Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A Year at the Savannah College of Art and Design I

Just as I'd finished this entry, Blogger had a little boo-boo and ate it.  Instead of rewriting it verbatim (I have it handwritten), I've decided to take that as a sign and take it in another direction.

Orientation for the new grads is this Sunday.  It's a little strange, referring to a different group as the 'new grads',  since the group I came in with have been the 'new grads' for so long.  Still, it's time to pass the torch, and with the torch, I'd like to pass on my experiences as well as a few tips to hopefully ease the transition into gradschool.

A year ago, I packed up my life and moved from New Orleans to Savannah.   It wasn't a hard decision, I'd grown tired of life in New Orleans, a city that parties too much, doesn't take itself seriously enough, and ceases to function entirely every time the Saints play.  I always felt like I didn't really fit in to the Louisiana lifestyle, and I was frustrated that a lot of my peers were fine arts majors who only bothered to practice their craft when it would score them a night with a nameless stranger.  There is little future for aspiring comic artists in New Orleans, and I was ill prepared to apply for gallery positions.  I'd spent the year before preparing for graduation and applying to SCAD, getting together a portfolio, resume, cover letter, and letters of recommendation with very little help from my professors at the University of New Orleans.  I'd recieved my letter of acceptance in May, and was very excited to begin my life anew.  I'd dreamed of attending SCAD since middle school,  and looked forward to an environment that encouraged the sort of art I wanted to practice.  I spent the summer before matriculation renting a Pod, moving my stuff, and boning up on comics.   I wasn't really sure what to expect of gradschool, I had friends who were grads in majors like CS, but whenever I asked my advisor about gradschool, he told me that if I didn't already know, I shouldn't go.

A year prior, my family and I visited Savannah to check SCAD out.  I knew that SCAD's Sequential Art program was top in the nation (there aren't too many Sequential Art grad programs to choose from, by the way), and I was eager to see the facilities.  A few of my classmates in highschool had gone on to SCAD, and they were pleased with their education.  Savannah's historic district is beautiful, like a cleaner, safer New Orleans, and the grounds I was shown on the SCAD tour were really nice.  SCAD doesn't have a campus, instead the buildings are all over the city.  This is fine if you're fashion or illustration or animation, but if you're Sequential Art, you are in Norris, which is all the way down at the end of Broughton Street.  The SCAD tour doesn't even go this far unless you ask.   After my tour, I met with an advisor for a portfolio review, and was told that they aren't qualified to really do portfolio reviews for the graduate level.  They arranged for me to have a review with David Duncan in the Sequential Art Department.  This is the first time I was able to really tour the Sequential Art building, and honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed.  Norris is small compared to the other buildings, and does not have many of the amenities that the other SCAD buildings have.  We don't have sleep pods, or on-site dining options (or even a snack machine), or even a parking lot capable of handling the student body.  Graduate students have access to the grad lab, which has several Cintiqs (all but two are currently broken), an amazing scanner (no sarcasm here) and a mediocre large format printer.

Norris, as seen from Broad St.  
If you live in the historic district, I strongly recommend you get a bike.  Parking in Norris lot is kind of a rare event.
You better ALWAYS have your student ID on you, because it's the only way you're getting inside this door.
 Anyway, so a year later, I'm moving to Savannah.  I wasn't able to find an apartment in the historic district, but I had found one about twenty minutes away (by interstate) on Chatham Parkway.  I'm excited and nervous, a little bit lonely, and very out of my element.  General SCAD orientation is a bit overwhelming, and Sequential Art orientation is extremely overwhelming.   I wear my favorite dress and my best smile as a bit of armor, a little fake confidence.

During orientation I find out that me and the rest of the grads are part of a new set of classes, the Intensives.  501(  Drawing Strategies for SEQA, taught by Tom Lyle), 502 (Drawing Strategies for SEQA, taught by John Larison)  , and 503 (SEQA Production Methods, taught by Anthony Fisher, the current head of the department) are designed to provide the background education that we've all missed as non SCAD graduates.  Nicknamed Bootcamp by our professors, these classes tested our will and ability.  501 focused on perspective and anatomy, 502 focused on storytelling (it's been referred to as a combination of Visual Storytelling I and II), and 503 taught us materials and techniques.  Every two weeks, we were expected to deliver 4 10"x15" pencil illustrations for critique in 501.  Each illustration had to show perspective (with use of the perspective grid enforced) and at least 5 characters, and every assignment with the exception of the first had to tell some sort of story.

An example of just such an illustration.
 501 Assignments

.501 Assignments
 501 Assignment

In 502, we spent a lot of time doing pencils for scripts.  We did thumbs, roughs, and pencils for Y, The Last Man, worked from scripts written by Mark Kneece's Writing for Comics class, did covers, and worked on a 3 page inked comic (in a style not our own) for the end project.  This comic is included in the link below.  It's pretty awful.
501, 502, and 503 All in one post

In 503, we spent a lot of time learning the process of making comics, experimenting with tools, and playing with different papers.  We had a lot of visitors from the Materials Trade Show, and this class gave us an opportunity to explore without risking our grades.
503 Assignment

I think if it hadn't been for slack built into 503, I would've gone crazy that semester.  I had a hard time adjusting to life alone in a new city, and was constantly homesick.  It was harder for me to make friends with my peers than I had anticipated, and I felt awkward and out of place.  I felt backwards compared to my classmates, and had a hard time mastering the concepts taught in class in the time given.

During winter break, I tried to bone up on everything I'd missed out during my undergrad.  It was difficult to make any real headway, however, as I was also juggling travelling the 13 hours back to New Orleans and family obligations.  I returned to SCAD in January eager to continue my education.  Winter semester was still grueling, and I was taking three classes-   701 (Theories/Practices for SEQA, with David Duncan), 707 (Drawing for Sequential Art, with Dove), and 712 (Concept Design/Sequential Art, with Paul Hudson).  701 involved a fair amount of research, we had to write and present three papers (one on panel analysis, one on a comic creator, and one about some aspect of comics that interests you), in addition to reading and discussing articles.  We created three comics- a deconstruction comic, two text/image interdependent strips, and an eight page mini comic.
The Deconstruction Comics were sort of a way for us to introduce ourselves and what influences us.
Text/Image Interdependence.

"Ahoy", retouched for Editor's Day.  8 page mini comic
  707 was similiar to 502 in that we worked from other people's scripts often (an assignment that's hard for me to accomplish, as there's little motivation for me to finish besides receiving a grade), including pages from Hellblazers.  It was also similar to 501 in that we covered illustration skills and techniques.  In addition to pencils for other people's scripts, I did a three page mini comic for SCAD's Travel anthology, and pencilled three pages of a six page autobio comic.

Satellite, unedited

Satellite, edited for Editor's Day
Hellblazer pencils and corrections, p1
Page 2
Showers, Page 1

For 712, I focused on Ready Set Go.  The critiques were harsh, but in a good way, forcing me to acknowledge problems with characters and the story itself, and come up with solutions.

712 Concept Work
712 Concept Work

With exception of winter break, SCAD breaks are pretty short, a week and a half at most.  My birthday fell right in the middle of the short Winter Semester/Spring Semester break, and of course, I was expected to drive 13 hours back to Louisiana.  The first time I attempted the drive, my car said 'no means no', and the timing belt broke, setting me back several days.  Still, I had to make the journey back, losing precious time and causing myself a lot of stress.  When the Spring semester rolled around, I was not ready to go back.

I'd decided to only take two classes during Spring semester.  I felt that my work quality really suffered when I was taking three classes, and I felt like I was wasting money and time struggling to accomplish the workload.  Two classes are considered full time for a graduate student, and I feel like my work has really improved since I have time to grow.  For Spring Semester, I took 716 (Studio I, with Anthony Fisher), and 717 (Exploring the Narrative, with Mark Kneece).  In Studio I, I worked on the second chapter of Ready Set Go.  What was really nice about Studio I is that you write your own contract, setting your own work schedule.  For the first half of the semester, I would work on the class autobiographical strip and pencils for RSG, and on the second half, I'd do digital inks.  In the past, my inks have gone pretty smoothly, taking maybe 8 hours to complete a page, but with the digital inks, I was spending three times as long on a page, since I could easily nitpick and zoom in on problem areas.

From Earth to Saturn
Ready Set Go Pencils
Start of Ready Set Go Inks

In 717, I began working on an atypical superhero story that later became Foiled.  717 involved a lot of reading (The Scarlet Letter, Othello), some movie watching (Chinatown), a lot of script writing, and some character design and development.  Although I love writing and I enjoyed Mark Kneece's teaching, I found the class very frustrating because I didn't really get a lot of peer feedback in what would be considered a timely fashion.  Without the necessary feedback, it was difficult for me to make corrections.

 In the break between Spring and Summer classes, I attended my first convention as a tabling artist.  Heroescon is a midsized mainstream con in North Carolina.  You can read more about my experience at Heroescon (and Otakon) here.

Summer semester was supposed to be very low-key, I only intended to take one class, and I was planning on attending Otakon in mid August.  Instead, guilt got the best of me, and I signed up for two- 352 (Constructive Human Anatomy with Paul Hudson) and 726 (Studio II with Dave Gildersleeve).  Constructive Human Anatomy was extremely instructive, but has an extremely heavy workload (more on that class here) and I worked on the first 12 pages of Foiled in Studio II (more on that herehere, and here).  While juggling classwork, I also juggled preparing wares for Otakon, as well as attending Otakon.  Unfortunately, this con came at a terrible time, midterms, so it was a bit of a struggle to catch up and finish the semester.

I feel like I've learned a lot in just one year at SCAD.  Before attending SCAD, my knowledge of human anatomy was entirely self taught, I had no idea what a perspective grid was, and my storytelling was awful.  Although I know there's a lot to work on, I am beginning to develop the tools necessary for a career in comics.  Every semester, I try to push myself to accomplish more than I thought possible.