Illustration comes to Watkins - An Interview with Assistant Professor Dan Brawner
This Fall opens another chapter in Watkins’ history: the start of an Illustration program, to be housed in the award-winning Graphic Design department. An interview with Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Dan Brawner gives more insight:
What exactly is illustration? What sorts of things will students learn and what does an illustrator do for a living?
In short, Illustration is visual communication. Our students will learn to construct visual images - with meaning - necessary for print and multi-media campaigns in advertising, product branding, game design, film, and publishing. From event posters to the latest masterpiece from Pixar, illustration is visual storytelling: art that, at its best, communicates clearly to its intended audience. Our students have the potential to have an impact on our visual culture. They’ll learn to craft successful images that can reach thousands and millions. Beginning with foundation classes in design, drawing, typography, and computer studio, students will explore, experiment, critique and reflect with a goal of securing employment as graphic illustrator/designers in the fields of publishing, advertising, and multimedia.
Why did Watkins chose to start this program? There’s more illustration being created and utilized now than any other time in history. Until now, there hasn’t been an illustration program available in this area that seriously addresses the field—its history, its role in defining our visual culture, and its current renaissance. So, interested, talented students have been leaving the area. On the east coast alone, schools such as Parsons, Pratt, School of Visual Arts and Ringling understand this; they each have hundreds of illustration majors. With the talent and equipment already in place, we started this program to satisfy a demand from our current students and to attract new students.
Does anyone else in Nashville offer illustration offer illustration and if so, why is our program unique? A few, but the focus is on the hand, not the hand and mind. In order to be a successful illustrator, you must be able to artfully execute ideas while meeting deadlines. You must also have the ability to convince others that your concepts are valuable and will benefit their business through an understanding of business ethics, practices, rights, and pricing.
As a practicing illustrator, I bring area professionals and clients into the classroom to give students different perspectives and often the opportunity to work on "live" assignments that will be published, such as the campaigns for the Tin Pan South and American Artisan Festivals this past year. These types of projects help connect the dots so students can experience the entire illustration process, from research to preliminary sketch, to revisions, to final art, all while satisfying a client’s needs and being challenged to create a successful piece. That’s a tall order!
We also "get out" into the field, too, to do on-the-spot drawing and research, even if that requires going to circuses, state fairs, cemeteries, and roller derbies, all in an effort to cultivate an interest in learning and seeing. Why shouldn’t it be fun? Each place is different, and as illustrators we must look for unique, intimate details that can help tell a larger story.
Anything else you’d like to share about Illustration?
Illustration surrounds us, daily. It surrounds us from birth to death—on birth announcements, greeting cards, picture books and magazines, religious texts and trashy romance novels, on our currency and on our bodies, on products and ads, in the developmental stage and final execution of game design and feature films. Illustration is truly art for the people. It reaches people where they live— at home, on their daily commute to work, and at play.
It’s rare that the public connects an artist’s name with the work. Shepard Fairey perhaps, but he’s just one. He represents the power of the individual artist to make a mark doing what he loves with little promise of financial reward—that defines a moment in time—and reaps enormous financial reward. A street artist with something to say; he made pictures that needed to be made, that have resonated with an entire generation. And there wasn’t a client commissioning this work. So is that illustration? Yes! Is it fine art? Yes! Collected by museums, illustrators, including Fairey, are blurring the lines between fine art and commercial art.
Japan’s Murakami, a sensation in the museum world, is designing handbags for Versace. Underground comic artist, Kaz, helped develop Sponge Bob Squarepants. Middle Tennessee artist, Wayne White, was a set designer and animator for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. Who has had more of an impact on today’s society…Michelangelo (who illustrated the Holy Bible), Picasso (who illustrated the Spanish Civil War through his Guernica), or Walt Disney (who illustrated a mouse doing stuff)? People love stories, and illustrators tell stories, and illustrations reach regular people where they are, often introducing them to new ideas about contemporary art in the process. Granted, it might be on a tee shirt, but there you go. You want to hear someone get really excited, ask them if they’ve been to Target lately, or Anthropologie, or Urban Outfitters, or if the have bought any good children’s books lately.
Most everyone’s first experience with art is through illustration via children’s books and animated films. Illustration is a familiar and beloved art form; it’s storytelling with pictures. And storytelling is imbedded in our human DNA. Even as we sleep, we’re telling ourselves stories through dreams. As kids, young artists don’t want to grow up and design logos; they like to draw, so they’re encouraged to develop their talent, if they’re lucky. Then they go to university or art school to develop their skills—their visual vocabulary—to learn how to better communicate their point of view. And in the process, some discover strengths in corporate identity, advertising, web design, and/or illustration. It all comes from the same place, really, this desire to create. And if they apply themselves—Art is Work, as Milton Glaser says—our graduates will have greater longevity in their professional careers.
To learn more about the Illustration program at Watkins, contact Dan Brawner or the Admission office at 615.383.4848.