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10 Questions for our alumni
BreeAnn Veenstra, BFA, Studio Art (Illustration), 2009
1 - Why did you choose to attend Grand Valley?
When I first visited Grand Valley, I fell in love with the campus. It has proximity to the city, but it also embraces nature. The flowering trees are beautiful in the spring, the ravines are fun to explore, and the Calder Art Center is nestled on the edge of the woods. The professors I met on the tour were all very welcoming, and student and professor alike spoke highly of the arts program. Between a great program, scholarships, and a beautiful campus, I was sold.
2 - How or why did you choose your major or main emphasis area?
I'd been interested in pursuing a career in the arts since people started asking me what I wanted to be when I "grew up", which made the decision to get a BFA an easy one. As I went through the Foundation courses, it became clear that I enjoyed playing with narratives in my work and Illustration was the perfect fit for my emphasis.
3 - What advice do you have for future students thinking about colleges?
Go visit a few campuses with great programs, and don't be afraid to ask both current students and professors about their experiences there (including what they see as the good and the bad.) Even better if you're able to talk to people in the program you're considering. Their experiences can tell you a lot about the culture of a place and help you decide if it's the right one for you.
4 - What advice do you have for current students thinking about careers?
Be open to the possibilities! There are so many career options that you may not be thinking about or even know exist because they aren't mainstream and readily talked about. For example, when I started the illustration program I thought my choices were limited to children's book illustrator, editorial illustrator, fine artist (gallery work), or maybe concept artist. But here I am, running my own company with my illustrated goods in over 120 stores nationwide. I hadn't even considered that as a possibility in college!
5 - What did you do after graduating?
I graduated during the recession and was lucky to find any full-time job. But I was hired at a local print shop in the color and graphics department. None of it required illustration work, but the creative problem solving skills and graphic design & pre-press knowledge I learned from my courses helped me immensely. I also took on as much freelance illustration work I could and worked on those projects in the evenings and on weekends.
6 - What are you doing now?
I own and run my own business full-time, Wildship Studio, where I make illustrated goods for the wild at heart. I wear many hats to keep things running smoothly, doing everything from my own book-keeping, marketing, website maintenance, order fulfillment, customer service, and of course illustrating and designing new work.
7 - How have you used the skills you developed in your field of study in your life and/or career after GVSU?
I use the illustration techniques and approaches I learned from my time at GVSU every time I sit down to create new art. There's no denying those processes help me on a technical front, starting with brainstorming an idea all the way to finalizing it on paper. But I also find myself regularly utilizing more subtle skills that I honed at GVSU. Nearly every day requires some form of creative problem solving, and every course I took at GVSU helped me develop the capabilities to tackle those obstacles, both big and small. It wasn't until after graduating that I really realized and appreciated those skills.
8 - What is the best advice you got from an instructor at Grand Valley?
Every piece of art you create is just practice for the next one. Or in other words, it's okay to make mistakes because those mistakes teach you something that makes the next time a little easier (and better).
9 - What is your favorite memory of being a student at Grand Valley?
It's so hard to choose, but they almost all take place at Calder Arts Center where I essentially lived and breathed for 4.5 years. With it being nestled on the outskirts of campus and many art students working on projects there day and night, we developed a really close-knit community. Some of my favorite memories involve working alongside classmates on projects while watching horror movies on the classroom's projector. But my all-time favorite has to be when a group of us spent an entire night battling it out in Calder's dark hallways, humans vs zombies, with NERF-guns we had (of course) custom-painted in wild colors.
Anything else you would like to share with our Visual and Media Arts Community?
If you think you're at all interested in maybe one day running your own creative business, I'd recommend taking a few business classes. I didn't, and I've had to learn the aspects of running a business the long way by trial-and-error. It's certainly do-able, but sometimes I wonder if taking a business class or two would have saved me in some difficult situations.
Also, don't be afraid to reach out to other established artists and creatives you admire and ask them about their career, etc. Just be specific with your questions as you'll be more likely to get a reply. They may not always have the time to respond, but it's a great way to get further insight on creative careers and lifestyles.
Image credits: BreeAnn Veenstra. You can follow BreeAnn on Instagram at @wildshipstudio, like her business page on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/wildship, and check out the Wildship Studio site at https://www.wildship.com.
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