By Day By Night, Emily Russell
By Day By Night is an interview series that profiles graphic design tutors from design schools throughout New Zealand. We learn about their role as a teacher and their own personal design practice.
Today we hear from Emily Russell who works at Wintec, School of Media Arts in Hamilton.
What is your official title?
I’m a Design Tutor at Wintec School of Media Arts.
What does a typical day at WINTEC look like for you?
At the moment it’s full on, but I do love it that way! Wintec School of Media Arts fosters creative connections across disciplines and industry, and I love being part of that. It’s been a busy semester working with our Year one designers and I have enjoyed watching the relationships between them and their peers grow while achieving their goals. A typical day would go a bit like this: I usually listen to a podcast on my walk into work (I’m getting through The Design Files podcasts at the moment); mornings are for responding to emails, organising lesson plans, marking assignments, and checking in with students about their projects. In the afternoons you’ll find me in the studio learning space, facilitating class discussions, demoing software, engaged in critiques and learner-centred activities that develop and guide our future creatives. We never miss a morning coffee break for conversations with fellow tutors and students over a hot brew.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your career path, and how you got into teaching?
I started a Bachelor of Fine Arts, then crossed over to the design realm to complete my degree. After completing my honours degree in 2010, I began teaching alongside my own practice of work and realised that this was where I felt I needed to be, helping others to achieve their aspirations.
In 2009, I launched a community publication in Kirikiriroa, Hamilton called RIFF RAFF that launched issues locally and internationally. I became the editor and designer, distributing the publication for 5 years, being published biannually. RIFF RAFF celebrated the success of those who were achieving their creative endeavours and helped to enable visibility for arts practices. Looking back at this project now, I feel glad to have captured this moment in time, and value the relationships that came from the collaboration.
A pivotal moment in my career would be working with Alan Deare at Area Design; this was where I further developed my passion for publication design and typography. Alan was a huge influence on me and I admire his dedication to the craft. It was great to get to know the ins and outs in a design studio.
Over time, I realised that I am a people person and that helping others is one of my favourite parts about role I am in.
Outside of work hours what creative projects and/or research are you involved with?
At the moment, outside of work hours you will find me renovating our first home (I now have such an appreciation for people who paint houses for a living!), sewing my own clothes and illustrating homes. I’m a bit of a doer and often get told to ‘slow down’ but I do like to keep busy in a tactile way, which I find cathartic. At the moment I am creating some promotional material for my husband, Tim Carter’s exhibition in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and illustrating a custom artwork.
What are you currently exploring in your design practice right now?
Currently, my work consists of creating custom works from architecture that resonates with the viewer/audience. When Illustrating architectural buildings, I’m intrigued by the memories these works create for people and the unique connection they form with them.
How does your personal practice feed into your role as an educator?
Understanding how the design industry works is imperative to ensure our teaching is in tune with what our students need to be industry-ready. My personal practice allows me to provide design knowledge by using real-life examples – this always helps students see the relevance in what we are teaching. Our design team often share and have discussions about our creative experiences and model different practices of work.
What are you inspired by, and how do you keep the momentum for your personal work alive?
I’m inspired in so many different ways as a creative! My go-to for inspiration is to travel, to explore new places, experience new cultures and by meeting new creatives. I have recently spent the past 5 years living in London where I have met many incredible people. On my second day in London I went to the Tate Modern to see Gerhard Richter’s paintings – I couldn’t believe the enormity of the works! While travelling, I also documented places I had visited by illustrating meaningful moments. Our students constantly inspire me too – sometimes I wish I had the time for some of the fun projects they are doing! Being creative does come in waves for me (as I’m sure it does for many others). I think it’s important to realise that being creative in your own projects can be intuitive. For me, having the space to enjoy other outlets keeps the momentum going in my personal work.
How do you balance these two roles (educator and practitioner)? Are there any particular benefits and/or challenges?
Balancing my two roles can be challenging at times, mainly because I feel that there are not enough hours in a day! A huge benefit for me in my educator role is that I’m around people who are like-minded to share that excitement with, they get it and I find that helps me make sense of it. A lot of my own personal work can be quite isolating. So, working with others at Wintec is a good combination for me.
What are the best bits about working at Wintec?
There are so many BEST bits about working at Wintec that it’s hard to know where to start! Being in a learning environment with a constant hum of students working on assignments is lots of fun, we share a heap of time together and we’re always learning so much from each other.
I work with an incredibly talented team of creative professionals who are passionate about what they do. Our team is a like one big family. Currently, I have the pleasure of co-teaching with my inspiring colleague Aida in Craft 1 – It’s been a fun way to teach and the students enjoy getting our perspectives. We have formed a partnership that strives to empower, educate, intrigue and inspire our future creatives. We want the absolute best for our students, which means we can be rather meticulous at times (you’ll know what I mean, year one’s) but that’s because we care and want them to design their best work! We love supporting them along their learning journey.
What advice do you have for students emerging into industry this year?
Design a life that you like living. This might take some figuring out but if you create regular routines and uncover your own uniqueness, this will hopefully attract the work that you want to be doing. Know your worth and realise that you have some amazing skills (I found this a hard one to realise – not everyone can do what you do!). And lastly, make sure you love and look after yourself.
What are a few top resources that you might recommend to a new design educator?
Ooh yes, I have a few – a resource that we use in class to make learning fun (and slightly competitive, especially when there’s a chocolate bar up for grabs) is Kahoot Q&A – It’s an online site that lets you curate questions (we relate these to our teaching topics) and play together as class; it’s great to consolidate our learning and help work out areas that we need to recap on. Also, Trello Boards! These have been a game-changer. A great online resource for students to record and communicate their development for their projects. I also don’t know where I would be without post-it notes!
And, finally, where can we see more of your own work?
I have my own illustration business that keeps me busy in my home studio on my non-teaching days. To see my work, go to: www.emilyjanerussell.com