Preparing for Ex Libris
Every year, Graphic Design majors at York College showcase their work in Wolf Hall's galleries for the Senior Exhibition. Winter and spring graduates begin preparing their pieces in the fall semester to be completed in December. The exhibition is usually similar to a gallery, where observers can walk around and enjoy each piece. However, the artworks on display have been graded throughout the semester and prepared for a juried decision by Graphic Design faculty. Sixteen students were featured in the 2016 Spring Exhibition that took place from April 1-14.
YCP's Graphic Designers
The College instills in its students an emphasis on professionalism, aiming to shape them for life after graduation. For graphic designers, this goal is no different. The Graphic Design program focuses on producing students who embrace professionalism, versatility, creativity, and commitment. The students in the program perform a lot of self-initiated work — and not all of it is digital — which teaches them to be independent, creative thinkers. "It's a creative and competitive field, but the support is always there," said Graphic Design senior Lina Than (York, PA). It is these values that prepare Graphic Design majors for whatever the Exhibition asks of them.
The Nature of the Event
On opening night, each graphic designer must give a PechaKucha-style Senior Artist Talk. This means each presentation will consist of 20 images, each shown for only 20 seconds. "Students carefully develop a narrative, a presentation that represents their work and who they are as artists at this stage in their lives," said Melanie Rodgers, MFA, Coordinator of the Graphic Design program. “Students that have done these talks gain confidence in themselves and their work, gain valuable presentation experience, and there is a celebratory tone to the whole event. Students are judged by the whole package: design, crafting, concept, presentation." Each year, there is a different theme with which students must align their projects in some way. This year, the exhibition was titled Ex Libris, which can be translated from Latin to mean "From the library of." For this year's theme, the seniors were tasked to create books, which were displayed with other elements that made the galleries feel like a library. Combined with the YCP values stated previously, all the Graphic Design students' skills up to this point in their education lead up to the expectation that they should be able to create a book. That is, they must be able to do research, generate content of some kind, contextualize the content while considering their audience and purpose, and assemble a final product. The Senior Exhibition showcases that these students are creative, capable, versatile, resourceful, and worth hiring. Than said, "The amount of time that goes into writing and rewriting, researching, and gathering assets takes way more than 13 weeks to do. I knew it would be a struggle, but I also knew my own skill set and that I could do it."
Since the exhibition ends with the announcement of three ranked winners, there is a slight competitive edge. Despite this, students remain in strong support of one another. "We all push each other to create the best books possible, because, in the end, we know that it's all going to be shown together," said Than. Graphic Design senior Gabby Sullivan (Wharton, NJ) seconded this notion. She said, "We're a great group. My peers have been with me every step of the way, but there's always a bit of competition. If anything, we push each other to do better."
While writing and designing a book, every aspect becomes one interdependent process. Sullivan adds, "When you're writing, you're also spending so much time thinking about the visual aspect. In the end, you want them to coexist and feed off each other, and look amazing!" In the beginning of the academic year, the seniors often conversed about their projects and guided each other, helping to develop their ideas until they were ready to be approved by their professors and executed independently. Following approval, students prepared prototypes for feedback during biweekly events called pin-ups where each project is displayed and evaluated by peers. "Classmates discuss, comment, suggest, question choices, wording, design decisions," said Rodgers. It is "a great way for students to learn how to work as creative teams."
As with many other educational advancements, students look forward to a final accomplishment from the very beginning of their studies — a capstone of sorts. For Sullivan, as well as the other Graphic Design seniors, she could not believe that time had finally come. "You learn from day one that this project is what you're working toward in this major. It takes a lot of work and it's pretty scary. I feel like I've been talking about this project since I was a freshman."
For some of the seniors, deciding on a project was easy. Many creators have topics of interest that they often include in their work, or ideas floating around in their heads waiting to be put to the test. Sullivan considered two such ideas, including her life as an Army kid or that of acceptance and self-esteem. Graphic Design senior Rebecca Shaffer (Dover, PA) wanted to explore her heritage. So she decided to carve linoleum prints of German folktales in a way that "hearkens back to the old German woodblock prints." For Than, creating a magazine was something she had thought about before she set out to become a graphic designer, and she was confident that would be her final decision.
Completion and Results
As the fall semester came to an end, the students had finally and successfully produced their books. Reflecting on the past two semesters leading up to the Exhibition, Shaffer said that "These projects aren't made in the hopes of winning, but in the personal connection that this project is to the artist themselves and the messages behind the project as well." In the end, each senior had a book worth being proud of.
On the opening night of the Exhibition, the seniors gave their presentations, introduced by a graphic-design-themed rap song by Rodgers. At the end of the reception, the top three senior projects were announced. First - Kendra Miller, Second - Lina Than, and Third - Rebecca Shaffer. First-place winner Miller said, "The possibility of winning was a source of motivation in the back of my mind that helped keep me motivated and putting forth my best effort while creating my book. However, everyone else was doing excellent work on their own books as well, so I wasn't expecting to receive first place. It did certainly make me happy though, and I'm really glad all those long nights of painting paid off!"