Get Inspiration from Anywhere

How to succeed in design by trying really hard

Written by Sarah Ostler Hill

[image lightbox=”true” desc=”Photo by Nathalie Van Empel”]/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Linda_full.jpg[/image]

Through high school, Linda Reynolds took some basic art classes, like ceramics, painting and drawing. But one day, in her senior year, she came across a magazine on her art teacher’s desk that changed her life.

“I asked what it was, and he said it was called Communication Arts,” Reynolds remembers, a smile in her voice. “I’d never seen anything like it. As I turned the pages, I didn’t know what, exactly, it was, but I knew from that moment this was something I wanted to pursue.”

Today Reynolds, after years of professional and professorial work, serves as the Chair for the Department of Visual Arts (DVA) at BYU. Her voice breaks with gratitude as she speaks of the faculty whom she serves.

“It’s probably not very cool to say it, but I love being Chair,” she admits. “I love helping the students and faculty who come to my office every day. I love helping them be successful.”

Coming to BYU

Reynolds knows what it’s like to need a mentor. When she began her studies in graphic design, she had such an overwhelming insecurity with her work, that she even changed her major to special education. She never lost that initial pull to the arts, however, and returned to her design studies a year later. After completing her undergraduate degree, she worked as a graphic designer for BYU publications and as a freelancer.

A few years into her professional career, Reynolds felt she needed to understand graphic design on a deeper level. Working full-time, and with three young children, Reynolds began graduate school. As she was finishing her degree, she had her fourth baby and received a phone call.

“BYU was looking for a professor, and they wanted to know if I was interested,” Reynolds remembers. “I was finishing my degree, and I never thought I’d be a teacher, so I said no.”

Reynolds thought that would be the end of it. But a couple months later she got another call, saying they were about to close the search, and again inviting her to apply. After reconsidering, she decided there wouldn’t be harm in trying.

“It was a miracle: they picked me,” she says, emotion overpowering her voice. “I started teaching in the winter of 1991. It completely changed my life.”

Design at BYU

Teaching has become a passion for Reynolds. As the current Chair, she doesn’t teach as much as she once did since her time is devoted to faculty as well as students. But she hopes return to the position she has loved when her term is complete.

One class she still teaches, and the one she enjoys the most, is letterpress. Her interest in letterpress began when, early in her career as a faculty member, she received a call from the director of the Harold B. Lee Library. With the advent of the digital era, the library was looking to dispose of its old letterpresses. He asked Reynolds if she wanted them because otherwise they would be scrapped for metal.

Reynolds was delighted by this gift. She not only accepted but also began learning about and loving letterpress. She became so enamored that her passion became her signature class.

“Letterpress Studio and Type as Image are my favorite classes,” she says. “At the end, the students print creations. They’re incredible. They make my work better.”

Students who enter the DVA know it is a highly competitive environment. They enroll for three pre-major classes and once those are complete, students can apply to the discipline of their choice. The department offers a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Fine Arts, in which students devote an extra year to intense study. The DVA also offers a masters’ degree program.

BYU is a unique environment in which artists can perfect their skills, Reynolds says.
Visual Arts, at its core, is about the exploration of meaning.

“At BYU, we’re blessed with a variety of general education classes as well as the spirituality,” Reynolds points out. “These classes expand the students’ minds and hearts as they explore meaning in their own disciplines. As artists are developing their own work, it really makes them so much deeper and richer. Spirituality expands that vocabulary.”

Reynolds believes her faith has run parallel to her profession. Amid frustration and doubt, she has kept moving forward with faith that she will be able to succeed. That faith has served her both religiously and professionally.

With students consistently landing top internships and graduate programs, Reynolds is helping today’s students become tomorrow’s award-winning designers.

BYU students have recently been hired at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Estée Lauder, Martha Stewart and Johnson & Johnson. Students have recently been accepted into prominent graduate programs at Institute of Chicago, Maryland Institute College of Art, California Institute of the Arts, Carnegie Melon, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania and Pratt Institute.

Reynolds is particularly proud of Kevin Cantrell, a former graphic design student who self-authored an award-winning series called “7 Days.” Reynolds highlights his beautiful gaslight-style typography and the intricacies of this lettering project. Cantrell’s project has been recognized in Print Magazine and the upcoming Print Regional Design Annual. His two posters, “Luminares” and “Águas,” will be featured in the 2013 Design Annual of Reynolds’ beloved Communication Arts.

A New Generation of Artists

In anticipation of continuing the DVA’s tradition of excellence, Reynolds is excited for a new recruiting initiative in the department, similar to athletic scholarships.

“Exceptional artists don’t always do well in the traditional education system,” Reynolds says. “We don’t want to exclude them just because they might not have the test scores or GPA to get into BYU. So we have these talent awards, and we need to reach those artists.”

The DVA is looking for students who are intrinsically creative. Reynolds says that since creativity is hard to teach, students must come with ability and continue to practice every day. Aspiring artists need to exercise their creativity, and Reynolds recommends that everyone carry a sketchbook, ready to capture inspiration.

“You can get inspiration from anywhere,” Reynolds says. “Look at everything. We get inspiration from our culture and doing research on graphic design in the past.”

Reynolds considers herself one who absorbs culture. She speaks as easily about current hip-hop artists and skateboards as she does about old engraving books. She loves working in the garden and adding to her extensive paper clip collection. Graphic design, she says, is ubiquitous.

Reynolds is enthusiastic as she speaks about “this microcosm of interesting people,” but her voice quickly softens as she expresses gratitude for where she is today. Before she steps down, though, Reynolds will continue to work with faculty and students to be successful. If they need inspiration, maybe she will let them borrow an issue of Communication Arts.

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