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Inviting New Experiences

Small-town dreamer Vaughan Carman 18 AP thanks the RISD community for awakening him to a world of possibilities.

Inviting New Experiences

Sophomore Vaughan Carman 18 AP shows off his funky footwear at RISD CRAFT in October. | photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

“I came to RISD to do great things,” says sophomore Vaughan Carman 18 AP. “If there’s a lecture or a meeting, I go. I don’t want to miss out on any of the opportunities here.”

Growing up in a small town in New Jersey, Carman played basketball and tennis but otherwise kept to himself. He originally planned to go to a liberal arts college until he came upon RISD by accident while attending a summer basketball camp at Brown. “I hadn’t even thought about art school until then,” he recalls. “I ended up applying to a bunch of art schools, and my parents were really supportive.”

"I came to RISD to do great things."
Vaughan Carman 18 AP

Since arriving at RISD a little over a year ago, Carman says he has begun to change from the quiet, reserved person he was in high school. During his first semester here, he says he struggled to keep up and didn’t push hard enough. But then that all changed when he took Erminio Pinque’s Creature Creation class last Wintersession. “The workload was crazy and I was forced to learn how to manage my time,” he recalls. “That class really prepped me for second semester.”

The cutting and sewing he did for Creature Creation may also have helped Carman make the decision to major in Apparel Design. He had originally been thinking about Sculpture or Painting but decided instead to combine those skills and ideas with his love of clothing – or more specifically, sneakers.

Inspired by the collaboration between Vans and San Francisco-based RISD alum Zio Ziegler 10 IL, Carman emailed him for advice and soon began drawing funky patterns of his own on all-white Vans. “The designs are similar to the murals I like to paint,” he says, noting that he sold a few pairs at RISD Craft and also made some for friends in New Jersey over the summer. “Zio has been super kind and generous with his time,” Carman notes.

In another effort to promote his sneakers, Carman came up with a unique way of approaching rapper Tyler, the Creator: He positioned himself front row center at an August music festival where Tyler appeared and had his friendsthrow him over the security gate so that he could personally hand his longtime musical hero the shoes he’d brought. “I thought I’d get beaten up for sure,” says Carman. “But he gave me a hug and was really nice.”

That experience gave Carman the confidence to reach out to other older artists for support and inspiration. “It’s OK if you approach people, and they say no or blow you off,” he says. When urban interventionist Theaster Gates spoke at the RISD Museum in October, Carman was there, and his enthusiasm helped him land a spot at a smaller session Gates led with graduate students the next day. The artist mentioned the possibility of taking on RISD students as summer interns, which leaves Carman hopeful about the possibilities. “I’m really into his stuff,” the sophomore says. “I would love to work for him in Chicago!”

"RISD is such a great community. [...] People come from all different backgrounds and are encouraged to do what they want. [...] If this was high school me, I wouldn't be doing any of this."

Already thinking even further ahead, Carman hopes to land another summer internship after his junior year. In September he showed his work to representatives from Converse at the Career Center’s Internship Connect event, and based on preliminary feedback, he plans to keep in touch.

In the meantime, Carman is playing basketball with The Balls, TA-ing a Foundation class in design, ramping up his sneaker business and hoping to start a second major in Printmaking. “RISD is such a great community,” he says. “There are no labels here. People come from all different backgrounds and are encouraged to do what they want. I am a part of so many groups. If this was high school me, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.”

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