Academy of Art University MFA Orientation

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011: New Graduate Student Orientation

Orientation was a required event for all of the new graduate students. We were there to meet the president and vice president of the Academy of Art University, our admissions representatives, and heads of our respective schools. I’ve quickly learned that AAU is very focused on creating professionals ready to enter the industry by graduation. And an event like this was a perfect opportunity to network and meet any and all of the new graduate students in one place.  I approached it like a trade conference.

At Reed College, I quickly realized that the most interesting kids in school went there and places like it. I could spend hours talking excitedly (or ‘geeking out’ if you prefer) with any student there. At AAU, I have the impression that the most creative and driven aspiring artists go there. Same dedication, same ambition, same intrinsic motivation to learn and grow. Just my kind of people, but with a different focus.

I’m not the type to briefly exchange names and cards with as many people as I can in the time allotted. That may work for some people, and I’ll grant, it generates a lot of contacts. But I’m more comfortable with meeting 3-4 people at an event like this, talking in depth for about 20 minutes each if I can (or in a group if they know each other), and try to form lasting connections with them. These could be my collaborators or colleagues in the future, perhaps near-future if we combine forces in school.  Hopefully we’d be ambitious enough to publish our own books or found our own companies.  Such things have happened in AAU and schools like it.

I don’t know why people get nervous about meeting each other at an event like this. Ok, well, maybe I do because I used to be painfully shy too. I had a very negative inner monologue right up until I was settled at Reed. And maybe it does echo into my consciousness from time to time, particularly when I’m out of my element. But in reality, people want to meet each other. They are silently screaming, ‘Talk to me, please! I don’t know anyone!’ I know because that’s what I’ve thought. So I just dive in. Ask questions. Be like a reporter and interview people. People love to talk about themselves, so I give them the excuse, and my card. I love listening to them, especially when I find we’re obsessed about the same things.

After the meet & greet, I went with two new friends up to the welcome lecture. The highlight there was the spring show reel of the work that previous Masters in Fine Art (MFA) students have created. Some of their work was quite impressive.  The video ended with the promise that we would create art like that. Many of us swore we would create art at that caliber. Yet some of us feared, deep inside, that there had been a mistake. We feared we weren’t qualified and didn’t have the talent.

Fear is perfectly healthy at the beginning of a long transformation such as this. It prevents one from being arrogant, complacent, and closed to new ideas. After-all, to understand is to stand under a concept for a while. But that fear isn’t completely warranted. Yes, there are schools out there that just want funding and will take (and pass) anyone.  I’ve heard the horror stories.  A school like this one, however, has a good reputation for working its students hard, challenge them, and pushing them out of their comfort zones. And a school like AAU reviews admission application portfolios for a reason – to find the potential in them.

Next we split into our respective schools. Those like me in the Illustration School convened with Bill Maughan, the Director of Graduate Illustration. I was a little tongue-tied meeting him, and this is why:

A professional illustrator and fine artist, Mr. Maughan received a Bachelor of Fine Art in Illustration from the Art Center College of Design. He has provided numerous illustrations for such companies as DreamWorks, Woman’s Day, TV Guide, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, CBS, Universal Studios, Wells Fargo Bank, Chevrolet, GMC, Franklin Library, New American Library, Avon Books, Pinnacle Books, Signet Books, Tor Books, Doubleday, Harcourt Brace, Knopf, Oxford University Press, Danbury Mint, Fenwick and others. Since the early ’80s Mr. Maughan’s work, both originals and prints, has been represented by major galleries and publishers, domestically and internationally. His works of art are included in private, commercial and museum collections. Mr. Maughan’s book, The Artist’s Complete Guide to Drawing the Head, was published in 2004 by Watson/Guptill.

When he’s not teaching Academy students the fundamentals — realism-based drawing, design concepts, value, form, color and composition — he paints in his studio in the mountains of Utah.

Bill (I feel a little irreverent using his first name, but that’s the convention at school), Bill has been illustrating long before I was born; to say that he knows what he’s talking about is a grand understatement.

Bill Maughan took the time to advise us at the beginning of our careers with AAU and after.   He also reviewed what the midpoint reviews and final theses will entail for each focus (or track).  Mine is the Concept Art track with a focus on games.

Midpoint review will involve a few of our best examples from each of the classes we’ll be taking (or new pieces in the subjects those classes covered, they don’t need to have been presented in class – I might be better at head drawing long after finishing that class for example). This is also when I’ll pitch my final thesis project in a written proposal.

The Final thesis for Concept Art will involve a entire ‘pitch’ for a film or game. Thumbnails, three character designs (only one can be human), a turnaround, a painted background environment, and the layout design of a room from several angles.

Yeah, kinda frightening! But this is also the master who saw our portfolios and essays in our applications and believes we have potential.

So while, even as I write, my stomach is twisted in knots at what is ahead, I have faith that the school knows what it’s doing and would have turned me down if I couldn’t succeed. I just have to apply myself and work very, very hard.