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The Workshop as Fuel for Creativity

Since becoming a graphic designer I have participated in only three workshops. When I was in college I attended a semi-conference in a picturesque town near Mexico City where I can honestly not remember what it was about. It was that memorable. A few years later and not so long ago I participated in two pre-conference workshops at TypeCon in Minneapolis. I selected the two workshops that would take me the farthest from my comfort zone: Lettering with Ken Barber of House Industries and calligraphy with Michael Clark. I wanted to see if I could break away from the computer and be able to create typography with my own, clumsy hands. I couldn’t. And from seeing what others could do, I realized I should stick to choosing fonts and drawing New School Bezier style. (And to pay Michael Clark money to do the Speak Up logo I was planning on doing myself after his workshop was over and I felt somewhat empowered).

Workshops present an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary, to acquire a new skill, to satisfy a curiosity, or even to discover a hidden passion. Their limited time commitment and convenient plastic bubble set-up allow you to take risks in an environment with little repercussions on your day-to-day life and work, allowing you to lose any (or some) inhibitions you might have. I have heard of people that have been transformed by a workshop whether by extending their understanding of their current abilities or by the realization that they are passionate about something else completely. In our industry, Milton Glaser’s SVA Summer workshop is legendary (not to mention secretive: the first rule of the Milton Glaser Summer Program is that you don’t talk about the Milton Glaser Summer Program); DesignInquiry, now in its fourth year, is shaping out be a workshop powerhouse; firms like tomato and UnderWare run highly acclaimed and popularly attended workshops as they see fit; and most design conferences offer the rare opportunity to learn directly and hands on from the famed speakers on the roster. Also, when a celebrated design personality travels far, the receiving institution is eager to make the most of it by hosting a lecture and a workshop. Like this Spring’s visit of Art Chantry to Portugal’s Escola Superior de Artes e Design (ESAD).

ESAD’s lecture series, Personal Views, has been attracting some of the most influential designers to their school for the last four years, providing a real treat for their students who would otherwise need to travel far and spend plenty of cash. And no treat has lasted longer than Art’s, when ESAD celebrated Art Chantry Week (March 19 – 23), organized by one of their teachers, Emanuel Barbosa, by hosting a lecture — with attendance from people throughout the country, including record collectors from Spain — plus an exhibit of his work and a three-day workshop. Which is the excuse for this post. Emanuel was kind enough to share some photographs of the workshop and thoughts from some of the participating students, who had the arduous task of designing the poster for the play, The Death of a Salesman, in true Art style: No computers, just photocopies, glue, tape and their hands. Seeing the photographs of the students in action was a reminder, for me, of why we do graphic design: For the process of craft and discovery. Which is sometimes easy to forget in the hectic life of being a professional graphic design bound by deadlines and conference calls. You know… it might just be the right time for my fourth workshop.

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Art Chantry Week at ESAD
Poster design by Art Chantry and Emanuel Barbosa. [Click image for bigger view]

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We always learn from workshops or conferences even if we don’t like the guy or his work. In this case, I can say that I love his work and as in everything else I’ve absorbed some of his perspective into my work since, and rejected some other that I had already achieved or didn’t want to achieve.
Teresa Ribeiro

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The Process

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

I usually use the computer to do most of my work. It’s rare when I use a manual method. So this workshop really came in a good time. It was a great opportunity to explore the manual method, and to learn other methods without using technology.
Cristina Bessa

It caught my attention and really made me re-think my work process. Mainly because working with a non-digital technique is, unfortunately, an underrated way of doing graphic design these days. Art Chantry in both workshop and conference tried to make his point by telling people that you could do good design using merely your own hands.
Miguel Praça

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

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The Critique

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

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Not that I’m going to change my perspective and want to be ruled by his method, but he’s an excellent storyteller, and I love his humor, specially the ironic way he uses to tell his stories, so I may say that I’ve learned a lot about calming myself and how it’s much more creative and productive being relaxed or sometimes humoristic while I’m working and to be more and more interested in questions that come to my mind, even though sometimes they’re stupid or unexpected.
Teresa Ribeiro

We all look at each other’s work with different perspectives and different mentalities. We are always looking for a new pair of eyes, and the vision of Art Chantry, that we can do good work or even better without using technology, to see his point of view really opened my eyes and my mind and I think everyone’s mind too.
Cristina Bessa

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The Results

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD

Art Chantry Workshop at ESAD


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I enjoyed my final product and all the products of everyone that participated in this workshop. And to end it right… ART CHANTRY ROCKS!!
Cristina Bessa

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ARCHIVE ID 3440 FILED UNDER Design Academics
PUBLISHED ON May.25.2007 BY Armin
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
Randy J. Hunt’s comment is:

The only design workshop I've ever attended was at AIGA Orlando's Re:solution event a few years back, it must have been 2003 or 2004.

We learned to make Japanese Box Kites from the only American who had been trained in a particular class of Japanese kite-makers.

Needless to say, it was so much fun. When the 10 or 12 of has had finished building our kites,
flew them in the neighboring field.

I wish I could remember his name.

On May.25.2007 at 12:34 PM
JonSel’s comment is:

I've attended two workshops. The first, while at Portfolio Center, was a half-completed weekend by the infamous David Carson. As you can imagine, that didn't turn out so well. The second was run by Chicago's Society of Typographic Arts at the Taj Mahal of letterpress, The Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. After playing with ink and wood and paper for a too-fast three days, I came back thoroughly reinvigorated. I feel like I did some of my best design work in the months after the workshop. I'd recommend it to anyone.

Armin, it's unclear to me: did you attend this workshop? Or did its existence simply inspire you to give one another shot in the future?

On May.25.2007 at 02:52 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Jon... I didn't attend; although a trip to Portugal is not a bad idea. Seeing the pictures that Emanuel had sent, made me want to talk about workshops and start thinking about attending one in the future. I do have a yearning for DesignInquiry.

On May.25.2007 at 03:05 PM
greg’s comment is:

Workshops are great. The AIGA-DC chapter has held fun workshops each of the past two years, letterpress this past year and silkscreen the year before that. While those are a little different than the ones Armin mentioned, I really enjoyed them both and they were both techniques I had wanted to try. I'm hoping they continue on an annual basis because I agree that it's really a great escape to get out from behind the computer and be more hands-on.

On May.26.2007 at 12:20 AM
Héctor Muñoz’s comment is:

I recently had a wonderful calligraphy workshop with Gabriel Martinez Meave for three mornings (evenings were for conferences).

It was all hands on ink and paper and I enjoyed it a lot (specially Gabriel's demonstrations which we fought for as souvenirs jajaja).

Maybe I only regret a little that I went for a comfortable workshop (I love type) and could have expanded my views taking an ackward workshop for me like cartoon drawing.

By the end of the workshop we had Gabriel making a big calligraphic poster for Alejandro Paul who was a speaker on the conferences.

I shot a small video and some pics, Gabriel is amazing.

On May.26.2007 at 01:49 AM
Bryony’s comment is:

Workshops are fantastic, there is no doubt about it. When done right they enable participants to use new tools, explore new ideas and question new things. Rarely does a workshop fail, seeing that they are in many ways extremely personal. As you share the room with 15 people (on average) it is up to you to really take advantage of the situation by the choices you make (from the workshop itself to how you go about each part of it). It might be a life changing experience, or like Armin (when we attended that workshop in San Miguel de Allende a gazillion years ago) you might not even remember a thing. Not only does the workshop need to be planned and timed well, you need to plan and time yourself as well. I have given a few workshops myself, and truth be told there is usually a couple of people who really go all out and a couple of people who really don’t get it at all, and find they are annoyed as hell with your “instructions”.

The one thing that I have found essential for the success of a workshop is the use of multiple days. When you have a chance to sleep with the experience for a night or two and go back to it, then you let the ideas simmer, you let things fall into place and it usually allows for more dialogue among everyone, which is one of the most enriching parts of working closely with a small group.

On May.26.2007 at 08:56 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

heh! pretty funny to see this thread. boy, am i fat and old!

anyway, i've taught a dozen or more workshops in the last few years. the portugal experience was extremey different because the students were not american culture natives. they were portuguese. very different. communication was strained at best. so, i just sort of went for broke. i really believe they didn't really fully understand the ideas i was trying to get across as well as an american group. i had a similar experience when i did a workshop in mexico - the language barrier could be overcome, but the cultuural barrier really couldn't be tackled in a workshop. so, i learned as much as they did.

the one thing that has constantly struck me over and over running workshops is how little students know (and these are largely student dominated workshops) about the practical world of graphic design.

a story:

i taught a workshop at RISD a few months back (actually you'll soon find that workshops have attendees that pay for the priviledge. it becomes a way for the sponsoring institution to offset the costs of bringing you out to visit.)

the students i had in my RISD workshop were very select. they were graduating students - they would be out in the workplace in a few months. the students at RISD already have undergraduate degrees in other realted fields as well, so these are extremely sophisticated, highly educated design larvae with many many years of higher education beneath their collective belts. butterflies are to be expected.

i had already done a lecture the day before the workshop, so the students had come prepared and familiar with my design "approach" (if i can call it that). so, the first question i asked them was, "since you already saw my talk, are there any specific questions you may have or areas you'd like to see covered in the worjshop?" surprisingly, they all looked at each other and one (chosen?) spoke and said, "well, we'd already talked it over and we decided we wanted to ask you a specific question. can you tell us the difference between "silkscreen" and "offset"?"

i was aghast. that was extremely basic knowledge these supreme design students - from one of the most prestigious design schools in the nation - did not have. i spent the next 1/2 hour digramming the various ways things actually physically get printed in different processes. they were fascinated.

now, teaching design without ever even acquainting the student with the actual process they are design FOR is like teaching a student how to paint without ever lifting a brush or aplying pigment to canvas. how is this possible?

so, my comment about workshops is that are often as big a revelation for the workshopist as it is for the workshopper.

what they hell are they teaching students in the big shot design schools for all that time and money?

i doubt i really added much to quench theit parched experience levels, but at least i showed them a basic , step 101 thing or two. i hope they all took my advice and interned in printshops...

On May.29.2007 at 05:48 PM
felix’s comment is:

I took a pretty decent workshop from Paula Scher a few years back at AIGA's Design Ranch (in Austin, TX). She was incredibly hospitable and nice - unlike her husband who, according to attendees was unfriendly and hostile. Either way they both gave me ride back to the airport.

Perhaps it's true: some Jews laugh at Texas. Some with.

Having worked with Laurie Rosnewald (ahem, hello, Jew!) before at Ogilvy I always wondered how her workshops went. I suppose "annoying" is good? Hmm. I'd imagine its quite annoying to watching someone else- someone way more talented than you draw and flap their mouth at the same time. That takes talent.

On May.29.2007 at 08:08 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> what they hell are they teaching students in the big shot design schools for all that time and money?

Art, Printing 101 is a real rarity in design schools. I want to be proven wrong, but I'm sure it's the minority of curricula that feature this. This last semester we devoted a class (for our fourth year students at SVA) to printing and invited a production manager to talk about it. She brought press sheets, paper swatchbooks and other samples, and we talked about offset, letterpress, silkscreen, spot colors. After three hours of this their eyes had glazed.

This should be a required, full-semester course in any design program. It's frustrating for both employer and employee (and independent designers as well) to have this production barrier.

On May.31.2007 at 10:29 AM
art chantry’s comment is:

armin -

geez, it's so BASIC. i realise that it seems a daunting effort to teach it - largely because the only way academia can figure out how to actually do so would be to build a working print business. it just seems too expensive to them. but, if they'd only accept printers as equals long enough to let them take part in the teaching process (through demonstration as well as workshop) it would make the industry so much more respected out there. ever wonder why printers (and so many clients each and every day) hate designers do much? it's that, in their eyes, we're all really stupid. we claim to be such artist visonary experts, but we literally know nothing about what we pretend to know. it becomes painfully obvious to them when we design on a computer and send some lame file to them and insist they "make it so." every printer i know has a full time person whose job it is to tear apart every file that comes in and make it printable. EVERY FILE - without an exception. just ask them. they KNOW how stupid we are, because they have to constantly fix our errors and idiocies.

the printing press is what we design for. yet, we, as a whole, know next to nothing about the basics of the process. that makes us frauds. most designers are confidence men with little or nothing in basic process knowledge to back up our claims of expertise. we should all learn printing FIRST. then, design makes so much more sense.

but, i digress...

On May.31.2007 at 02:22 PM
Emanuel Barbosa’s comment is:

Hi Art,

I agree with you in most points. In fact it's very important that the design students fully understand the printing process in order to be able to explore all the possibilities of it. But even if you have a chance to learn and explore "real printing" in the classes (I try to do that sometimes with my students in ESAD by making the students design something and then having their projects printed in offset) - it's always an academic exercise, so the students pay just a "relative" atention to that. Only the "real world" stress makes you learn. I learned like that what I know about printing - I'm shure you did too... :)

On May.31.2007 at 07:02 PM
Pedro Pinheiro’s comment is:

Emanuel,

That's the sad part. If you knew the number of times i've heard "Only the "real world" stress makes you learn" when I was a student in ESAD, you would be surprised. Even if students pay "relative attention" to that process you (teachers) should teach that anyway.. In ESAD students pay more than enough for that kind of teacher dedication. If students are going to learn what matters most out of school why go to school in the first place?

As for the workshop, well, it was kinda' awkward for me. I thought I was going to see Art maybe doing some work, or assisting our work at the least.. but none of that happened (great story teller though!). Everybody was working so seriously that I couldn't help having a laugh with my work! Having fun is a great part of the process, in my opinion.

It was weird because it seemed only 3 people (including Emanuel), really knew who Art was. I felt very sad to see the conference room only 1/4 full.. hey, their loss. It was really fun, Art has a great sense of humor, as it would be expected.

I was delighted to meet the guy that changed my perspective towards graphic design, the man who gave the records I listened a visual meaning.

Thank you Art!


P.S.- Mono Men toured Spain, not Portugal :(

On Oct.01.2007 at 12:05 PM
Pedro Gonçalves’s comment is:

Yes, I'll have to agree with Pedro Pinheiro's position here. Already being away from Esad for some years now I see that the teaching paradigm over production methods is still the same as it was back then, which is NO TEACHING.

I kind of understand the perspective... Maybe because the market in Oporto is so scarce and elitist - which by no means translates into bad overall design quality - and most of the good design professionals are employed by two schools, being Esad one of them. Does this mean that Teachers in particular and established designers in general have it easier that way?

Fact:
In four years coursing Esad's communication design degree, I was NEVER showed any printing method. This includes the year Barbosa was my teacher.

I thought that with years of maturity maybe I would understand the meaning of this knowledge hold back. But I cant help it. It keeps making no sense at all for me when teachers expect their students to learn basic knowledge in the real world, where damage to themselves as professionals and their clients can be certainly expected.

And yes, I did learn it by my self, asking questions, posing doubts, talking to people.
Pedro Pinheiro is right, for this kind of empirical knowledge I wouldn't have payed 10.000€.

Show them the way Art! Looks like they only pay attention to their idols...

On May.29.2008 at 07:05 AM