Saturday, October 20, 2007

Ringling College of Art and Design

It’s only a small step from the sophomore still life painting class, with its enticing linseed-oil aroma, to a balcony overlooking a palmetto-lined bayou, where manatees swim by from time to time. The Ringling College of Art and Design occupies a diverse group of Spanish-style buildings on its 35 acre campus in Sarasota, along the Gulf Coast of Florida. The school is still growing, actively acquiring new land, new degree programs and new students.

“We’re about destroying the myth of the starving artist,” college president Dr. Larry Thompson told me. Alumni polled a few years after graduation revealed that ninety percent were working in their field of interest. The school gives each student a fully loaded PowerMac Pro as they enter. According to Dr. Johnson, the two-to-one student to computer ratio rivals some of the top engineering schools. “Ringling is the MIT of colleges of art and design,” he said, reeling off a list of companies—Pixar, Lucasfilm, Dreamworks, American Greetings, and Electronic Arts—whose recruiters regularly lure away graduates.

Ringling offers a comprehensive program in computer animation and interactive game design, the latter using the latest CryENGINE 2 software tools. The new five-storey Ulla Searing Center is lined with framed posters from movies that Ringling graduates have worked on. Seniors in the animation department were hard at work in air-conditioned computer rooms refining their long-range assignments, which includes storyboarding, designing, sculpting, rigging, animating, and lighting their own short films.

But the school is not all high tech and corporate. Old-fashioned animation tables donated by the defunct Disney animation studios are still in use for teaching the traditional methods. The library has a huge collection of art books. I was impressed that when one of the librarians in Ringling’s library saw the listing of recommended art instruction books on this blog she got right to work tracking them down.

Department chairman Tom Casmer, himself an accomplished children’s book illustrator, supervises 400 students in the illustration major, almost a third of the 1200 member student body. “We focus on the basics of painting, drawing, and thinking,” he said. “We push drawing for the first two years of study.” At heart, he said, illustrators are storytellers, and “the narrative aspect permeates all majors.” He wants illustration majors to be “scholar-practitioners.” Art can’t just be an end in itself. It has to be founded on primary research, timeless ideas and clear communication.

I met the students one by one as I signed books for two and a half hours after my Dinotopia presentation and was struck with their friendliness, their intense focus and their enthusiasm for art. Most of them were carrying sketchbooks and doodling in them. Illustration senior Andrew Wright regularly paints en plein air with a group of his classmates and with teacher George Pratt.

Jeanette and I regretted having to take off so soon for the long nighttime drive across the state, because we knew we’d have to miss the opportunity to join the Ringling students for a painting session. But we were happy to think of all of our new friends working so hard in such a beautiful environment, with such bright prospects before them.


Anonymous said...

I was happy to be able to meet you, and glad you took your time to visit our school. Thank you so much for your presentation and for signing my book!

Anonymous said...

*sigh* Ringling was my first pick for college. I never even got a chance to apply because my blue-collar parents didn't want me to go to some "circus school." Instead I got a good, solid liberal arts education and a major in graphic design (the "reliable" field of art). I'm glad to see that Ringling would have been a good choice even though I didn't get to go there.

Erin McGuire said...

It was great getting to meet you, you drew me a T-rex with a lawn mower and I will treasure it. Thanks again for a great presentation, and good luck on the rest of your journey! :)

Unknown said...

Mr. Gurney,

A friend just introduced me to your blog, and I'm really enjoying it. It is great to have an illustrator of your caliber commenting on your processes as well as your tour of art schools. (As a RISD alum, I'll be curious to see what you think of Providence.)

I look forward to future posts, and again, thanks much for the opportunity to peak into your creative thinking.

--Richard Case

tlchang said...

What a great opportunity for illustration students! I ended up in an art related major in school by a rather sideways route (I was a computer science/statistics major for several years before switching to design) and always felt like I missed out on getting the full benefit of a complete art education. Descriptions like these make me want to go back to school!

Betsy Bauer said...

Mr. Gurney,

Thanks again for coming to see us here at Ringling! I'm a freshman Computer Animation student, and I just wanted to say that your lecture was very inspiring. While I won't be switching my major to illustration, you did have me envying my peers by the end of the presentation. ;)

Awesome work! Thank you for the dinosaur drawing in my book!