June 2, 2008

Judging the Academy of Art University's Spring Show

Several months ago I was contacted by Chuck Pyle, the Director of Illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, to join a group of industry pros to review and give awards to the best MFA and undergrads in the illustration program.

The Academy goes to great length to organize these trips, and I always enjoy participating. I applaud the fact that their agenda is not only to provide a wonderful education for their students, but to think through ways to give them insight into the professional world that faces all of them upon graduation. During the course of our itinerary I mingled with my colleagues from architecture, fashion, graphic design, gaming, concept art, and automobile design, among others.

On Tuesday evening Irene Gallo of Tor Books, two designers from Pixar, Robert Hunt, the illustrator, and myself walked through the illustration area, and at first individually, then as a group, debated the pros and cons of the best art in the various illustrative categories. It was so interesting to see how we reacted individually, and how we tended to agree on the best work. I was looking for what I call a signature style, an artist who had developed a look that was consistent in his or her work: individualistic. Many times during the course of the evening I repeated my mantra not only to myself but to my colleagues: what problem does this solve?

Even though we came from different illustrative worlds, a rep, an illustrator, and two concept designers, we were of like minds in terms of judging criteria when we got down to choosing gold, silver, and best of show winners.

Thursday I plunged into meeting, greeting, and reviewing about 25 student portfolios from both the MFA and undergrad programs. I have found that this is an extremely nerve-wracking time for the students. So a few well-chosen self-deprecating words go a long way in relaxing the atmosphere.

I gave advice and commented on each student’s portfolio. This is not an easy assignment, one has to take into account these students are not fully molded. I know that the students do not want to hear pap, they want criticism that they can apply to their work. They want answers, and I try as best as I can to help find them.

I was lucky enough to have lunch with designers from GM and Mitsubishi. Automobile design is yet another program the academy features, so I had to opportunity to talk cars with industry pros. I’m a bit of car-design fanatic, so this was a highlight for me.

Inspired by these designers, I checked out the Auto Design portfolios. I was particularly impressed with these students and look forward to seeing what they do in the future.

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