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Teacherly Things

MAY 7, 2014

Its the end of the semester and tonight is Portfolio Night at MassArt! I felt like writing about some teacherly things that I do and some experiences I've had over the last 4-5 months. I don't often blog about this stuff but I wanted to give a nod to so many friends who have not only had an impact on my students life but people who've had an impact on my life as well.


During my school year, I try to bring in a guest or two to inspire the students and get them thinking about what is possible as an illustrator. I have a tendency to ask younger working artists to come in. While not a rule, I do this for a couple of reasons. Often, when there are guest speakers brought into schools, they are the 'heavy hitters' (We've had Chris Buzelli, Barron Storey and James Gurney over the last couple of years) who have lots of experience which is amazing for any student but sometimes, I want to reach them from a different angle. I'd like the students to see and listen to a person that is just a couple of years older than they are and have been having lots of success. I think it helps students relate to the guests a bit more and get some real-time information about what it means to be struggling right now and how to overcome early self-doubts and failures.

I've had wonderful guests JooHee Yoon, Daniel Fishel and in November, I had Becca Stadtlander come in to do lectures and demos for a couple of days. She was absolutely wonderful and very thorough with her presentations and demos. I did a post-lecture interview here on the MassArt blog.

Becca demo.
I have my Junior illustration students research and do a slide lecture of their favorite illustrator. In the first six weeks of my class, the first hour of every class, I do a History of Illustration lecture from the 1800's to present day. Since I do this, I assigned to the students to show who their favorite illustrators are and do a presentation themselves. One of my students inspired Becca's visit by doing a presnetation on her. Since I knew Becca personally, I invited her in.
Becca only being 26 years old a few years out of school, the students got to see the time and effort she puts into her work, her process and how she keeps her substantial business flowing. She was incredibly inspiring.

These sorts of experiences really stick with someone and remain part of their education and life for the rest of their lives. As a personal example, I remember in quite a lot of detail, Marshall Arisman giving a painting demonstration in the class I had with him back when he was teaching undergrad at SVA around 1991. There was nothing like watching one of my favorite artists, while smoking a cigarette in the SVA amphitheater dip his hands into a coffee can full of turpentine, squirt a load of Van Dyke Brown oil paint into his bare hands and wipe it all over a 30x40" sheet of Strathmore paper and 'sculpt' out one of his famous painted heads.
Becca and class.
A couple of years ago, I brought up my buddy and Drawger, Victo Ngai to do her first ever lecture to students. She was fairly successful then but her success had continued to grow so I thought I would bring her up once again in February for a new batch of students. Since that first lecture, she's developed into a wonderful speaker.

Victo creates intense masterpieces and what is brilliant is her openness to discuss her technique and show quite explicitly how she works. This was an extremely special treat to the students but also, they saw other sides of what it is to be an illustrator. The students saw that she is a very smart business person as well. Victo presents herself as extremely self-aware and knows who she is and what she wants and she does it. With her techniques, her business savvy and especially the thoughtfulness of the ideas within her work, its not a surprise she is as successful as she is.
Victo left the students in awe.
Thank yous to all the guests who have come in and have spoken to our students. You really inspire an make a difference. It always brings a smile to my face when I walk around the studios and I see all of the guests postcards and posters lining the students wall space for inspiration.


Getting out of the house once and while and traveling to do lectures myself is necessary for me. I've been very fortunate to be asked to visit various schools around the country for years and usually do one every semester. It is one of my joys in life for a few reasons; I usually get to go somewhere new and have experiences in a place that I would have never had the opportunity to go to. I also get to meet faculty and artists at those schools and talk about illustration and the aches and pains of being an educator. It's is very important for me to see what other illustration departments are doing and what they're successful at and they're usually just as curious.
The best part and the most fun I have in doing lectures is being with the students.
A few days after Victo came to visit in February, I was on a plane to the Kansas City Art Institute. I've never been to the school nor Kansas City before but I understood the BBQ is amazing there. Officially, yes, it is amazing.
This particular visit had a little more weight than normal for me. Apparently, every semester the students collectively choose who they want to come in to visit the school and for this trip, they selected me. I don't think I could have asked for a higher honor.
I had to give the students an assignment about a month before I arrived in KC and judge the 25 Best Pieces then present them in front of the entire department. I even had to pick the Top 3! Yikes! I've been in judging situations many times but this was tough because not only did I have to judge the pieces, I had to show my selections to all of the students and talk about why they were successful or not so successful. Fortunately, there were many great images so it wasn't a horribly sad and painful critique. During the rest of the day I did a 'this is my work' lecture then a little later, we had a 'roundtable' discussion mostly with Seniors to talk about business related things. The students were wonderful, thoughtful and very well spoken.
When I got home, I was deluged with kind thankful emails from many students. They've got some classy students there - the teachers at KCAI must be doing something right. 
Business talk at KCAI with Seniors.
After restarting an illustration program there for only the last four years, they are really developing a program to be reckoned with. I believe they had 12 students accepted into this years Society Student Scholarship Competition. Congrats to the students and the school and thank you for having me visit especially, Steve Mayse who made it all happen. It was a wonderful experience!
As sort of a 'prize', the Top 3 student winners were treated to a fancy dinner with myself and the faculty!

The 3 Winners! From left to right: Kelsey Wroten, Kate Dittman, Johanna Miller

The assignment I have to the students was 'Through Rose Colored Glasses'. They could interpret that in any way they chose. Here is Kelsey's, Kate's and Johanna's solutions and their websites if provided. Look out for these talented women in the future!

Kelsey Wroten - Kate Dittman - Johanna Miller

I think I am very fortunate in my life that I can meet and get to know so many people throughout my travels and experiences all because I'm an artist. All of these things affect my life helping me grow as an artist, teacher and as a person and I am humbled by it all.


And finally...these guys...I love these guys. I have been fortunate at MassArt to have some wonderful Portfolio students this year. They've been working so hard the last couple of semesters to get their work together and many of whom are already getting nods from student competitions and even getting published. Some still have a ways to go more than others but they are all on the right track. I am very proud to know them and see their growth over the last 3 years. Seeing their work, love for what they're doing and enthusiasm is one of the very reasons why I remain a teacher. I wish all of them well into the future and look forward to seeing their successes.
Show them some love and click through to their sites.
Dave Mahan
© 2023 Scott Bakal