Back in the ’80’s, when I told my pal Putka I was getting an MFA in illustration, he laughed, “What’s next? -a Phd in Wallpaper Hanging?” What’s Next? Looks like the answer is Advanced Comics…
The SAW campus © SAW 2012
Stanford is a great university with one respected graphic novel class. But suddenly, universities across the country are offering complete advanced degrees in comics. CCS, the Center for Cartoon Studies, in Vermont has offered a Comics MFA for several years. CCS is not to be confused with CCA, California College of the Arts in San Francisco which is launching a new low-residency MFA in Comics in 2013.
detail from Roots © 2012 Adrian Pijoan
A curious new educational option has sprung up in Florida. It is called SAW for Sequential Art Workshop. Cartoonist Tom Hart who taught for a decade at SVA in NYC has relocated to a storefront on So. Main St. in Gainesville. There, with a group of dedicated faculty and students, he has begun an intensive comics course. SAW’s one-year intensive program is not an accredited MFA, but it cost far less, $3600. I contacted a SAW student, Adrian Pijoan, to learn more about this grassroots educational experiment.
KMc: What do you think of MFA’s in comics?
Adrian: “I’m all for MFA’s in comics — the more that the art world accepts comics as a legitimate medium the happier cartoonists will be.”
You are in a non-degree program, Why is that?
Adrian: “I met with some cartoonists who are also faculty at a major art school over the summer to talk about the MFA program at that school. Those faculty members convinced me that if my interests really lay in cartooning then the MFA program would be a waste of time and money.
comic panels from Roots ©2012 Adrian Pijoan
For some reason drawing, painting, and literature are all legitimate art forms, but there’s still this idea that when you combine them some sort of dark magic happens and the end product is no longer art. So, I think the idea of a comics MFA program is great, but that there’s still this silly prejudice against comics in the mainstream art world. There’s also the issue that a lot of cartoonists — myself included — are more interested in producing art that is available to everyone than in producing art to hang in a gallery or in the houses of the extremely wealthy.”
detail from Roots © 2012 Adrian Pijoan
Why SAW? Adrian: “SAW is a really fantastic community and a much more holistic learning experience than I experienced in college or anywhere else. The curriculum is very rigorous, but it is also adaptable to encourage our growth as individual artists. During our end of semester show last Friday (12 /14) we were all impressed by the improvement we’ve undergone in three months. The whole school — students and faculty — work together as a community and we’re constantly pushing and challenging one another. There are always other artists around to critique or help you solve a problem.
Student show at Saw, August, 2012, used with permission.
Another reason I chose SAW over a degree program is that SAW is very inexpensive, but provides the opportunity to work with really amazing faculty. And though there’s no degree, I believe that in the art world your portfolio is more important than having a degree. So the quality of the education is more important than the diploma.”
from Fig explaining co-evolutionary symbiosis © 2012 Adrian Pijoan
Can you tell us something about your background?
Adrian: “I have a bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I realized while there that my interests are more in outreach and education that research. I think a lot of research gets locked up in academic journals in the same way that a lot of art gets locked up in galleries. So my interest is in taking that scientific information — primarily about ecology and conservation — and translating it into a medium that is accessible, interesting, and fun. Even more than that I’ve found that my comics about science are creating conversation and generating curiosity about the natural world.”
From Sitting Ghost © 2012 Adrian Pijoan
Any advice for young artists interested in making zines and comics?
Adrian: “Do just that – make zines and comics! Make them and get them out into the world. Trade them with other creators, go to conventions, put them online – get your work out there. And, even more importantly, keep making work. It can get discouraging when it feels like no one is listening, but you just have to keep on going. Don’t get too hung up on your early work, either – your first comics probably won’t be great, so finish them and move on. Set goals by the project. If you make a mistake or don’t like the way it’s turning out, finish the project and then try not to make that mistake in your next one – but don’t get discouraged. Also, even if you think you are going to draw in the most flat, cartoony style, still take the time to learn traditional art skills because your drawing can always benefit from them. If you don’t want to go to a traditional art school, look for local figure drawing sessions or evening classes taught by local artists. Or, better yet, apply to SAW! “
Adrian, one more question: What’s with the argyle sock on your arm?
“Haha, the sock — I get lots of questions about that. It’s a trick I learned from Tom Hart (director of SAW). It keeps the oils in your skin from getting on your bristol board (which can interfere with inking) and it allows you to slide your hand across the drafting table smoothly to make straight and consistent lines — especially helpful when you ink with a brush like I do! And on chilly nights it keeps your hand warm.”
Check out Adrian’s work at www.adrianpijoan.com and watch Kathryn Varn’s video of him at the drawing board. I really appreciate Adrian’s perspective and expect more great things from him.
Indie alternatives to institutional higher education in the arts deserve support. Non-credit, off-the-grid, DIY art education centers are popping up all over. Tom Huck’s Woodcut Bootcamp in St. Louis, Maine’s Beehive Design Collective and Pittsburgh’s Cyberpunk Apocalypse are a few examples I’ve seen. I hope to see more. SAW has a fundraising Etsy page with original art by Vanessa Davis, Dash Shaw, John Porcellino and other important comics artists. Check it out.