Friday, May 14, 2021

CVTC Students Find New Talents in Graphic Design

Program is in its first year

Article Photo - CVTC Students Find New Talents in Graphic Design

As part of a photography class in the CVTC Graphic Design program, student Cole Spickler created this photo with multiple images of himself in the same setting.


Elsie McDonald and Ethan Person learned something about themselves early in their classes in the new Graphic Design program at Chippewa Valley Technical College.

“I actually didn’t know I could draw until I had that first semester drawing class,” said Person, a 2020 graduate of Gilman High School. “I found out I was pretty good at it.”

McDonald said she enjoyed her art classes in school, though they were not an emphasis for her or a subject in which she stood out. “But after repetition and a little practice at CVTC, I got results that I like,” said the 2018 Chippewa Falls Senior High School graduate.

A generation or more ago, graphic designers worked at drawing tables and talent in freehand drawing was an essential skill. Today, the industry is dominated by computer-based design programs , which is what led McDonald and Person to enroll in the program.

“I was going to go to CVTC for an IT program, but later in high school, I really enjoyed all the Adobe graphics programs like Photoshop and Illustrator,” Person said. “I wasn’t into drawing. I was into using the computer and working with programs.”

“When I heard about the CVTC program, I got super excited about it,” McDonald said. My aunt is a graphic designer, and I was inspired by her, and my dad has a great eye for art.”

Program instructors Danny Fladhammer and Jonny Wheeler agree that the field, and the program, are all about design with computer programs, though there is still a role for basic drawing as a foundation. Like all CVTC programs, Graphic Design was created due to market demand, but its genesis also had to do with how it fit within CVTC’s Digital Marketing program.

“Because Digital Marketing is so analytics-driven, we didn’t do a lot with graphics,” Fladhammer said. “But you have to be able to design it to get it out there. The design and the analytics go hand-in-hand.”

Wheeler noted that while computer program design is the essence of the business today, it all starts with the basics.

“The Illustration Fundamentals class goes through different drawing techniques and expands their skills,” Wheeler said. “When we designed the classes, we thought of how artists are trained, but applied that in a more technical way. We go over why you do things, and then physically doing them.”

“Illustration Fundamentals was a lot of fun,” McDonald said. “It started with basic art to build more complex designs.”

Students move on from the basics to more detail-oriented work, such as typography, which is more than just basic typeface styles. Students learn to get a message out in a few succinct words, much like newspaper headline writing, Wheeler said.

“We’re working on getting them to see things differently, thinking about things as a designer,” Wheeler said.

Person said he’s learning a lot more about what brought him into the program. “There are some parts of Adobe programs I didn’t know about, and they taught us shortcuts,” he said.

The associate degree program culminates in a final project of presenting a portfolio, which students are already working on.

“They have a portfolio review as their final class,” Fladhammer said. “In the third and fourth semesters, they will have major projects to do. In their fourth semester, they will work with real clients.”

“They have us add to our portfolios each semester, and the last semester we will really have to add a lot to it,” Person said.

The students are learning about graphic design, but at CVTC it’s all about whether there are jobs for them when they finish. Fladhammer and Wheeler are confident the students will do well.

“We have a lot of construction companies in the area that employ graphic designers,” Fladhammer said. “The local software company Jamf has graphic designers. Graduates can also work as freelancers.”

Students might also consider continuing their education through the program at UW-Stout. An agreement for transfer of credits is being worked out, Fladhammer said.

“I’m having a lot of fun so far,” McDonald said. “I can see how you can make this a career. But I could see being a freelancer someday.”

With over 115 programs offered both online and on-campus, Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the community. CVTC programs are designed with input of business and industry to prepare graduates for today’s jobs, with 95 percent employed within six months of graduation and associate degree graduates earning an average annual salary of $47,452.