You can pull elements for your piece out of thin air. You can build layers from scratch. You can invent something new, or dramatically re-interpret an existing image so that it looks brand new. All this creative potential is what Rachelle Berthelot, a high school teacher from Ottawa, Canada, loves about graphic design.
In her words, “Graphic design expresses an idea simply and effectively while still maintaining a high aesthetic value, which,” she notes, “cannot always be controlled when dealing with video or audio productions at this level. In this way it fosters student success.”
With boundless possibility – when you can take your project in any direction without being tethered to the footage or audio you’ve captured – artists must carefully map out their own direction. So, how do you prompt youth to be truly intentional in their artistic choices?
To get students on their way, Rachelle gave them some direction. “When presenting this project,” she says, “I emphasized that their voices needed to be heard and that they were free to express a topic that was of value to them.” As a “jumping off point,” she showed her students exemplars, but “noticed so many of the messages had negative connotations, anti-bullying, anti-smoking, etc.” In contrast, “I very much wanted to encourage them to produce something that had a positive underlying message.”
Rachelle also gave her students experiences with the software they’d be using for their larger graphic design project. For example, “They created a morphed animal using source images from the internet, they edited a self portrait in four distinct ways, etc.” When the class viewed the products afterward, they taught each other about the techniques and elements they’d used. As a result of these mini assignments, “students had an understanding of how creating a multi layered image and using variant opacities when overlaying text” yielded a more professional look.
Crucially, Rachelle gave them constant feedback throughout the creative process: “Students bounced ideas off me, they discussed what type of images they wanted to capture, we discussed rules of composition and what makes an image interesting and effective.” She emphasizes that, “while the message that students wish to express is of utmost importance, the aesthetics is of equal importance in terms of conveying that message.”
“I want them to be conscious artists who consider that what they put forth is what is most likely to return to them,” says Rachelle. “The ideas that followed were inspirational.”
Representing their message through a work of graphic design entails making a lot of choices – choices which Rachelle takes pride in helping her students navigate. “Several of the students at Immaculata High School have dealt with many hardships in their lives,” she reflects, and “it was so nice to see them rejoice in something positive.”