that you consider the fact that these students were new to design, new to the programs they were using, and frankly, will probably far exceed the caliber of skills that many of us have developed throughout our careers. In my eyes, the work is incredible because I know the students, what they went through, what they figured out and learned, and what it indicates for their futures. I trust you’ll be pleasantly surprised and see the same.
The student that did this first camera asked a few questions, and with each answer he received, he just naturally ran with it. I really like the subtle details and reflectivity of the lens. I tried to reiterate that when it comes to digital illustration, subtle is usually more effective. Another thing was his ‘cool’ demeanor while working on it. Confidence goes a long way when faced with a creative challenge.
In his ad, I really liked the way he placed the camera into the image and was considerate of the reflections and shadowing. Very nice.
The student who did this next camera was brave to take on the color. I gave the students the option of doing a colored camera in the standard grey/silver finish as the metallic coloring could be difficult to replicate. She did a great job and was another student that just seemed to ‘get it’.
I really like the use of the gradients in the lens of this next camera. What impressed me about this student was how fast she picked up the programs. She just seemed to click (pun not intended) right away with Illustrator. I initially wondered if she had previous experience with the programs.
The student who did the next one was another to ask some questions and actually get excited by the simplicity of the solutions. She too ran with it and took it to another level of detail.I really like the telescoping lens and the backside lower button. Often as I approached the screen of many students, I thought their illustrations were the reference images they were working from.
The following camera is a true work of art. I was amazed by the end result. This student early on expressed some frustration and intimidation. The programs were entirely new to her. In the end, the details that she captured (again, pun not intended) are so good! She was sure to point out a few of her favorite details to me, which in itself let me see her passion coming through. One thing about this student that I have to mention, is that she has her Masters in English Literature. Yet, as I got to know her, there was a very obvious creative side to her…beautiful photography…art etc. What struck me about that is even after some intense schooling for her previous degree, she’s following her creative heart by enrolling in Graphic Design. Very cool.
Then came her ad. My main criteria for the ads was to place the camera in the environment and be creative with the copy. With no experience in Photoshop and only basic program coverage by myself, she very successfully place the camera into the image, specifically with the way she placed the strap in the girl’s hand. Her copy made for a good laugh. For those who don’t know, Tillsonburg is an Ontario town known for it’s tobacco farms and is her home town. A few jokes back and forth about her tobacco “dealings” made this ad all the more relevant and fun. I also liked the tag line about “capturing every leg of life’s journey” and its placement at the toe. Overall, the composition has great flow from the sign to the camera > leg > to the copy.
I wish I was able to post more pieces done by students. These are just a few of many very well done projects.
We’re all back to school next week. I’ll keep you posted.
Happy New Year!