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Class of 2021 Q&A | Illustration

Class of 2021 Q&A | Illustration

Four seniors in Illustration look back on how RISD has impacted their creative practices as they look forward to the future.

Animated female character practicing the violin.

Character design work by Shelby Nicholas BRDD 21 IL.

Graduating seniors Alex Crampton 21 IL and Katya Labowe-Stoll 21 IL and fifth-year Dual Degree students Angie Kang BRDD 21 IL and Shelby Nicholas BRDD 21 IL reflect on the choices they made as students and what they’ll miss most about the RISD community.

What made you decide to major in Illustration?

Crampton: I decided on Illustration because it’s so versatile. I do a lot of silk-screening, as well as writing, oil painting and digital art, so I appreciate that there are so many opportunities to branch out within the major.

background concepts, day and night, by Alex Crampton

Kang: I have Shelby to thank for helping me decide on Illustration. We’re both earning dual degrees from Brown and RISD. I was also torn between Illustration and Painting, so we went to both senior shows freshman year, and she encouraged me to think about what kind of work I wanted to make. Those shows are such a great source of inspiration.

How has the experience lived up to your expectations and how has it surprised you?

Nicholas: There’s a lot more conceptual work than I was expecting, which has been really good for me. I’ve had to think deeply about the work I’m creating and who I want to be as an artist.

In the Ever Blinding Light from Where We Do Not Know (oil on canvas, 5x4‘, 2020by Katya Labowe-Stoll

Labowe-Stoll: I struggled with those conceptual classes and ultimately realized that “traditional illustration”—making sellable images—is not something I want to do. I like being self-directed and did a lot of independent studies at RISD.

“I’ve had to think deeply about the work I’m creating and who I want to be as an artist.”DUAL DEGREE STUDENT SHELBY NICHOLAS BRDD 21 IL

Kang: The crit culture at RISD, and particularly in the Illustration department, is really valuable. Talking with other students about work and ideas helped me grow.

Are there any faculty members you would consider to be mentors?

Labowe-Stoll: First and foremost, I would say Eleanor Lazarek 94 PT, who taught my first-semester Drawing studio foundation year. She completely blew open my world in terms of the fundamentals of making. For the first week of class, we were not allowed to even pick up the charcoal, but instead just touched the paper with our eyes closed. And then Fritz Drury—who helped me see painting as a possible future—and Jennifer Packer, who really made me focus on finding personal truth in my work, rather than worrying about the objective “success” of a piece.

detail of Looking Ahead (oil on paper, 16x9“, 2020) by Angie Kang

Kang: Fred Lynch 86 IL is wonderful. He encourages everybody to push their own voices and gives us lots of freedom to explore and experiment. Oh, and definitely Jason Brockert 94 IL, whose really helpful and generous crits led me to my current style.

Crampton: I really like working with Mary Jane Begin 85 IL. The final project I made in her What’s Your Story class was an “aha moment” for me, really the first time I made something that inspired emotion in people and allowed them to feel that connection. That was an important learning experience for me.

Nicholas: I would add Eric Telfort 05 IL, who saw that I was capable of doing more and pushed me to go further.

Recent work by Shelby Nicholas, who is seeking work as a storyboard artist in Los Angeles for next year.

Any idea what you’ll do after Commencement?

Labowe-Stoll: Grad school eventually, probably in a year or two. I love to draw and I love to paint, and I find that I need both languages to express my ideas, so I’m looking for an interdisciplinary program. The plan for next year is to move to New York, work and save money. And I’m also applying to different artist residencies, which could take me anywhere.

“I love to draw and I love to paint, and I find that I need both languages to express my ideas.”

Nicholas: I want to be a storyboard artist in TV or feature animation and hope to work my way up to being a director or a showrunner. I was an intern at Cartoon Network Studios on Steven Universe the summer before COVID, which inspired the path I’m on. There’s so much potential for promoting positive ideas in animation and impacting children’s lives.

Poolside Affair (oil on paper, 10x13“, 2020) by Angie Kang

Kang: I would like to do a little of everything: picture books, graphic novels, freelance writing…. I’m planning to meet with a couple of different publishers at Portfolio Review in April.

Crampton: I don’t think I could handle corporate or industry work. I’m thinking about setting up a business making silk-screened t-shirts. I did an internship at the RISD Museum last summer working with young people, and I really enjoyed it. So, maybe I’ll do more of that kind of work too.

What makes RISD unique among art schools?

Kang: The classes are centered around ideas and human experiences. And I think other art schools are more focused on technique and product, while RISD highlights experimentation. I resented that a little during foundation year because I wanted to jump right in and improve my technique, but now I’m grateful for it.

No Inherent Making Sense (graphite on paper, 22x30“, 2020) by Katya Labowe-Stoll

Nicholas: You learn technical skills at other schools, but here you learn to understand emotional expression. After RISD, I feel like I have something to say.

Labowe-Stoll: Definitely the location. Providence is slow and sleepy, which is perfect for focusing all your time and attention on what you’re thinking about and what you’re going to make next. If RISD were in New York, it wouldn’t be RISD. Also, foundation year, where you learn to let go of every notion of art you had before RISD so you’re a blank slate. I let go of all the expectations I had for myself and learned how to create purely and intuitively without any fears of failure.

Crampton: The thing that makes RISD so special is the people: the teachers and the students. I have met my second family here. Their mentorship and love really changed me as a person.

interview by Simone Solondz

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