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Emerging Artist Olivia Hunter

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

Olivia Hunter
Project Assistant & Designer

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. (ratemyprofessors.com 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.

Related: Art Supplies on a Budget: Get Away with Paying Less, Leaving Art School, Q & Art:  Staying Motivated

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5 responses on "Stand Out in Art School"

  1. Profile photo of Lauryn Welch

    Aaaahh, I wish I had used all of the facilities and amenities available to me when I was in school! Your tips are great for standing out in your class, but they’re also great in that you’ll have no regrets after you graduate! If I could add one more bit of advice- USE THE LIBRARY! The first school I went to had the most beautiful and comprehensive art library I had ever seen up to that point in my life…and I never went to it because I always told myself I didn’t have time. After transferring I realized too late that I had missed an amazing learning opportunity and relaxing study environment. Now I try to go to every library I can whenever I’m at a school or residency.

    Also, speaking of libraries, your books are beautiful! I hope your dad loved the book of quotes, what a great tribute!

  2. Profile photo of Casey Roonan

    I’m so impressed by your spirit, Olivia! Not only did you make TWO responses for a single assignment, but you also pushed yourself to learn a new skill!

    When I was in art school, I would only try new media out when I was forced to by a class assignment, but afterwards, more often than not, that new approach or medium would end up being incorporated into my regular art practice – a new old skill to fall back on instead of experimenting!

    I think students often mistake having a singular focus or style as more admirable than it truly is. If I have one regret about art school it’s that I wasn’t nearly as proactive about using all of the resources made available to me. That you saw this opportunity to acquire new knowledge when you could have fallen back on an old talent (or, more accurately, do both!) is truly commendable.

  3. Profile photo of Alexander Rowe

    Reminds me of something one of my favorite professors said when I asked her to help me choose between two concepts for a final project sophomore year: she just looked at me and said “do both!”
    You’ve learned an invaluable lesson so early on, a lesson it certainly took me a long time to learn: study it all, because you never know when a skill might come in handy! Try it all, because you never know what your work or style will evolve into!

  4. Profile photo of Deepti Menon

    Taking advantage of all your resources while in school is SO IMPORTANT! I wish I had a constant reminder to do this while I was in school! Even today, actually, I was reminiscing about how I had the ability to check out these crazy expensive cameras and ask my department’s staff about how to use them, whenever I wanted!!

    The laser cutter seems so cool – something I definitely wish I had used while I had free access to one. It’s super important to remember to push yourself and never be afraid to ask questions. One of the best things about being in art school is that you’re surrounded by so many creative thinkers, working professionals, and people who want to help you!!

    • Profile photo of Clara Lieu

      I would also add that it is NEVER to late to learn a new skill! So much of the time I see professionals who don’t want to ask for help learning something because they think it will make them “look bad.” I have absolutely no shame when it comes to asking for help. I go right to the person who knows their stuff and ask them about what to do, you’ll learn so much if you can leave your pride at the door when learning something new.

      (hey, I had a bunch of high school students giving me a tutorial on how to use Snapchat last summer, if that’s not an example of how much I’m willing to get help, I don’t know what is!)

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