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Otis: College of Art and Design's Summer of Art

Otis... Otis, Otis. Can you believe it’s already over? I know I can’t. It’s hard to believe that an entire month of intense art training whooshed right past me before I could even count the days I was here. Located in Los Angeles, CA, near LAX Airport, Otis is a college about art and design. Every summer, it holds a program called Summer of Art, where students aged 15 and up are welcome to take part in a unique experience that’s all about art and nothing else.

You are allowed to take only two classes. Your schedule consists of a foundation drawing class and an area of interest class. Since the foundation drawing they offer is at a college level, I decided to choose Basic Foundation Drawing. My area of interest was Toy Design, although I originally wanted to do Graphic Design. Depending on how many students are attending, Otis has created two different schedules. The first is area of interest on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Foundation drawing would therefore be on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The second schedule is foundation drawing on Mondays and Fridays, with your area of interest on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

First days usually make you nervous, and I was shaking really bad. On the first day of class, all students participating in the program had to attend a mandatory orientation over at the Furama Hotel, the name of the place I was staying at. After some brief introductions, students were ordered to meet their teachers on campus in 15 minutes. So here I am walking towards a huge 7 story building made of concrete. Furama is busy distancing itself away from me, and I see a Ralphs supermarket scrolling across on my right. The crosswalk is just ahead, and I walk slowly across it. There are a billion windows all over the building, in a nice pattern of rectangles. The entrance is just on the other side. I walk in, and I’m lost. Finally, someone helps me and I find the floor I’m on. It seems that my drawing class is held on the 6th floor.

When I get up to the 6th floor, I’m lost yet again. As I walk around the floor, I find my spot with a bunch of other students, who eagerly introduce themselves to me, giving me the impression that this will probably be a good day after all. Since classes at Otis are held from Mondays to Fridays between the hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., I knew that this first day would be a bit of a struggle. I pulled it off quite well though, and when I got back to my hotel room, I got right to work.

My Toy Design class would be held the very next day. Tuesdays and Thursdays were Toy Design (the designing/drawing aspect), while Wednesdays were Toy Sculpting (the construction of a 3D model based on drawings). Those all went over pretty well, and it was quite odd at first considering that our class only had 5 students total. Oh well. All I can say is that I definitely liked this class better than my drawing class. We had some weird lady as our instructor in foundation drawing, and whenever she came around to analyze your work, she mostly gave out negative comments. It was obvious that she alone irritated just about everyone in the class, myself included. At least it was only for a month, so I might as well take it.

Going back to Toy Design, I cannot even begin to imagine how complicated the process of building a toy is. Conceptual drawings, color studies, turn-around drawings, component drawings, texture studies.... holy cow! The above, to name a few, are only a sampling of what professional toy designers must go through. Once the drawings are all finalized, it’s time to send them to a toy sculptor, who will attempt making a 3D model of the toy based on the drawings. The thing toy designers must keep in mind is proportion. You wanna keep the proportions right, otherwise, kiss the toy goodbye. I never thought it would be this difficult, but apparently, I was dead wrong. It was a struggle at first because I didn’t know what to do. However, as the weeks went by, I soon got the hang of it.

Both the drawing aspect and sculpting aspect of Toy Design were fun. The first few sessions of drawing consisted of drawing exercises where we got to sketch out animals on loan from a Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, as well as additional exercises in light and shadow, where we sketched out spheres under a small desktop lamp. These exercises in particular did help me with observation skills. Next, we had toy sculpting. Unfortunately, since we only had 4 total sessions in toy sculpting, there would not be enough time to do our own character. Instead, my instructor provided each of us with a two-sided turnaround drawing of a caveman he designed. First session began with tweaking insulated copper wire to create an armature. The process was brutal... my fingers hurt. To add on my finger pain, the next step was to slap on some really hard clay to the armature (I used this greenish clay called Roma, which is an oil-based clay containing some sulfur. The thing reeked!). However, we didn’t get all the clay on by the end of the day, therefore, that was basically our homework assignment until the next week. The whole point of the clay being there was so that we could sculpt it to look EXACTLY like the caveman in the drawing. The proportions had to be right and everything. It was tough, but fun.

As weeks passed, the clay figure slowly became a cool-looking caveman. In fact, all of us received sculpting tools during the second session of toy sculpting, which was definitely a big help since it enabled each student to carefully detail the guy. Third Session: By this time, our clay cavemen had to be finished. Either that, or have as much of it done as possible. After spraying clear-coating on it, we took it back up to the 6th floor, made mold boxes out of paper plates, mixed silicone with catalyst, and then poured the concoction into the mold box. I saw my caveman slowly drowning in the smelly blue goo. Hopefully it’d turn out okay. Fourth Session: Time to remove the mold box and slice open that silicone rubber baby! Using X-acto knives, we carefully cut open the molds and removed the clay cavemen. After that, we got to mixing resin and pouring it into our molds. The first resin hard copy was a dud, but the point of that was to clean the mold of any excess clay and stuff like that. After two more castings, each one of us finally got a suitable caveman to work with. Then came another messy part: painting. We used animation paint, which is basically the same kind of paint animators use to paint cells. Finally the paint dried, and our cavemen were complete. Unfortunately, this was the last day of class with my instructor in toy sculpting, so we all thanked him and said good bye.

Around the same time, we were all also very occupied with the development of our creature for toy design (a.k.a. the drawing part of it). One of the assignments I forgot to mention earlier was the task of going out and retrieving objects that had some sort of personal significance to us. The minimum number to be found was 10, but we could bring in more if we wanted. The overall project for this was to put the objects together and create a creature that was like a self portrait of ourselves in a way. This entire process absolutely killed me. Not only did I have to have typed statements about each object individually, I also had to do 4-sided turnaround drawings, color studies, rough sketches, a title drawing, component drawings, and layer drawings! Eventually it was done though, so the only task left at hand was set up for the final show on August 3 (Friday).

As for Foundation Drawing.... oh good god, I hated that class and I hated the teacher! We did nothing but draw still life almost every frickin’ session, as well as discuss each of our artwork that we did at home or in the hotel room. Let’s see now, I also ended up going to LACMA (L.A. County Museum of Art) as a field trip for this class. The museum itself was very enticing --- lot’s to see and do. The trip was terrible. What kind of art field trip is this?!? We only get to look around for 45 minutes, then have to find a statue to sketch out. And at the beginning before the museum even opened, we had to sit outside and do some stupid landscape thing with charcoal pencil. Then again, I guess this isn’t so bad. It just seems bad because of my hellish teacher. If I had someone else, then maybe I wouldn’t object to this so much. It’s like having someone who thinks they know it all peek over your shoulder. The other very very annoying part about this lady was the fact that she rather enjoyed imposing HER ideas on your work. If this is an art class, I think I’m in hell. We’re supposed to be allowed to explore our own creativity here, so what good is that when you’ve got a teacher who a) thinks your idea sucks, or b) tries to tell you to do it “this” way instead because then the piece will look “fascinating”???

All I can say is that this class was incredibly boring, and it even made me fall asleep once! Most of the assignments we did were basically the same thing, just with different mediums such as charcoal, pastel, pencil, or conté crayon. I recall that I did a whole load of self-portraits... that pissed me off. I ended up doing three self-portraits with different values as my final project for this class. It was boring as hell, but at least over with now. I still can’t get over how my teacher tells us not to talk because it’s distracting to others. Apparently, my teacher believes that students will do bad if they’re doing two things at once. Not me. In fact, the last portrait I did of myself in conté crayon for the final turned out to be the best self-portrait I had done in this entire program! I was drawing it WHILE talking with my friend Emily Thursday night (August 2). However, aside from all the negative remarks I’m making above, it did help me improve. Now I’ve got a collection of artwork which can be used as part of my portfolio should I apply for an art college.

This is what every student will experience. However, the program isn’t always entirely about work. As a resident over at the Furama, there’s always lots of excitement going on behind the scenes. First of all, I was surprised to find out how many students here were from different countries scattered throughout the world! There was a guy from Cambodia, two guys from Korea, a guy from Spain, two girls from Japan, a guy from Taiwan, a guy from Russia, two guys from Belgium, etc. etc. They are all really nice, and speak English very fluently. Aside from the foreigners, there’s your usual bunch of bums from different states. Every one of them is cool in their own way. Since this is my first time at Otis, I was afraid that I would run into people that I would totally not get along with, but I was proven wrong. As art students, we’re all different, and each of us is weird. I’m not kidding you. Fortunately, because we are labeled as art students, we have that as an excuse.

Although I got along with almost everybody at the Furama, there was a particular group of people I hung out with the most. The first was my roommate, Jessica (she prefers being called Jesi). Jesi comes from Oregon, and she recently turned 16 in the month of June. Her two classes are Life Drawing and Oil Painting. Second is Juka. Juka comes all the way from Japan (hell yeah!), and is also taking Life Drawing and Oil Painting. Third is Reina. Reina, like Juka, is also from Japan (sugoi!!!), and has been friends with Juka since the age of 3 (or was it 5?), so the two of them roomed together. Reina is in the same Life Drawing class as Juka, and is taking Photography as her area of interest. Last but not least is Emily, who is a crazy otaku in her own right. Emily lives about 3-4 hours away from me, but up in the northern area. Emi-chan is in Intermediate Drawing and is in the same Photography class as Rei-chan. So there ya’ have it! This is my posse! Just kidding...

Okay, going back to the subject, Furama residents get to hang out with each other everyday in the hallways or in each others’ hotel rooms. There’s always going to be noise. What can I say, it’s just.... FUN, dammit! ^_^’ Also, during certain days of the week and weekends, the R.A.s plan trips to art museums, shopping districts, food outings, theme parks, etc. You would not be able to do this if you lived outside the Furama. Despite the fact you usually spend most of your day hanging around this one area, you still have a lot of fun in the end.

And right now, I know I’m wandering off again. It’s so hard to stay to one point because it always leads to another point, and then another. Words cannot even begin to describe how much fun I had in this program. I met a whole bunch of new faces, and came to be good friends with them in the end. Since this is a one month program, the very last day of class is actually the day of the final showcase, where friends and family are invited to see the best in all the students’ work. This was a happy, yet, depressing day because it marked the end of something no one would ever forget for the rest of their lives. I spent 9-12 Friday morning setting up for show and touching up some of my pictures. From 1-2, I went downstairs to the 5th floor where I had to quickly assemble my display for Toy Design.

When 2 p.m. hit, the campus was loaded with crowds of people who were excited to see student work. I took the time to wander around all the floors, examining some really creative displays that people from sculpture, architecture, oil painting, digital media, graphic design, animation, fashion design, illustration, life drawing, basic drawing, intermediate drawing, and video had to offer. At 4 p.m. sharp, students came back to their exhibits and began taking their displays down one by one. I think some of the teachers were a little disappointed to see that. This is the official end of Summer of Art. My eye caught a couple people who were crying because they didn’t want it to end. I felt the same way, but I didn’t cry there. I cried back at the hotel, and here’s why:

Just the day before (Thursday), Jesi checked out of the room to go stay with her parents over at an Embassy Suites by LAX Airport. I had to say bye to her a day early, which pretty much sucked. That same night, Emily came and stayed in my room, so all was not a total loss. And now on Friday, everyone that I knew was leaving to go back home. Juka and Reina were leaving, Emily was leaving, everyone I knew from Toy Design was leaving Friday. My face went pale. My hotel room was getting empty. Hell, even I was packing my stuff away to go home. As I said bye to Juka and Reina, I couldn’t help but let the tears flow to my eyes. Down the hall, a whole bunch of hotel room doors laid open, revealing an empty interior that was once covered with art supplies and junk.

So they left, going on their way to stay somewhere else in LA just for another night before hitching their ride on Japan Airlines the very next day. Soon after, Emily was ready to leave too, as was I. We said our goodbyes as well, and my eyes watered yet again. I REALLY REALLY REALLY didn’t want to leave. I REALLY REALLY REALLY didn’t want to see all my friends leave either. I was just getting to know them too... And to think this entire thing was one month?!? It’s ludicrous! One month passed by way too fast! The program should’ve been extended by a week or two, seriously! But it was over, much to my dismay. My mom drove me back home, and I barely said a word because I was so depressed. On the contrary, I have to deal with it because I knew that I had a great time. This experience was worth everything in the world, even my obsession with anime and manga, or Japanese culture. If I could do it again, I would not hesitate for a moment to go one more time. I truly would not let that opportunity go to waste. I almost did too, at the very beginning because I was so nervous. But now, I’m glad I went through it. I’ve seen my art skills soar here, and I’ve also witnessed my mentality maturing over these past 30 days.

Overall, it was clearly THE BEST thing I have ever done in my life these last 15 years. I most certainly do not regret one moment of it because there was never any regret at all. When you’re at Summer of Art, you practically forget you even had a home to begin with. This was your HOME.

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