October 31, 2012

A Major Misconception

by Christina Bull

The push for choosing a major is often a frightening one. From the second high school students start the application process to college, they are encouraged to begin seriously thinking about their major. Many colleges even allow students to officially declare before they’ve even taken their first class!

Majors are meant to be advantageous guides to one’s education, helping students build knowledge and skills in a subject that they’re passionate about and eventually want a career in. While this is unquestionably true, because of the ties to their career, it is very common for students to feel an undue amount of pressure surrounding the task of actually selecting one. To many, making this decision can be a daunting and terrifying process. Even at Pratt, where the curriculum is already narrowed from that of a typical university, every undecided student must officially declare their specific interests in the art and design world by the end of freshman year.

But why is choosing a major so intimidating? Many would argue that the largest perceived benefit of a major is also what makes it so threatening– a specific focus. Many students approach choosing a major as rigidly selecting the only thing they will ever do in their lives for the rest of eternity. Students are often afraid to “ruin their life,” as though this decision could be a mistake they can’t correct. This hyperbolic reaction proves to be overwhelmingly common. Despite any potential snags surrounding this illusory conundrum, it’s important to note that while a major determines the scope of the classes taken while at Pratt, it does not strictly determine exactly what kinds of opportunities are available after graduation, nor does it restrict the skills that can learned along the way.

When applying for a job, employers primarily look at the job seeker’s portfolio (if applicable), experience, evaluated work ethic, enthusiasm, and communication skills rather than their degree title. (Not to mention the role your network plays in the jobs you land).  Examples of this can be found everywhere.

Many of Pratt’s most successful alumni are famous for career accomplishments unrelated to their major. For example, Lucia De Respins, an industrial design major, is known for creating the Dunkin Donuts logo. Myron Waldman, a fine arts major, was the head animator for Betty Boop. (Click here to read more about Pratt's iconic alumni!) Bernard Chang (recently featured in our “alumni spotlight”), is another perfect example of transcending the perceived limitations involved in a major choice. Chang graduated from Pratt with a degree in architecture, but is popularly known for his illustration work in Marvel and DC comics.

Students, like actual people, do not fit into unyielding figurative academic boxes. Especially at Pratt, where the student body is filled with talented and unique individuals, no one person is identical in their skill set or experience. In reality, most creative people dabble in some sort of work outside of their major. The elements that make one unique and valuable as an employee, rather than the title of their major, are the real factors that determine what kind of work can be done and what kind of jobs can be acquired.

In a brief interview with Rhonda Schaller, the new director of The Center for Career and Professional Development, I got the opportunity to get her personal opinion on major matters. “It is a misnomer to think that people have only one area of study. The true key to being creative is the ability to be flexible, nimble, multifaceted, and courageous,” Schaller explains.  “A major can be better viewed as a philosophical concept, where students express their vision and apply concepts to it. Majors should encourage students to be open to possibilities and elements and connect dots in different ways”. Schaller stresses that often this process involves drawing from a variety of skillsets typically affiliated with other majors.

While the walls of a major are more permeable than many students realize, the “big choice” still has to be made. For students who have trouble deciding due to a diverse set of interests in the art and design field, it is often helpful to look to one’s role models­­­– the artists that inspire and enlighten one’s own work– and take note what they majored in. Talking to upperclassmen* and faculty can often help students better understand the mindset of a potential major. Despite the value of these resources, it is ultimately most important to trust oneself in the things that them happy. Self-reflection often provides the most valuable answers in the determining the major with the best fit.

All that taken into consideration, students should never be afraid to make a switch if they are unhappy with the sort of work they are doing in within their chosen major. No decision is set in stone. It’s important to experience what you pick, and if it doesn’t feel right, find a way to make it work or change it. There are no mistakes.

In addition, you do not have to make this decision on your own! There are endless resources at Pratt for students who seek guidance. If a student is unhappy with their classes, they can talk to their academic advisor. A visit to the Center for Career and Professional Development can also help in adding practical meaning to their dreams.

The Center for Career and Professional Development is an exorbitantly useful tool in tackling major fear. It is a friendly place that strives to teach, encourage, motivate, inspire, facilitate understanding of career opportunities, and encourage strategic thinking. Most importantly, the CCPD serves to germinate hope for the future by assisting students in redefining and giving meaning to their creative aspirations. Every resource is there to be used!

Despite their emphasized reputation, majors aren’t everything. They set up a framework for your education while at Pratt, but do not inflexibly determine everything that comes after. The working world primarily craves thinkers, collaborators, and creative individuals seeking to make a difference.

*Be sure to check out Peer to Peer’s “Fresh Meet” event later this year! Fresh Meet is a program to introduce freshmen to their options in deciding their major, choosing their classes, selecting their professors, and how each of these decisions will affect their career path. The program consists of current Peer Counselors, Juniors, and Seniors representing all undergraduate majors at Pratt. Email peer@pratt.edu for event more details.

Written by Christina Bull October 24th, 2012

October 22, 2012

Peer Book Report: Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam

Review by Jenny Elfanbaum
October 16th, 2012 

This handbook is a must-see for anyone looking to pitch an idea. With basic geometric shapes and stick figures, Roam presents the tools to solve any problem with simple drawings. The first part of the book is about looking and seeing. When a problem is too big to immediately dive into, the trick is to break it down into smaller, comprehensible parts. His approach is anything but simple, though. It is based on the fact that the brain has 6 different processing pathways for visual information. Certain types of images communicate better with certain pathways-- and the more pathways that are activated, the more ideas can be produced.
Start by taking a large problem and break it down into smaller patterns. Every problem can be studied from 6 different ways- the 6 pathways. By asking questions that engage both the left and right hemisphere of the brain, more pictorial variations of a problem can be created, helping us understand how other people see the world. Depending on the audience, different images may be more effective at conveying the problem. And ultimately, in the business world, whoever can best communicate the problem is most likely to solve it. 

Some topics covered in the Unfolding the Napkin:
  • How to illustrate a complex problem with a simple picture
  • The Six Ways of Seeing, and how to create pictures that address each
  • Creating a visual thinking codex
  • Expanding imagination through SQVID
  • Understanding your audience
  • How to collect data through active looking
  • Applying visual thinking in the workplace

After reading this handbook, I figured I would try out Roam's approach.
 In simple pictures, here’s what you should do next:

After reading this post on the Pratt Success Blog, come on over to the CCPD office and take a look at Unfolding the Napkin in person!

 To see other books in our library, see our collection at http://www.librarything.com/catalog/prattcareer.

October 17, 2012

Life After Pratt With Comic Illustrator Bernard Chang (B.Arch, 1995)

By Britt Gettys
Chang at NYCC 2012
Bernard Chang received his BFA in Architecture from Pratt in 1995, so it’s a little strange to find him manning a booth in the Artist Alley of New York Comic Con (NYCC).  Since his years at Pratt, Chang has transitioned his a career path to become a professional comic book illustrator.  Names like Marvel, DC, and Disney fit neatly on his resume and he has worked on comics featuring some of the world’s most iconic characters, including Superman, Wonder Woman, X-Men, and Deadpool.  Saturday of NYCC I got to sit down with Chang and discuss his experience as a Pratt student and how he managed land a career in comic illustration while studying architecture.

Before attending Pratt Chang studied fine arts in Miami at the New World School of the Arts as a high school student.  There he heard about Pratt’s national, architecture talent search and figured he’d give it a shot.  It ended up paying off big time as Chang won the search and a full scholarship to Pratt.  However, once he’d settled down in Brooklyn Chang found particular brand of creativity was stifled by the first two years of the architecture program and his inability to explore other fields within the program.  “Essentially every class you take your first two years is planned out for you,” he explains.  “But I wanted to find a way to draw on my own time, and that came through comics.”

Chang gives tips and advice on writing
graphic novels to Pratt writing major, Emily Fogle.
The events that led to his first illustration job seem almost unbelievable and speak of an endless amount of perseverance and determination on Chang’s part.  “I’d walked into a drug store on Myrtle, which is now the grocery store, Associated, and found a comic book stand with books on drawing comics.”  His interest peaked and it was then he decided to find a side job in the industry.  “I started asking around campus, talking to illustration majors and trying to find someone connected to the industry.  I ended up meeting Mike Thomas, who was interning at Marvel, and he gave me a try out script I could practice drawing with.  Eventually I pulled a portfolio together and I brought it to NYCC that year.  The next summer I went to San Diego Comic Con, showing my work to other artists and industry specialists.”  Eventually he ended up working for Valiant Entertainment, under the mentorship of comic legend Bob Layton (who Wizard Magazine calls “The Definitive Iron Man Artist”).  By his third year at Pratt Chang was working as a professional illustrator.

Chang stresses Networking as one of the most important aspects of career building.  “If I hadn’t been in New York this wouldn’t have happened,” he asserts.  “The people I met at Pratt and just being in New York, it opened up a lot of opportunities.  Pratt has a large network of artists, and being surrounded by artists and art all the time, one can’t help but be inspired and engage in the creative process.  You have to take advantage of that.” 

Demon Knights vol. 13
On top of networking, Chang notes that professionalism and reliability are key.  “Companies are more concerned about your portfolio and reliability rather than your degree.  You have to be able to produce high quality work on time.”  The freelance mindset, he describes, is different from that of other employment types because, in freelance, without work you can’t make any money.  While most students find this concept and the management of independent projects intimidating, Chang comes at the issue with a level head, offering some reassuring advice.  He recommends artists keep their workspace as separate from their living space as possible, especially if they work from home.  “I mean, I still work in my PJs, but the studio space is on the second floor of my apartment, and that’s specifically for work.  It’s set up to feel like a workspace, to get me in the right mindset.  When I’m not working, I decompress in a different space, such as my living room.”  He also spends his time working on a variety of projects at once.  While he may be illustrating for DC’s Demon Knights comic series, he’ll also be completing other, independent illustration work for different companies.  As a freelancer he says it’s important to always have projects lined up, “so you’re working constantly all the time.”           

Despite his savvy knowledge and tips for the freelance artist, Chang is more than familiar with the nine to five, office job us artist types try to avoid.  But working as a Disney Imagineer seems a lot more engaging than accounting.  Chang spent five years at Disney, utilizing his architecture background as a concept designer for Disney’s theme parks.  California Adventure’s Animation Pavilion and Epcot’s Millennium Village are among his projects.  However, he does warn that when working in conceptual design it’s rare that one’s work is physically made.  For the most part, everything remains an idea, a creative possibility.      

When asked about the shift from majoring in Architecture to graduating into illustration, Chang doesn’t talk about the two fields as being completely unrelated.  In fact, he finds studying architecture has helped him with his illustration work.  “There is no degree for comics,” he admits. “[So] I got my degree in architecture, but now I draw comic books, and by taking that design mentality I learned at Pratt through the architecture program I’m given an edge over other Illustrators.”  He applies those lessons to his work through the composition of panels and the layout of art and text over the page.
For Chang, every aspect of his time at Pratt has been invaluable, to the point that he wears a Pratt shirt to every convention he attends and never fails to tell young, hopeful illustrators that Pratt is where they need to be if they want to succeed.  “You get the intensive education from your teachers, and the rest is networking.  Most of my close friends I met at Pratt, and you have to take advantage of that.  Foster relationships with students, alumni, and teachers.”  According to Chang, these are the people that will help build one’s career.   

Interviewed by Britt Gettys October 13th, 2012

October 11, 2012

Jesse Gammage, Language Appropriation @ Alcove and EastOne Galleries

By: Carolyn Osorio , Theory, Criticism and History of Art Undergraduate Student (2013)

The exhibit, ‘Language Appropriation’, currently on display at Alcove and EastOne Galleries, by Jesse Gammage, centers around the geometric elements of the square. Jesse’s work shows a fascination with the complexities of the seemingly simple lines present in the shape.
Information Studies, Jesse Gammage, mixed media on canvas, 10" x 10," 2012
A number of Jesse’s smaller works explore the break down of the shape into smaller elements. The use of post-it notes is an innovative way in which the artist uses found objects to push his study of the square. Several pieces contain the post-it note as both a symbol of the square’s versatility and also a popular example of it.

Information Studies, Jesse Gammage, mixed media on canvas, 10" x 10," 2012
Notable is his pointillism inspired work using dabs of various colors in repetition. By using ordered lines of these colors the work maintains the geometric elements of his other paintings despite this piece being the most unique of the exhibit. Everything from the texture of the paint to the color choices is entirely different from the other pieces the artist is presenting, and yet the work is somehow still in keeping with the whole. These small textural dabs of paint seem to be all at once an abstraction of and also a mirror of the repetition present in the larger work hung above it.
Corporate Smile, Jesse Gammage, mixed media on paper, 5' x 18,' 2012
This larger work shows considerable concentration on the reiterating of lines naturally occurring within a square. This work repeats the shape over and over again, oftentimes overlapping these squares ever so slightly so that the viewer isn’t sure where one ends and the other begins. Combining the mix of colors used in the smaller piece mentioned previously with the study of the square and post-it note shape, this large canvas is a perfect blend of Jesse’s elements and serves as a true focal piece for the exhibit.  

photos by Patrick Rowe, 2012 

This exhibition is part of the Student Exhibition Spaces Program coordinated by the Center for Career and Professional Development at Pratt Institute.  All current students can submit work for inclusion in future exhibitions by emailing ccpdprograms@gmail.com for more information.

Big Damn Printing Blocks @ Fishbowl Gallery

By: Carolyn Osorio , Theory, Criticism and History of Art Undergraduate Student (2013)

The Big Damn Printing Blocks show currently on display in the fishbowl gallery is an amazing feat of both talent and patience. The handwork present in these relief printing blocks shows the dedication of each artist while the inventive scenes and patterns show their creativity. The straightforward elements given to each artist are transformed within each work to create a smorgasbord of amazing ideas that look nothing like each other despite the same size and medium. 

Left: Sara Shebaro, 2012 Right Jamie Gustavs, 2012, MDF Board with relief engraving
The fascinating textural quality of several of the works show an intense interest on repetition of shapes and forms weaving to create the appearance of a textile rather than a print. Other artists display their imagination through fantastical scenes of flight and feeling. These mysteriously abstract compositions leave the viewer with an intense curiosity to know more about this world the artist has created. At the heart of this exhibition is the sheer size of each work (hence the aptly named title of the show). The ability of the viewer to look at these pieces at eye-level makes them almost overwhelming. It’s easy to get consumed by the realms these artists create so thoroughly.
These blocks were used this past spring in the Big Damn Prints Event and were steamrolled onto cloth to create textiles. By displaying these blocks at the objects of art themselves, we as artists can appreciate the work spent on creating these tools as opposed to only the finished products we use them for. If you haven’t already stopped by the Fishbowl Gallery and seen these pieces the exhibition is ending Tuesday the 16th.
Kevin Reed, MDF board  with relief engraving, 2012

 photos by Patrick Rowe, 2012

This exhibition is part of the Student Exhibition Spaces Program coordinated by the Center for Career and Professional Development at Pratt Institute.  All current students can submit work for inclusion in future exhibitions by emailing ccpdprograms@gmail.com for more information.