Watch Me Work: CCS Faculty in Action

fac·ul·ty /fakəltē/: from the Latin facere, to make or to do

When we talk about faculty, we talk about a collective of people, who have an aptitude or talent, who teach what they know to others. CCS faculty are particularly skilled at this. Hailing from all over the country and the world, across thirteen disciplines, they boast some of the most accomplished resumes in art and design. They know a lot and love to share.

Those who can’t do may very well teach, but not at CCS. True to the word’s origins, our faculty create, problem-solve and collaborate, and then guide hundreds of talented students in how to figure out and use their own creative voices.

Watch Me Work celebrates making: the craft at the core of creative practice. Every month, we’ll take you into the studios, offices, back rooms and workshops of CCS faculty members to show you what they do and offer some insight into how and why they do it. And if you want to spend the next four years working with, and learning from, this group of elite art and design practitioners, let us know and we’ll help you make it happen.

A Love Story: Alison Wong

“Curate” is a word we hear a lot in art and digital spaces, but what does it really mean? How do curators fit into the landscape of art practices? “Part of my role as a curator is identifying artists, working with them to learn more about their work and help make selections of pieces to put together in an exhibition,” says CCS Art Practice Instructor Alison Wong who, in addition to being a studio artist, is also Director and Curator at Wasserman Projects in Detroit’s Eastern Market.

“Whether working with a single artist or a group of 30 artists, I am considering each of those pieces,” Wong adds, “Their aesthetic qualities. Their conceptual framework. How they work together and have a relationship and a dialogue with one another within a single exhibition.”

Educators in CCS’ Fine Arts department have spent a lot of time pondering these kinds of questions. In Fall 2020, the department changed its name to Art Practice in order to reflect a larger and more contemporary concern for all the ways, including curation, artists can practice what they do. Not all fine artists become painters or sculptors or printmakers. Some become arts administrators or writers, educators or creative entrepreneurs.

Some artists, like Wong, create within a whole universe of fields, combining their chosen discipline with one or more additional pursuits in the arts.

Wong began studying art at an early age and maintains an active studio practice as a painter. Working mostly in oils, she focuses on representational imagery that conveys personal memories and relationships with people who are meaningful to her.

“It’s all really much about a love story,” she explains. “I always knew that I would study painting because painting allowed me this freedom to create anything from scratch. Being able to pick and choose different elements that I want to represent but collaging them together, essentially, in a composition that doesn't exist in reality as we know it.”

That quality — of juxtaposing disparate elements to create a much more elaborate and deeper narrative — is at the heart of her teaching and curatorial work, too, which ultimately seek to build connections where none existed.

“One of the joys of my job is doing studio visits,” Wong says, “and getting to know not just each of the pieces that we’ll put in exhibitions, that we get to develop and produce together, but also getting to know the person behind the work. Some of my most long-lasting and beautiful friendships have come out of the artists that I’ve exhibited here at Wasserman Projects.”

At CCS, Wong teaches “Introduction to Painting” and “Professional Practice for Artists,” a class that educates students about professional paths, skill-building and how to sustain their working lives as artists — from financial management to PR and marketing. “It’s so surprising that, for artists, it’s not simply being a master at the fields you’re studying and knowing the materials that you work with. There’s so much more that goes into managing a career in the arts,” says Wong.

In 2009, at the height of the recession, Wong was searching for ways to develop her own career. While looking among vacant storefronts for studio space she found what would instead become Butter Projects, an artist-run gallery space in Royal Oak, Michigan. “I very quickly realized that it wasn’t just a studio space that I wanted, and that’s how hugely integrated my studio and curatorial practices are intertwined. I wanted a space where I could not only make work but promote others and create a community and a dialog around it.”

It’s a recurring theme in what feels less like three distinct art practices and more like one multidisciplinary, evolving practice — the mark of an artist and educator with deep commitments to community, making and mentorship.

“Artists and creatives are vital to a healthy community. Art gives us a unique window to see from a perspective other than our own.” And, Wong notes: “What motivates me is knowing that I’m carving out some opportunity, some possibility, for artists to realize something that might not otherwise be possible. To have a really meaningful experience with an arts institution, with an audience that cares. To be able to do that is one of the most rewarding things I can think of.”

Popular representations of art and artists — from movies to social media — often position inspiration as the foundation of artistic practice. We rarely get to see the time it takes, the process of making, because artists don’t really think about what they do: they stand before a blank canvas, paint brush at the ready, or sit at a potter’s wheel, hands covered in wet clay, and wait for something dope to hit them from out of the blue. The real story, like that of Ebitenyefa Baralaye, is more complicated but also more liberating. Exploration is key, but so are observation and study. “One of my favorite parts of the creative process is the ideation that’s involved,” Baralaye explains, “so, the time and space that I give myself to come up with ideas. That research involves reading books, staying abreast of what’s happening, what the conversation is in the ceramics community and in the arts world overall.”

Assistant Professor of Crafts and Section Head of Ceramics, Baralaye has been making art since he was a child. Early on, he loved to draw and devoured books his father bought him in order to copy the work of famous artists. Later, he was fascinated by how to create art that could engage with space the way people do, so he studied sculpting in his high school AP art class.

“I spent a lot of time working with clay from that point on, and it really launched me into this fascination with the material and with the media, working figuratively, working abstractly, taking clay home, and making a mess of my dining room table,” he says, laughing. “At a certain point it dawned on me, ‘I think I want to make a life of this.’”

And he did, at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he first studied furniture design then switched to ceramics. “I was taking elective classes in ceramics and really felt like there was more I wanted to do with the medium — there were things I wanted to explore about building and creating in clay. I switched from furniture after a semester, and I’ve been a ceramicist ever since.”

An artist, sculptor and ceramicist who works in clay, fiber and wood as well as synthetic materials like plastic and resin, Baralaye will sometimes create a digital model of an artwork, then a physical model, before realizing the full object. “I spend a lot of time looking at things and, for me, there’s a really rich intimacy in the engagement that we have as human beings with clay. I’ll go through a number of stages before I create the thing itself. And I find that each step, each layer of the process informs the final result.”

This process — and Baralaye’s keen understanding of how an artist’s culture, identity and even socioeconomic status can influence their work — also informs his teaching at CCS. His courses recently included Major Studio, a class-oriented independent study in which juniors and seniors pursue their own projects, and Clay for the Wall, a class that asks students to rethink and push clay’s sculptural potential. Baralaye offers prompts and guidance meant to help students build foundational technical skills as well as a broader understanding of how to work with clay and how to develop their own conceptual ideas as artists. And, crucially, how to prepare for the art world, which includes the city itself.

“As an artist, you’re not necessarily going to leave this school as a ceramicist or in any one discipline and just do that thing,” Baralaye says. “A lot of [teaching] is giving students an understanding of what it means to be a practicing artist in the contemporary climate we have today. How do you take that understanding and adapt it to each student’s individual voice and interests?

“CCS offers a wide range of ways to address the material — if students want to incorporate metal elements or wood elements or glass elements in what they are doing, I invite that. And Detroit is really the right place to come and think creatively in an uninhibited way.”

For more on Ebitenyefa Baralaye’s work and recent shows, visit

When you enter the Prop & Costume room at CCS, it’s a bit like stepping from black and white into living color. On how many other art school campuses could you find a nineteenth-century scullery maid, a Jedi warrior, a prima ballerina and a medieval knight? (Answer: Very few.) From 70s-era roller skates, corsets and hard hats to a full-throttle Imperator Furiosa costume, if Shima Darby, the College’s Model Coordinator, doesn’t have the costume or prop a student desperately needs for their thesis project or photo shoot, she can probably still make it happen.

Starting with a couple of costume racks in 2017, she built the room’s assets from the ground up — by thrifting, shopping online, attending crafts and antique shows, you name it. Darby collects, curates, and often creates props and costumes, and this responsibility goes hand in hand with organizing more than 40 models for figure drawing and other courses. Her home department is Illustration, but the invaluable resources she offers are available to students and faculty across campus, particularly within the Fine Arts, Fashion Accessories Design, Entertainment Arts and Photography departments.

“There aren’t many art schools that have this type of resource available for students. I know of only one or two. So that puts CCS in the forefront — especially since students can use these items for free,” Darby explains.

“And that’s the thing,” she says, laughing, “they don’t have to pay anything to use the Chewbacca outfit as long as nothing happens to it! And nothing is, necessarily, too crazy: if a student wants a shoot involving an astronaut, the Prop & Costume room can definitely set up the actual costume, including helmet, and then secure a model. Students typically rely heavily on family members and friends, which is perfectly fine, but when they need someone to show a certain emotion or physicality, models are the ones professional enough to handle those requirements.”

Darby would know. Prior to joining CCS in 2017, she spent seven years as a full-time model (agency-represented and freelance) for Esquire, The Hundreds brand and many others, as well as countless hours posing for top figurative artists. For her job interview with CCS, she dressed from head to toe as Mary Poppins, complete with hat, bag and umbrella.

In short, Darby is good at this because she knows what it takes and commits — that, as well as a background in costume making for film, a passion for pulling together ingenious outfits and pro-level thrifting skills.

“My job entails understanding the needs of the instructor, the comfort-level and availability of our models, and then booking them based on the information that I get from each and every one of those individuals,” she says. “But I also really understand models and what they typically go through and what it’s like to be a freelance artist trying to make it in this world.”

We love the example of the single-minded artist at work, toiling away in the studio, perfection in sight. Not enough examples exist, however, of the artist who has drive without obsession, who is expansive in thought yet precise in practice, and who values the understanding that comes from the work. Darrin Brouhard is that kind of artist: he’s okay with a little imperfection on the journey toward something that is beautiful and useful.

“I talk to people sometimes, and they try to put it in grandiose terms, but I’m more humorous about the world. It’s not this ongoing internal monologue. I like making stuff and I keep doing it,” Brouhard says. “What is the saying? ‘Perfect is the enemy of the good.’ I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I just want to make a really good wheel.”

Brouhard teaches handbags and small leather goods in the Fashion Accessories Design (FAD) program. He is also a pattern and sample maker of fine leather goods for Shinola and a designer of his own rugged yet modern messenger bags, totes and duffels. They are all beautifully crafted and built to last — benefitting from his CCS education, a lifetime of sewing, as well as experience up and down the scale of production from the first cut to the finished product. He’s just not precious about it. 

“For a lot of people, the thing that they’ve made becomes a precious object to them, and they don’t even want to sell it,” Brouhard says. “For me, it’s all about figuring out how to make it — a new pocket structure, a new zipper construction — and once you do that, figuring out how to make it better.”

He offers this ethic to his students in FAD, a young program that nevertheless provides industry-level resources, a faculty of design practitioners and global relationships with enduring brands.  In every instance, Brouhard emphasizes practice. “When I teach, I go heavy on construction,” he explains. “A lot of design schools teach a lot of drawing but the big existential question that I’ll ask my students is, ‘How does this end? How does this zipper meet the bag?’ Having to struggle through the process of making something and destroying it, messing it up and not getting it right is important. Students become obsessed with getting everything perfect the first time. Part of the process is getting something wrong. Then you know how to get it right.”

Brouhard likens teaching to being in a think tank. “They research materials, and hardware and silhouettes and designers I’ve never heard of. It’s a huge world. And I generally have a very good knowledge of designers and brands, but every time I teach, someone shows me something that I haven’t seen.”

Because it’s not just about the one-way dissemination of information, Brouhard says. It’s about the exchange. And in that environment, anything — everything — becomes possible.

Blacksmith James Viste holds up a knife he’s made and notes that the blade, which appears razor thin to the naked eye, contains layer upon layer of welded steel. It is glorious. Sometimes a maker practices his craft so well that we immediately understand his work as “in the tradition” — part of a long and storied history yet somehow completely new. This is one of those times.

The full-time technician in CCS’ Crafts Department and an instructor in the Metalsmithing section, Viste first joined the College for Creative Studies two decades ago. And his enthusiasm is contagious: if you don’t leave his shop wanting to learn blacksmithing, check your pulse. It happened to him as an undergrad in Wisconsin. He intended to study painting — until he took a metals class. He never looked back, eventually completing his MFA at Cranbrook. You get the feeling that, for Viste, blacksmithing isn’t just a craft. It’s a calling.

“I enjoy all aspects of blacksmithing, really. I enjoy doing decorative iron. I enjoy restoration — discovering moments in time gone by, seeing things as I work on a historical piece,” he explains.

“I come back to the knife, though, for many reasons. It’s a great instructional form. I always say that knives are the jewelry of blacksmithing because they have the fine detail work; it’s not all just grunt work. But I also come back to the knife out of respect for how I started because my first teacher was a knife maker.”

That continuity from teacher to student is evident not only in Viste’s work but in the ethos of the Crafts Department where, he points out, the faculty are a spark. “And after that spark, students, among themselves, will start to build their own department. They become colleagues who may spend the rest of their lives working and talking to each other, sharing and building on each other’s ideas.”

The department rotates several blacksmithing courses, including contemporary and traditional decorative iron and toolmaking for students who want to make tools to use in their own craft. “A glass student might want to make their own glass jacks and shears,” says Viste, “or a wood student might want to make their own chisels.

“This class and all the classes are individual based. I emphasize that I’m here to help you produce what you are interested in.”

But every student makes the same start, according to Viste. “The taper and the scroll are the first things you learn in blacksmithing: how to draw a line and how to manipulate it.” Those techniques lead to everything else.

“People think it’s work,” he says, smiling, “but I could do this all day.”

Dave Chow is a walking advertisement for the possibilities of what you can learn at CCS, what you can do with those skills professionally, and how much fun it can be. An illustration instructor, a Communication Design alum (back when it was called Graphic Design) and the longest-running member of the Alumni Council — 30 years and counting — he loves CCS down to the bone.

“I had amazing instructors during my time at CCS,” Chow explains. “They gave freely of their time and, as far as I’m concerned, this is Karma. I’m just giving back. But I also enjoy doing it. I try to enjoy whatever I do, whether it’s teaching or drawing. I just try to enjoy life as much as possible.”

Chow brims with nervous energy; it’s a riot of smart observation, sly humor, trivia and off-beat enthusiasm. Think The Sugarcubes. Or, better yet, Pixies in their prime. But don’t get it twisted: he is a highly sought-after illustrator and designer for clients across diverse industries, including cars (the Big Three), non-profits, sports teams, big business, small business, Hollywood and even storyboards award-winning music videos for hip-hop artists Eminem and Obie Trice. And what does he want to do with all this experience? Share it, of course, and help students find their own artistic voices.

“I don’t have a preference as to medium or subject matter, but I make sure that whatever art they create is relevant to a market,” Chow says of his junior studio course. “Simply put, by the time students get done with my class, they can actually go into their senior year and craft a portfolio that will be ready for the job search.”

A proponent of practical education, Chow points out that the Illustration department at CCS has two great assets: a strong and active alumni pipeline (where the majority of his work comes from) and instructors who do what they teach. “I still work 40 to 60 hours minimum per week,” he says, “and I know a lot of my peers are doing the same thing. We work in the industry and students can see the immediate results of what we do” – like his storyboarding course where Chow often uses examples from real jobs as the basis for class assignments.

“In the last 15, 16 years of teaching,” he says, “there are probably about a dozen or so of my students storyboarding in Hollywood and all over the world, doing what I do. In a way, I’m kind of creating my own competition. But I’m also creating my own peer group as well, which helps. And they’re fun. They’re good kids.”

For her installation, “Nebulous,” Andromeda Schmidt imagined herself as an astronaut lost in space. There were pictures that this space traveler had drawn, remnants of a ship, a garbled transmission. What has happened in the scene is a matter of interpretation, a frame for infinite possibilities. “I see myself as a ‘world’ creator: I like to make a drawing that’s a planet or an alien life form,” says Schmidt, an instructor in CCS’s Foundation program. “The art that I make isn’t necessarily abstract or fictional. It could be real in an alternate dimension or in another reality. It’s just something that we don’t know.”

We are all seekers of patterns. It’s a feature of the human condition. Andromeda Schmidt, a sculptor who works in multiple media, is comfortable with the unknown, even as her hypnotic, hand-drawn images —  inspired by nature, space, alchemy and the occult — seek to know it.

Drawing a repetitive pattern allows Schmidt, to focus on the simple act of creation, and yet the drawings are anything but simple: an intricate wheel, inspired by astrological charts; a portal, the key to which might be hidden in the ancient runic alphabet that flanks it; black holes at the core of uncharted galaxies.

The only way out, the drawings beckon, is through.

“It’s about hidden information,” Schmidt says. “I use a lot of ancient languages, I’ve researched alchemy. I’m fascinated by ancient cultures and trying to bring ancient traditions to modern life. I also focus a lot on occult mythos — things involving ritual, I feel, create more of a feeling. I like the mystery of it: quantum physics, wormholes, time travel and black holes but also rocks and minerals. So there’s a macro/micro tension in my work that I’m still figuring out.”

A key part of that “figuring” — evolving her own creative practice — is teaching, which Schmidt describes as a two-way street that energizes her own work and that of her students. Schmidt teaches 3D Concepts, 3D Techniques and 2D Design in the Foundation program, which is what it sounds like: the core skills of drawing, design concepts, digital fundamentals, and materials and processes that CCS students rely on as they develop as artists.

“Foundation is the beginning of your art career and gives you a taste for different mediums and kinds of art. It lets you determine what you want to do,” Schmidt explains. “Give every type of art a shot and see what you like the most. I’m in sculpture, but I draw mostly. I still consider myself a sculptor, though. You can make sculptural drawing. You can make installations. Don’t be afraid to be interdisciplinary. Everything is art.”

When Stephen Schock talks design, his speech becomes staccato: each sentence is an excited declaration, punctuating his thoughts on the importance of process and the two-way street that is teaching. It would be easy for you to make the leap that it’s all made up, spur of the moment. But you would, of course, be wrong. He’s done the hours. And every designer will tell you that it takes a lot of preparation, a lot of experimenting and pushing boundaries, to make dedication look easy.

An award-winning product designer and educator, Schock, an associate professor, is an advocate for the value and influence of good design. “A design education, creativity, innovation — all of these things are really necessary in the world,” he says, explaining why he teaches. “If I can spark that in young people, or anyone, that drives me as a teacher.”

Last summer, Schock taught a pre-college seminar on accessories design to high school juniors and seniors. The goal was for students to learn the design process and how to deploy it to make functional objects.

“I want them to know how to be inspired and use that inspiration to drive their process, to be creative.” he explains. “We’re creating physical objects, working with leather. We’re making things — tangible stuff — watchbands, bags, wallets. These are things they can use; it’s not just for their portfolios.”

Schock is a champion of the College and its mission, a line that can be traced back to his own experience as a student. “I’m an alum. CCS changed my life,” he says. “It helped me see things I never thought I could see and do things I never thought I could do. I want to pass that to the next generation of designers. I want them to see the world as more meaningful and beautiful, to experience its depth and richness.”

His own designs have a rhythm and range that’s pretty impressive. Co-founder of Detroit Relic, Dlab and Detroit Boots, Schock has made everything from desktop lamps using recycled pistons to furniture, footwear and a 66cc bicycle inspired by early 20th-century board track racers. In 2015, he co-designed the Metafora system, an award-winning healthcare concept for reducing delays in patient care and improving patient transport and tracking in hospitals.

“Really, as a designer, you can do anything,” says Schock. “I’m a master of design process, whether that’s a digital interface or a physical object, a bicycle or a piece of furniture. It’s all design. When you know how to design something you can design anything.”

Whatever you were thinking about doing today, let that go. Head over to the print studio with Tyanna Buie and learn a thing or two. Even if you’re majoring in something else. Even if you don’t know what printmaking is or how to do it.

You’re welcome.

“The thing I want people to know about printmaking is that you’ve done it — you just don’t know you’ve done it,” says Buie, a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors grant.

“I remember being little and drawing on my finger with an ink pen and stamping it on a piece of paper. That’s printmaking. Tracking up your mother’s house with snow or muddy footprints. You’re making prints all the time, every day. The question is: how do you harness it and make it work for your creative practice and research?”

Buie joined CCS in 2015, and the place hasn’t been the same since. Her enthusiasm is infectious. But then teaching, Buie asserts, is natural when it’s something you’re excited about. It also is what one artist does for another — in order to pass on skills and techniques, sure, but also to become better.

“Teaching helps push me as an artist. I think to myself, 'I should try that more often!'” Buie says, laughing. “Also, I had so many mentors and professors who helped me, and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m interested in obtaining knowledge and giving it back and getting ready for the next generation of artists.

With one of the best printmaking facilities in the country, CCS is a good place to move beyond promises and walk that walk. Just ask Buie. In the years since she began printmaking, her powerful and deeply personal mixed-media artwork has taken her to art schools and galleries across the country exhibiting, teaching workshops and lecturing.

“CCS has everything, which is one of the reasons I came here to teach,” Buie explains. “We have letterpress, and a lot of schools don’t have that. We have relief, which is woodcarving; we have intaglio, which is etching; we have copper, and a lot of schools aren’t set up for that. We have, of course, silkscreen and lithography. Lithography is one of the oldest forms of printmaking. It’s a little archaic, and people are naturally intimidated by litho. But we have it.”

Part of why Buie does what she does is that making prints can be labor intensive, and engaging with a process physically helps build a good work ethic. But it also helps young artists and designers think holistically about their own work. The process that creates a print —making an image from scratch with innovative, quick-on-your-feet problem solving — can be useful to anything else you’re doing.

“‘You’re going to be next, I tell my students.’ That’s exciting to be working in your field with people you know are the future.”

Pei-Jung “PJ” Chen can pinpoint the exact moment it happened. She was studying graphic design in college and had decided to take an entry-level jewelry design class. “One day, the professor showed us how to melt metal,” recalls Chen, an instructor in the Metalsmithing and Jewelry Design section of the Crafts program. “This material can be recycled and reused and is so forgiving. In that moment, I fell in love with jewelry.”

There are a lot of similar stories among artists and designers: the creative epiphany that divides time into before this and after this.

But for Chen, metal is no mere material. It is a way of communicating, of exploring the human impulse — what it means to be who we are, in all of this, together. So it’s not surprising that her jewelry and eyewear designs are informed less by the sculptors she admires and more by Buddhism. While Chen has a successful freelance career doing commercial work and custom jewelry commissions, her personal projects are about listening to the stories human nature tells.

“A lot of Buddhist philosophy teaches me to be a better person,” says Chen. “That has become the main core of my art. My master’s thesis was all about human nature: why it goes a certain way and how we can make ourselves better people for society.”

One pair of art eyeglasses — the first she ever created — is a glorious union of hand-engraved brass and rosewood. It features only one lens, etched with a target sight. Chen explains that sometimes we’re so focused on our own perceptions that we fail to see others accurately.

The eyeglasses are a fitting metaphor for the key problem of being human, which also happens to be the key problem of design: how to understand and be understood in return. It’s why she loves jewelry design, which she says speaks for her even when she isn’t present.

It’s also why she loves teaching even more.

“If you assign a project to a room of 15 students, you might come up with 15, 30 or hundreds of solutions,” explains Chen. “And that’s really fascinating. Being human is complex, but we’re always looking for the simple life, for the solution.”

“I guess it’s because the animator has to be the actor,” says CCS Assistant Professor and Director of Animation Melissa McCann. “And you play a lot of roles that you wouldn’t normally be placed into. Sometimes I’m a kid. Sometimes I’m a dog. Sometimes, I’m Rick and Morty. You get to jump into different skins, and you also get to empathize with those characters.”

The chance to explore the range of human experience is a large part of what drew McCann, a former sociology major, to animation. When she discovered that she could take that journey at the College for Creative Studies, McCann — who is also a CCS alumna — was sold. “I was always attracted to why people think the way they do or what influences them. So it seemed natural for me to go into character animation. I was drawing all the time in my sociology class, and it just got to this point where I asked myself, ‘Why am I here? Why am I not doing what I love?’

“As soon as I visited the CCS campus, I was just in love. And I was ecstatic to find out that I could do animation in Michigan. As far as I knew, you had to go to LA to do that. I wasn’t just the weird kid who liked animé or old-school Batman cartoons.”

McCann graduated at the height of the Great Recession, when design work was “pretty dry”. As a result, she founded Eat Rice Studio and makes clear that there’s a kind of cross-pollination that happens between her animation and design work and her teaching. When business started gaining traction, and she began teaching at the College, she realized that she could extend her classroom to the real world — a key aspect of a CCS education.

“I realized how talented our students are. So, sometimes, when I got inquiries from people about doing full productions, I thought, ‘If someone needs an entire piece for an ad or a short or whatever it might be, I have the resources to be able to hire alumni or current students to assist on entire productions.’”

Eat Rice Studio produces digital character and hand-drawn animation for a number of production outfits, like Detroit’s Gunner, First Fight and Yeah Haus. The studio also creates website design, print, promotional campaigns, social media and more.

And McCann’s independent work has helped her to develop and formalize a hands-on teaching style.

“As a freelancer I have to wear a lot of different hats. When you’re working in a studio you might doing one specific job. At CCS, I teach a lot of the pre-production and production classes and, of course, traditional animation, which is character animation. I teach freshman classes to get the students started off right and thinking about how to develop, write and pitch stories. I also work with juniors and seniors on all of those aspects of the craft, too.”

The best part of working at, and sharing, an art form she loves? “Seeing students have their ‘Aha!’ moments, when they’re trying to work through something,” McCann says. “You can explain things over and over, but they have to have to experience it for themselves. They have to practice the work to understand. And the bonus is that they teach me a lot. So I’m always learning something new or seeing something new.”

The choice between art and commerce is a classic, but false, dilemma: today’s working artists understand that you can do what you love and handle your business. CCS alumna and photography instructor Jenny Risher (’97, Photography) knows this well. It is her passion and her gift. 

“I think what I love most about photography is the excitement and wonder of it. You never know what you’re going to get,” says Risher. “You can have everything planned out, and the art director can have an incredible vision. But when you get on set, if something doesn’t happen right — if the model isn’t working or the backgrounds aren’t working — then, as a photographer, you have the ability to change all that. So, for me, it’s exciting because you never know what you’re going to get. It’s constantly a new day.”

What Risher is getting at is the unpredictability of the photographic enterprise — trying to capture a single moment in time. But she’s also giving a nod to the power of the artist’s vision to shape (or reshape) a narrative in order to create compelling art or a successful ad or editorial that pops. “There’s always an element of surprise wrapped in the art of making pictures that is unique to photography,” she says. “With each shutter click, you have the ability to change the direction completely.”

Risher’s career is evidence of her agility as a photographer. Sought after for her commercial work by ad agencies, magazines, business and television, she is also a portraitist whose poetic series “D-Cyphered” — featuring Detroit’s hip-hop artists, DJs, producers and promoters — was the focus of a groundbreaking exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts and whose 2012 book, Heart Soul Detroit, features stunning images of 50 influential and iconic Detroiters from Smokey Robinson and Jack White to Elmore Leonard, Iggy Pop, Martha Reeves and Eminem.

How to navigate this bridge between pursuing a creative vision and running a business is also a key part of her fashion narrative course. “It’s really hands-on, which is exciting because it’s everything I would want as a student,” she explains. “They’re working with real fashion models, real working stylists in the industry and real hair and make-up artists. So all they have to do is focus on their vision and their picture. I do that for the first three shoots and after that we work on a magazine.

“But I also teach them what they should know as a photographer. You’re a small business so, how to save money for taxes, what the going rates are. We have guest speakers come in so they can hear from photography reps and how to get out there and market themselves. We do logo design, too, so as soon as they leave the class they have a working logo. They have letterhead. They have marketing material. They know how to make videos. I want to prepare them the best I can for what they’re going to confront when they graduate. 

“Photography, for me, is the perfect marriage of art and commerce. It’s getting to do what I love and being able to make a living at it.” 

Shoemaking may be one of the few crafts in which the language is as evocative as the work it describes. Pattern and last, welt and sole. In the beginning is the idea that then takes form in leather. As a maker of beautiful shoes and boots, Cinthia Montague understands her craft’s rewards — not just the end result, which is beautiful, but the process and what it teaches.

“I believe that in life we’re always striving to grow and become a better version of ourselves,” Montague says. “As a teacher, you’re helping others grow and become the person they want to be. I enjoy seeing students develop skills and a style — seeing them grow as designers and as people. With shoemaking, it’s a constant learning process. There are so many styles and constructions and techniques. You could be making shoes your whole life and still be learning. And I’m always learning from my students. They’re always finding new ways to do what you’re teaching them.”

An instructor in CCS’s Fashion Accessories Design program (FAD), Montague didn’t have formal instruction. Having learned to sew as a child, she built first furniture then shoes and honed her craft by working at a shoe repair shop in Flint. That gig led her to co-found Sutorial, a company that crafts leather boots and shoes by hand. Now this maker and teacher runs her own burgeoning business, so she gets the significance — and relative rarity — of a program like FAD.

“There aren’t very many shoemaking schools in general, especially at colleges,” Montague explains. “If a student is interested in designing as a career, accessories would be a great place to start because there aren’t a lot of people who are studying accessories design and not a lot of colleges that offer it.”

Handcrafted isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a movement that encourages consumers to know where products come from and how they are made. It’s also a movement away from fast fashion, disposable goods and the cult of the temporary. And Montague likes being a part of it.

“I have the most fun when I’m actually building the shoe, when I’m lasting it and sewing the welt on by hand. That’s a skill that takes a long time to develop. Hand-welted shoes are unique in that they are completely sewn together. The upper is sewn to the insole as well as the welt, which is sewn to the sole. Once your soles wear out, you can replace them. They’re made so that, if you take good care of them, they could last your lifetime.”

Before anyone has even asked him a question, Assistant Professor Cleber Vieira is already pondering possibilities. “One of the things we try to design is the future,” he says of transportation designers. Perhaps it’s his inner philosopher who aspires to know more and understand better, who asks questions about the world and what makes it go. Call it the design equivalent of ‘Who are we?’ and ‘Why are we here?’

An automotive designer and a teacher, Vieira seeks inspiration, helps students find it for themselves and translates that into something beautiful and useful.

He explains that inspiration can come from anyone, anywhere. “I try to inspire myself all the time by, for example, walking differently to my job. You will probably see a lot of things that you’re not used to seeing. Everything can potentially change your life. I left Brazil to travel the world. You realize that it’s not a matter of prejudices — bad or good, better or worse. It’s a matter of differences. In another country, a person makes the same thing as you but in a different way. Knowing that makes you think differently, sketch differently, create differently.”

That sense of openness is key to good design, according to Vieira, who studied advertising, earning a bachelor’s degree in design and visual communication. Afterward, he earned another degree in industrial design. What changed his mind? “I love to create things with my hands,” he says. General Motors in São Paulo, Brazil, offered Vieira an internship in his last year of college. “My portfolio was products — hair dryers, chairs, but not one vehicle. I spent a whole year working as a design intern at GM in Brazil. It was really hard. But at the end, I thought, ‘I can’t be far away from this.’ I was amazed. You know that feeling when you’re a kid? I always try to pursue that in my career. I always try to be amazed by something, doesn’t matter where.”

Vieira went on to design both interiors and exteriors for automotive brands — including Mitsubishi, Volkswagen, FCA and GM — in South America, Europe, Asia and the United States. “The field is changing. Now that we have autonomous vehicles, you have to expect the unexpected. You are either a designer or you’re not a designer. The complexity is what sometimes distinguishes a product designer and a transportation designer, but at the end of the day, we are all designers.”

It’s an outlook that quite literally has defined Vieira’s career direction, but you get the feeling that it’s also how he approaches life — with optimism, enthusiasm and boundless curiosity. When he introduces his freshmen classes to exploring forms, they are not just learning to design cars; they are learning to think like designers.

“If you draw a sphere, then squeeze the lines, you will still have a sphere but in many different ways. The same thing with a rectangle or a square. Then try to combine them. It’s how design thinking works from the point of view of aesthetics. Transportation design is about how to make this beautiful thing work.”

You slide into the buttery leather seats of a new car. Your hand grazes the nubby upholstery of an on-trend, acid yellow sofa. Or maybe you’ve just been eyeballing a new pair of black kicks. If designer Kelly Slank has done her job right, you won’t even know she was there.

Color and materials designers used to be the unsung heroes of the design world. Give them a couch or a shoe, a car seat or stereo — any product we use, really — and their special brand of genius makes it sing with life: the color that attracts, yes, but also the pattern that completes a look, the finish that adds unmistakable vibrancy.

A graduate of Wayne State University and an instructor in CCS’s Color and Materials Design MFA program (C+M), Slank started out in interior design before working for global brand, Nike, General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

Now she runs Slank Design, a consultancy, and a large part of her work is trend forecasting: being able to predict future trends in color for her clients, from individuals to corporations. “What excites me about what I do is the way people respond to those elements,” she explains. “It’s the first thing that everybody sees when they look at a product and, for better or for worse, it’s the thing that everybody has an opinion about.”

Which is one of the reason’s Slank teaches at CCS in C+M, one of only a handful of such programs in the country. Color and materials in general and trend reporting in particular require, as she notes, being connected to youth culture. And teaching gives her that connection.

“It’s twofold,” Slank says. “I’m connected to that young creative energy that I love so much, and it’s a chance to give back. The other thing is, I know what it takes to work in a corporate environment, and I feel that’s too good not to share with someone who might need it.”

But don’t forget: I said they used to be unsung heroes.

Slank points out how, in the two-plus decades she’s been a designer, perspectives on the field have changed. Rather than adding color or finish or pattern or texture as the afterthought of a project, color and materials designers are finding that, more and more, their work is the first thing — catalysts of great design.

“So, rather than ‘Here’s a shoe, put a material on it,’ I see the reverse,” says Slank. “Now it’s often a materials designer presenting some great textile they’ve created and an industrial designer saying, ‘What can I do with this? What kind of product can I make with this?’”

You could walk a crooked line from the hijinks of Steamboat Willie — one of the first cartoons starring Mickey Mouse — to, say, the mayhem of Dragon Ball Z. But when was the last time you even saw an animated film from before World War II? Or before sound? Have you ever? Because Steve Stanchfield, assistant professor of animation and animation history, wants to make sure that when you decide to do a deep dive into the early days of animation, the films are there for you to find. His side gig: preserving animation history.

“These films are the stepping stones of what we do now,” says Stanchfield, who also runs Thunderbean Animation in Ann Arbor. “Often I tell students to go look at the really early 1930s films because those animators were learning lessons that the students are now trying to learn.”

Stanchfield’s recent restoration projects involve films produced in the 1930s and 40s, like the 1948 Alice in Wonderland, a film with both live action and animation made by puppet animator Lou Bunin, and the Flip the Frog cartoons made by the Ub Iwerks Studio. Ub Iwerks was the animator of Steamboat Willie and partnered with Walt Disney before striking out on his own. Stanchfield works with the original nitrate negatives and master positives. “All of that original material still exists,” he says, “and we’re doing everything we can to do preservation work on the material before it doesn’t exist.

“This isn’t about the money; the money’s only enough to be able to restore the next film. It’s because somebody has to do it. If we don’t now…” His voice trails off. “It was brought home to me after visiting UCLA and seeing what they can’t restore now. I thought, ‘Okay, I get it.’”

His passion for film restoration is palpable, as is his passion for helping students not only discover the connection between history and now but also find their own way. But that’s why CCS has such a successful animation program, Stanchfield emphasizes, because there is neither a “house” style nor an expectation of what you’re creating — just an expectation to create.

“I feel like the program is always experimental in that way because we never know what someone is going to produce,” Stanchfield says. “Rather than say, ‘Here are the perimeters,’ we say, ‘Here are some things that have existed before. Now what can you do with this? Where can you go now?’”

Watching Kim Harty in CCS’s glass studio is a little like the first time you saw a magician levitate someone or cut a person in half. You figure the fix is in, but you’re caught up in the game anyway. In the hot shop, Harty’s meditative gestures coax a small pyramid-shaped vessel from what had been a shapeless lump. The process is mesmerizing.

Magicians are entertainers; they deal in misdirection. Kim Harty’s alchemy definitely transforms the raw materials she interacts with. She’s just not trying to pull one over on you.

“Glass is a magical and seductive material,” says Harty, preparing for an upcoming show at Holding House in Detroit’s Corktown. “Working with glass hot is an endlessly challenging process. It’s almost like a living material that you’re constantly reacting to. The material has its own phenomena embedded within it, so you could, for example, have something that’s ten inches thick but it remains totally clear. It’s kind of amazing.”

So is Harty’s creative practice, which lives at the crossroads of sculpture, performance and installation. Her work is known for testing assumptions, the biggest of which may well be that glassblowing takes too long to learn to do well.

“Glass is difficult at first; learning glassblowing is like learning a language,” she explains. “So, for example, your first day of French class, it’s going to be really challenging to have a vocabulary to communicate with others. With CCS’s program, you get so much time in the studio and so many opportunities to take classes, you become proficient very, very quickly.”

And CCS is the place to learn glass, as it’s the only college degree-granting program in Michigan. Students begin working in the state-of-the-art hot and cold shops right away — a huge advantage over schools that may delay exposure until sophomore or junior year.

“I love teaching glass because you get to introduce students to the possibilities of this material. I’m really interested in expanding the potential of what can be done with glass,” says Harty. “And that may be that the glass isn’t just an object but it becomes an installation or a tool to create a light effect or a way to change space or change a viewer’s perception of a space.”

We try not to categorize people here. Perhaps it’s the art school way which, by definition, insists that artists and designers express themselves as fully as they can imagine regardless of medium or material. Thinking about the work and career of illustrator Francis Vallejo, however, one word that comes to mind is comics — from the kid in the back of his sixth-grade classroom dreaming of drawing comic books to the illustrator of Guerrières Celtes, whose heroes in the genre range from George Pratt to Jean Giraud, aka Moebius. Here’s another: literature. Vallejo is the illustrator of the award-winning 2016 book Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph.

And then there’s music. Assistant Professor of Illustration and native Detroiter, Vallejo says “Music is a big part of my life. From cooking to doing my thumbnails (sketches), everything has a soundtrack.” On the day Vallejo welcomes CCS to his home studio, something meditative is playing low in the background and, before the crew leaves that afternoon, he recommends an experimental LA hip-hop band who happen to be playing the following month at El Club, Detroit. “I’m often rapping under my breath while I’m painting and, when I’m done, I go shoot a few hoops.” Let’s go with: eclectic.

Vallejo’s focus is sharp, his manner is relaxed and his dedication to craft is real. But he doesn’t get so bogged down with labels. His CV is replete with commercial clients across industries on the one hand and art exhibitions on the other. “There’s not necessarily a line between fine art and commercial work,” he explains. “We’re trying to put lines on a surface to tell a story. Sometimes it’s personal and just for yourself and, other times, it’s for a client. But we’re always trying to communicate something.”

Toward the goal of communication, teaching plays a central role for Vallejo. “Teaching allows me to formalize a lot of my instincts intellectually and in a readily accessible form, because I can’t go into a class and tell my students, ‘Paint it good.’ I have to teach them how to paint it appropriately and communicate well. While that’s beneficial for the student, it’s also really beneficial for me.

“Teaching helps me listen to my own advice,” he continues. “The same way that I’m a voice on my students’ shoulders when they’re not doing their value studies appropriately, I’m a voice on my own shoulder. Helping others puts pressure on me to improve my own habits.”

It’s a balancing act, he suggests, but isn’t engaging with the world on a variety of fronts central to being an artist? Teaching, illustrating books, magazine work or drawing comics is part and parcel to the life of an illustrator. “We have all generations of illustration here, who run the gamut of experience,” Vallejo says about CCS.

“Stop on by. We’re best when you can see us in action, when you can come into a figure class or info day, when we’re getting excited talking about core shadows on a 30-hour pose.”

If Kikko Paradela weren’t an interaction designer and teacher, he’d be a cook. It’s the communal aspect: making something nourishing that you then share with others. “It’s hard to be a selfish cook,” he says. And that’s the idea around which everything else turns: how Paradela feels about being a designer, how he feels about being in the world.

Back when he was a student at CCS, Paradela spent his junior year at the Detroit Zen Center in Hamtramck. “Living at the Zen Center, I would wake up at 5:00 in the morning,” he remembers. “And you’ll hear the call to prayer from the mosque, and then at 7:00 you’ll hear the bells from the Catholic church. And then you’ll hear hip-hop from cars when people start going out and going to their jobs. That really influenced me in terms of how I think about design — both from where I stand and the environment where I’m being conditioned.”

That tension — music or cacophony, disagreement or consensus — is what happens when people from different points of view or cultures or faiths or races interact. It’s also what happens when design asks hard questions of itself and society. Aesthetics that go beyond good looks. That deep good.

“, the name of my website, is a reminder of my personal view and design approach,” he says. “It communicates the opposition that’s present in society’s norms — established truths — aesthetics and doctrines. My position is always to challenge that. In that sense, ‘Jesus’ is an interchangeable variable. It’s me reminding myself of what I should be doing in my design practice and in my personal life.”

Making those challenges involves a lot of self-initiated research, a key part of the design process — what Paradela calls the most sustainable way for designers to further skills and shape a practice. It’s something he learned, and now teaches, at CCS as part of his interaction and experience design courses.

But Paradela is not interested in research for its own sake. “Design has a very rich history of not just being for a product or a service. For me, teaching is to empower students. I like students to question me and turn the questions I ask back at me. That way I know that I’m constantly evolving to the place where I’m learning new things and they’re learning new things.

“To be a good designer, you have to stay open to different perspectives, even if those perspectives challenge your own ideas.” Paradela’s “Death by Police Ipsum” is a live database that collects information, broken down by race, age, gender and other factors, on the most recent police shootings. What this interactive project reveals about contemporary society is powerful.

“I’ve always been really involved with what’s happening around me, so politics is very natural in the approach and scope of work that I do in design,” says Paradela. “Lorem ipsum is mock text designers use to see how real text might look in books or on websites. I wanted to challenge designers to use text that might be meaningful to them outside of their own bubble.

“It takes courage for people to step out of their own comfort zones. There’s a lot of injustice around us and there aren’t that many people of color in design. So it’s a tool for me and for other designers to use. Lorem ipsum is text that you don’t pay a lot of attention to. Because of the text that’s being generated, though, maybe you’ll start paying attention.”