A Year with the ADAA, Part 2: Mentoring an ADAA Winner Graphic Artists Guild interview with Theresa
Posted by Rebecca Blake on April 19, 2018
Over 2017, Guild member and designer Theresa Whitehill has had an unusual relationship with software giant Adobe: that of both judge and mentor in their student Adobe Design Achievement Awards. A few months after judging the ADAA winners, her experience was extended when she was asked to mentor one of the student finalists. While the time commitment has posed a challenge, it’s one from which Whitehill has derived satisfaction and growth.
Q: Knowing how busy you are, how did you get roped into the free mentorship?
Late last year, a few months after the ADAA awards ceremony, ico-D [International Council of Design, who collaborates with Adobe on the ADAA] contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in mentoring one of the ADAA finalists. I had a gut reaction I’d do it, but I had to really think twice, since so many personal and professional projects have had to be postponed due to my busy schedule. But I was shaken by the election result, and I realized best thing I could do was to pass on my knowledge, even at the cost of burning the candle at both ends.
Theresa Whitehill, ADAA mentor and judge, as photographed by Martin Hoang.
Q: How were you paired with photography student Martin Hoang as your mentee?
As it turns out, Martin Hoang had asked for me. That surprised me. Martin’s been through schooling for design, and has gotten a lot of recognition from being an ADAA finalist, whereas I didn’t even graduate from college—I’m a bootstrap kind of learner. I wondered why such an educated designer would ask for me, and ico-D responded that it’s probably because I have a unique perspective.
Q: Did you remember Martin’s work?
While I was judging, I tended to not look at students’ profiles so as not to be influenced personally. But some student work really stood out, including Martin’s. Ironically, we didn’t award a first place in the photography category in which he had entries, since we felt none of the submissions quite warranted it.
Martin submitted two projects to ADAA. One was a photo journalism essay about the welding artist who created the Bay Bridge Troll [an 18-inch steel sculpture which was welded to a section of the Bay Bridge repaired after the earthquake of 1989]. The troll didn’t end up being part of the photo essay, and without that strong storyline, the judges felt that although it was well-executed and compelling photojournalism, it lacked the back story to understand the connection.
Martin’s second project was promotional photography for men’s clothing. He photographed himself leaping mid-air dressed in various incredible men’s fashion ensembles, and photoshopped himself out of the images, so that the clothing appeared to be animated. I was amazed by it, however, some of the judges had seen similar work, so to them it wasn’t as original as it was to me, a good example of how the breadth of experience among the judges was helpful when judging in such a compressed time range. While both projects were beautifully executed, neither had the original conceptual edge that the judges overall felt would warrant a first place prize. Martin was designated a finalist for the Bay Bridge Troll project, so that satisfied me because it was well-deserved.
Q: So what is Martin’s mentorship project?
His idea is to take a tin for holding tea and reimagine it so that it looks like the staff of The Monkey King (Sun Wukong) from the Buddhist pantheon. The Monkey King is a misunderstood trickster turned demi-god, and the subject of a lot of anime films – sort of like Hercules and his ascension to godhood. At first, I questioned the scale of the tea tin, asking Martin whether such a long staff would be satisfying to him in a shorter proportion. Martin explained to me that the Monkey King’s staff can collapse down to a small size, so the tea tin made sense as part of the story. Martin’s idea is to wrap the tin in leather and create bronze filigrees so that it matches the look and design of the Monkey King’s staff. That means he has had to learn or push his knowledge of a lot of technical and craft skills, such as wrapping and sewing leather, and metal casting, in order to complete the project to his satisfaction, so it’s quite ambitious.
Hoang wrapping and sewing the leather around the tea tin.
Q: That seems to be a big stretch from photography; does that come into play?
Photography is not his only area of study and experience; he has great design skills and was familiar with metal casting from his education. It’s a great project for a mentorship, because it’s much riskier and out of the box. The concept is wonderful and imaginative, and it’s forcing him to learn new skills. He’ll photograph the final product, and that’s where those skills will come to bear.
Q: This also falls outside of your area of expertise. What kind of technical advice have you been able to give him?
Like Martin, I understand how to learn a new skill that is required for a job; I’m an on-the-job learner and always have been. You break it down and you find the resources that you need to do the next step; if the software doesn’t do what you need it to do, you find a way to get in through the back door. It’s learning how to learn, which you can apply to almost anything. So I’ve had him explain to me how he plans to approach the several crafts he needs to learn to be successful at this and played devil’s advocate to help him refine his approach. Initially, he planned to do just one bronze casting, and I was able to advise him to use an initial bronze pour at his school as a trial run so that he could troubleshoot any issues and revise in time for the final pour.
As it turns out, some real technical challenges came up. He found that he couldn’t get the detail he wants for the filigree using the bronze-casting facilities at this school. For that, he needs a goldsmith’s foundry, which will permit him to pour the molten metal while the mold is spinning; this allows much finer, thinner details. He’s now looking for a goldsmith who would be interested in helping him with his project.
Applying wax to the leather to create the molds for the bronze filigree.
Q: What are the terms of the internship?
The internship goes for six months, and we were asked to make a minimum commitment to a one hour-long conversation per month. We also email between sessions. Other than that, there are no expectations on the scope or type of project.
Q: What do you think is the biggest contribution you can make to Martin’s development?
Through the ADAA program, Martin got a job at Adobe. It’s a great opportunity, but it can be a super stressful environment due to the high level of work expected. So I started checking in with him between our monthly sessions. I see stress like an ocean wave — you either get dumped, or you get up on that wave and ride it in to shore. How you deal with stress will determine your longevity in the business—how far you’re able to go, what great projects you get to work on. I want him to learn to not be afraid of stress, but attack it and learn how to ride it. When I check in with him, it’s often with “How’s the surf?” and he might answer, “Surf’s up!”
Martin is very used to achieving through hard work, but there is a part of him that needs to be psychologically prepared for failures now and again; they are an inevitable byproduct if you are seeking to achieve. He’s ambitious and wants to be in a position where he’s driving a concept; he still needs experience working with other people. But he’ll get there if he pays attention.
Q: Have you gotten anything for yourself out of this mentorship?
I’ve found my conversations with Martin have fed my own creativity. Explaining my creative process has been really helpful and has helped clarify my thinking. For a while I had dropped a lot of projects that weren’t “billable” simply because I couldn’t justify fitting them in, but found that recently I have said “Yes” to many of these again. I’ve realized that these projects that might be seen as more peripheral were actually feeding my core reason for designing, and, amazingly everything is going very well in spite of this “over-commitment.” I’m more jazzed; I’m have more energy.
Martin Hoang’s ADAA projects
Postscript April 2018
While their formal mentorship ended in the spring of 2017, Theresa & Martin continue to stay in touch via LinkedIn. They got a chance to meet in person for the first time in August of 2017 when Theresa went down to San Francisco to judge the Adobe Design Achievement Awards for the second year to find that Martin was the official Adobe photographer for the judging session!
Martin has continued to work on his project of reimagining a tea cannister as the staff of the Monkey King. He hit a roadblock with the work when the bronze foundry to which he has access couldn’t cast the fine detail that he envisions for the outside filigree that will wrap over the leather-encased tin. With Theresa’s help, he did some research and found that he needs the finer capabilities of a jeweler’s centrifuge caster for the level of detail he wants. Theresa suggested that this article might reach someone who could put Martin in touch with a jeweler interested in helping him finish his project.
So we’re putting the word out through our graphics community for a jeweler with a heart of gold. Know anyone who fits that description? Martin can be reached at email@example.com.
All photographs © Martin Hoang. Used with permission.
Space Exploration Posters, Courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Lab
Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 28, 2017
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab gave us all a lovely holiday gift: a series of space exploration posters, free for downloading and printing. The series, titled Visions of the Future, channels retro poster design from the WPA-era to tout vacation destinations such as Ceres, Jupiter, and Kepler-186f (the first earth-sized planet speculated to be capable of sustaining life). The files can be downloaded as high resolution TIFFs or PDFs, at 20x30”.
The posters are the creation of “The Studio,” a team of designers, illustrators, and visual strategists at the JPL. The Studio creates visuals, such as the space exploration poster series, which communicate the excitement and vision of the JPL. However, their mission goes beyond that of a typical art department. In a video created by The Otis Report on the Creative Economy, Dan Goods, Visual Strategist at The Studio, and Charles Elachi, PhD, Director of the JPL, speak about the importance of the exchange of ideas and inspiration between The Studio and JPL engineers and scientists.
That collaboration is evident in the Visions of the Future poster series. While depicting fanciful interpretations of each planet and moon, The Studio staff solicited feedback from JPL scientists. That red foliage on Kepler-186f? That was inspired by the information that the light spectrum radiated by Kepler’s star is a different spectrum than earth’s sun. On a background page on the poster series, creative strategist David Delgado, illustrator Joby Harris, and typographer Lois Kim describe the thought process behind each poster. Our only quibble with the series? We would have loved to have seen a rendition of Saturn – what would The Studio have done with those rings!?
Poster thumbnails, courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
Credits for the posters
Dan Goods, David Delgado
Liz Barrios De La Torre (Ceres, Europa)
Stefan Bucher (Jupiter Design)
Invisible Creature (Grand Tour, Mars, Enceladus)
Joby Harris (Kepler 16b, Earth, Kepler 186f, PSO J318.5-22, Titan)
Jessie Kawata (Venus)
Lois Kim (Typography for Venus and Europa)
Ron Miller (Jupiter Illustration)
A Year with the ADAA, Part 1: Judging the Adobe Design Achievement Awards
Posted by Rebecca Blake on June 24, 2017
Over the past year, Guild member and designer Theresa Whitehill of Colored Horse Studio has had a unusual relationship with software giant Adobe: that of both judge and mentor in their 2016 student Adobe Design Achievement Awards. As judge, Whitehill had the opportunity to review work by design, illustration, and film production students from around the world, working last August in tandem with a team of peers.
Q: How did you decide to take on the judging gig?
I looked into the ADAA program, and was really flattered to be asked. The commitment didn’t seem to be too much— only one weekend. Also I’ve been immersed in Adobe products since Photoshop 2.5, but never had the opportunity to interact with the company on a personal level, so I was thrilled to do so and see Adobe campus.
But although the commitment is for one weekend at the Adobe campus, it’s a long schedule – 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a couple breaks, lunch, and dinner. It meant traveling for two hours from my rural studio and overnighting with family. So it wasn’t a light commitment; I had to really want to do it.
Q: What was it like arriving for the first day of judging?
I had to leave my studio in St. Helena at 4:30 a.m. to get to the Adobe campus on time, and was greeted with coffee and pastry in the kitchen. I was overawed to meet the other judges. These were people like art directors with major companies, video producers who worked with MTV in its inception, people who worked in conceptual development. But I realized coming from a book design and book arts background that I brought a unique perspective. Additionally everyone was really generous—that healthy ego you find with creative, talented people.
Once the judging got started, it was like jumping off a ski jump. But there was so much great discussion during the judging process... Anytime you’re put into an environment with like minded people, you get to bond and know each other’s mind.
Q: Was there good communication between the judges while reviewing the student work?
When you combine the breadth of experience of all the judges, the judging becomes very comprehensive. Judging makes you articulate things you may not have realized you know. But at the same time, having other judges with different experience helped me check my reactions. For example, sometimes I’d be blown away by a student’s work, and another judge would point out that it’s actually quite derivative.
Q: What was the judging process like?
On the first day, the 14 judges were split into groups to judge in our own areas of expertise. In my group, we evaluated submissions in photography, illustration, and graphic design (fine art and commercial) I initially picked my top three candidates for each area, and later in the day, met with the other judges in my group. At that point, we started comparing each others’ choices, and selecting the group’s top three choices.
On the second day, we continued evaluating the submissions to select the winners and honorable mentions. We also had discretion to address submissions which didn’t seem to fit a particular category, and could make recommendations to Adobe to add categories of work. The award process is very much a living being; as technology and schools develop and abandon disciplines, the categories of work can change. The result is the ico-D and Adobe are learning as much from the judges as the judges are about the work. (Note: ico-D, the International Council of Design, co-produces the ADAA with Adobe.)
By Sunday afternoon, we had made our final choices, and the groups met to review the winners of each category. That meant groups which were still questioning a choice could ask the entire body of judges to weigh in on the selection. Ico-D was great to work with; they were present to ensure that the judging adhered to standards for best practices, followed guidelines, and was fair.
I said to another judge that sometimes I felt professional jealousy because the presentation quality was so high. I was also amazed at the extraordinary illustration talent—it felt like a privilege to view it.
Q: Were you impressed by the student work? What surprised you the most?
Overall the work was really impressive. Some projects were clearly underdeveloped but others were so professional. In fact, I said to another judge that sometimes I felt professional jealousy because the presentation quality was so high. I was also amazed at the extraordinary illustration talent—it felt like a privilege to view it.
I was struck by how about 85% of the projects seemed to assume a limitless budget for printing, etc. I ended up gravitating to the projects that assumed that a client (fictional or otherwise) might also have a budget, so that the project was developed with limits in mind.
Q: What do you think was the best takeaway for the student winners?
The students who put together almost seamless projects may not have the ability to show their work to someone who can help them. This awards process can give recognition to students who may not have the time, opportunity, connections, or resources to promote themselves. On top of that, there are the tangible benefits, such as the trip to the AdobeMax conference, or the mentoring opportunities.
Q: And what did you get out of the process?
Once the judging got started, it was like jumping off a ski jump. But there was so much great discussion during the judging process. Even judges who didn't talk much would speak up and pull us back to the core mission. Anytime you’re put into an environment with like minded people, you get to bond and know each other’s mind. I also learned a lot about myself. It gave me the opportunity to step outside of my environment and look back at my career. And I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to contribute.
Below: Teresa Whitehill in her studio.
photo © Adrienne Simpson. Used with permission.
NEA Granted a Reprieve; Arts Advocates Gear Up for the Longer Fight
Posted by Rebecca Blake on May 12, 2017
Arts advocates were appalled when the budget proposed by the Trump transition team called for eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, along with steep cuts to other cultural and social programs. On April 30th, Congressional leaders came to a bipartisan agreement to fund the government through September. The House Appropriations Committee FY 2017 Omnibus Summary lists a full $150 million each to the NEA and to the National Endowment for the Humanities, an increase of $2 million. In an email to the Los Angeles Times, an NEA spokesperson wrote that the funding increase matched a request made by the agency in February 2016.
While the news is a welcome reprieve, arts advocates are not breathing easy – the administration has proposed defunding the NEA entirely in 2018. Americans for the Arts has orchestrated a comprehensive campaign: they've been conducting an online petition through their Action Center, their Arts Mobilization Center publishes updates on federal funding for the arts, and they’ve conducted a print ad campaign, “The Arts Put America to Work,” which highlights the 4.8 million Americans employed in the arts.
That last statistic that is supported by data. In April, the NEA released the results of a study conducted with the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The study showed that total arts and cultural industries in the United States employ 4,802,813 individuals at a compensation of $355 billion. Of that amount, core arts and cultural industries (“originators of ideas and content associated with the creation of arts and culture”) employ 950,997, at a compensation of $68 billion. The study results are posted online with an interactive map which permits viewers to see the economic contribution of the arts state-by-state.
Below: Clicking onto each state on the interactive map on the NASAA website pulls up data for that state.
Adobe Design Achievement Awards Student Competition is Open
Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 15, 2017
The annual Adobe Design Achievement Awards global student competition is again open. Students 18 years and older, and registered (or recent graduates from) accredited institutions of higher education, are encouraged to submit their existing student work. Students can enter up to three unique projects in the broad categories of Fine Arts, Commercial, and Social Impact. The breadth of subcategories covers the range of disciplines studied by visual arts students, from photography, illustration, and package and graphic design, to animation/motion design and video editing and production, to web, app, and game design. This year, students working in virtual or augmented reality, 360-degree technology, and other new media will be considered for an “Excellence in New Media” Special Designation.
As in previous years, all entrants will receive a subscription to 99U career tips, will have their entries reviewed by the international panel of judges, and can choose to be considered for a mentorship with a creative professional, coordinated through ADAA partner ico-D. The full complement of prizes supports the ADAA’s mission of “Launching Student Careers,” and includes participation in Adobe Bootcamps, meetings with industry leaders, creative residencies, and subscriptions to Creative Cloud.
There is no charge for entering the competition, and submissions are accepted through June 12th. Students who submit work by May 2nd will have their work considered for early bird semifinalist. Entries can be viewed in real time on the ADAA website as they are uploaded. Students who want to see what their peers are entering can visit the “Entries” page and filter by category, region, country, school, and (once judging begins) status.
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