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How to Stand Out in Art School: Reflections by an Art School Freshman

Olivia Hunter

I am currently in my second semester as a freshman at the Parsons School of Design in New York City. After being at art school for almost a year, I’ve learned a lot about my design education, what I want to get out of it, as well as how to stand out.

During my first semester, I wasn’t loving my classes or the curriculum. I didn’t feel artistically challenged through my classes; the projects felt easy and the workload wasn’t substantial enough for me. So before second semester started, I made sure to thoroughly research all of the professors for the required classes I would be taking. ( soon became my best friend)  I wanted professors who would challenge me and give assignments that would force me to think more creatively.   

Second semester, I challenged myself the most in my integrative studio class. We received a graphic novella assignment that was very open ended. We could use any media and any story line. (although the story had to approved by the professor before we got started) I decided to do two books because I felt both of my ideas were equally as strong, whereas the other students did one book.

My first book was about my experiences being deaf and walking around the city. Every day I wear a cochlear implant (also called a “processor”), which allows me to hear sound. I typically turn off my processor when I’m walking through the streets by myself so I can be alone with my thoughts. I illustrated a twelve-page book with only a .001 and .1 Micron pen, since I love making details with tiny thin lines.

Accordion Artist's Book by art student Olivia Hunter

The second book I made was an illustrated book full of funny quotes from my dad, since he is famous in our family for his dry humor. For the past couple of years, I’ve been writing down memorable quotes that he’s said to me or to family members. Some quotes include : “I’m only good at one thing. Getting people to believe I’m good at stuff.”  and “When you move to New York City, you’ve got to become tougher. And trust no one. Especially guys.”

For this book about my dad, I decided to learn how to use a laser cutter to engrave several images of my dad’s face on the pages of the book. Using Illustrator, I had to figure out how to print the words perfectly around the laser cut engravings. I visited the laser cutting lab so much that I could tell I was annoying the lab monitors with my endless questions. Despite all of the challenges, this book turned out to be my favorite assignment so far at Parsons. My professor recognized my hard work. He showcased my books to the class, commending the fact that I had created two books and used the laser cutter for one of them. It was the best feeling because my professor, whom I admire, demonstrated that he was impressed by my work and the fact that I went the extra mile.

Accordion Artist's Book by art student Olivia Hunter

Through these two book projects, I learned how important it is to take advantage of the resources and facilities at my school as much as possible! At Parsons, all of the labs like the metal shop, the laser cutting lab, the wood shop, and the 3D printing lab, you’re required to sign up for instructional orientations to learn how to use the facilities. I’ve been going to all of these lab orientations. I plan on using these facilities for my projects in the future, but also for independent projects to strengthen my skills and experiment freely.

I’m really trying to push myself in all my classes. There’s no point in trying to play it safe, especially in art school. If you want good relationships with the professors and professional connections in the future, you absolutely must give it your all. While the quality of a final project is very important for showcasing your work and for building a portfolio,  the effort you invest is just as important.

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