Presentation by Rebecca Graves and Studio Visit: Phillip Shung and Mallie Mickens, 11/10/10

This week in Art Ready, students continued to learn how to be creative AND also earn a living, through presentations by artist-entrepreneurs who very much defy stereotypes of the artist as starving, secluded, or solitary.

Rebecca Graves shows slides of her work

First, Rebecca Graves, a decorative painter and muralist, and a Smack Mellon board member, gave a special slide presentation at Smack Mellon. Rebecca demonstrated how the most traditional of media and techniques can translate into lucrative commercial work. As the founder of her own decorative painting company, R. Graves & Co., Rebecca has completed numerous projects for different interior and exterior environments, ranging from private residences to commercial retail stores. Her decorative painting enhances these everyday environments with scrolling gold leaf stencils, tromp l’oeil columns and skylights, and “faux-bois” (fake wood) walls painted to look like they are made of different types of carpentry.

A restaurant with a mural made with metallic copper paint and stencils

Rebecca described how she got her big break in the field when she was working on murals as a graduate student in Kentucky and got invited to paint on a cruise ship. “You could say I got lucky,” Rebecca explains, “But if even if you’re lucky, you need to be prepared. That way you can take advantage of the opportunities that come along.”

A decorative motif silk-screened onto a banner

For Rebecca, being prepared means having solid drawing and painting skills (“drawing well is the basis of all art”), as well as expertise in the Adobe Creative Suite–Rebecca uses the vector-drawing program Adobe Illustrator to generate many of her precise motifs. She also showed several images of her Photoshop renderings she creates to plan in advance how her designs will look in different spaces. Math and other problem-solving skills are also important in generating geometric, repeated patterns.  For Rebecca, simply drawing regularly in a sketchbook is also critical–“a sketchbook can be an art form it itself.”

Rebecca’s work for clients often inspires her personal studio work, which can contain some of the same stencils and patterns drawn from multicultural sources.

Photoshop rendering of a ballroom with inserted decorative banners

Rebecca’s practice also extends to nonprofit, volunteer and community work; she spoke in depth about a 2007-2008 project working with select Art Ready students to collaboratively plan and paint a new mural for the cafeteria of St. Joseph’s High School, where many past and current Art Ready students attend. Rebecca had guided participants in selecting patterns for the mural, creating a Photoshop rendering of what the new design would look like in the cafeteria, transferring the images onto the walls using a projector, and finally painting.

Mural at St. Joseph's High School: Before/After

While she will not serve as an official Art Ready mentor, Rebecca is volunteering to do a similar Art Ready mural project, at another school location TBD. Says Rebecca, “I really believe murals can change the way people feel about their surroundings.”

Please visit to see more of Rebecca’s work.

At the offices of Sundree/Pixod

For the second half of Art Ready, we traveled across the street to the studio of design and branding companies Sundree and Pixod at 55 Washington Street, for a visit with creative director/graphic designer and interactive media designer Phillip Shung and Mallie Mickens, individuals working at the cutting edge of graphic and web technologies.

Both Phill and Mallie had backgrounds in print and web design, before starting their own companies. Their office currently focuses on brand identity in all media, working with clients ranging from major celebrities (Phill described a phone call he had with J. Lo–“she was very hands-on in our campaign creating buzz around her new clothing line, which is actually very rare”) to small mom and pop businesses to some nonprofit clients and charitable work.

Looking at the Pixod blog

Phill and Mallie’s presentation emphasized the ease, and importance of, using the internet to publicize unique content and “give the public insight into how you think…for the first time, both YOU and celebrities get to produce content in the same venue.” Mallie encouraged students to start their own blogs, regularly “tweet” and “facebook,” and share photos and videos online, while at the same time be wary of who might see this content. “Everyone is monitored online these days,” he explained. “There’s really no such thing as privacy. The challenge also becomes, how do we manage all this content?”

Both Rebecca and Phill and Mallie’s talks stressed, above all, the unprecedented importance of design and general presentation skills in this highly interactive, visually-stimulating world.  Said Mallie, “Unlike the generation before us, today everyone who applies for any kind of job needs to have some design skills–from making power point presentations to designing documents like your resume.” Effective formal writing also remains important, in an age where abbreviated text-message lingo is as prevalent as cell phone photography: “People sometimes don’t realize that it’s not acceptable to use words like ‘lol’ in a cover letter for a job.”

Some examples of posters and magazine covers designed by, or serving as inspiration for, Phill and Mallie

Phill and Mallie led students in a brainstorm of what makes effective design vs “what makes a business irrelevant;” for example, why Facebook is more appealing than MySpace (“it looks newer and fresher,” said one student).  Several students bemoaned the fact that colleges’ websites can be less than enticing for young people, even if the admissions departments publish attractive printed catalogs. We explored the criteria for judging whether something “looks new,” or “fresh,” and largely this comes down to the designer “being able to understand a particular audience and communicate visually with that audience, so that something resonates,” according to Phill and Mallie.

Undertaking a campaign from start to finish that really “resonates” with clients and the pubic is no small feat. First, the company receives an RFP (Request for Proposals) and must compete with other design companies to submit a winning proposal for a project. This proposal package must demonstrate both why the design firm is qualified, and the firm’s “personality–what makes it different from the rest.” The proposal should also show a possible visual approach to the project and a timeline, without “filling in all the details yet.”  Once the company is selected to do a project, the process usually involves a wide network of other collaborators. For example, when promoting a big concert tour, the company must work with a sound designer to figure out how to put up samples of music without violating copyright restrictions.

As mentors, Phill and Mallie intend to give their mentees a sense of the big picture of the work they do: students will help out with various office duties, and also get to produce their own fashion magazine with print and web components. Students will be able to do some photography, some graphic design, video, and web design work–and potentially even shadow some commercial photo shoots.

Before students left the Sundree/Pixod offices, Mallie reminded them once again, “You are all part of a revolution, and it is your responsibility to contribute to it.”

Please visit and for more of Phill and Mallie’s work.


About smartready

Mentorship Program Manager, Smack Mellon
This entry was posted in Graphic/Commerical Design, Painting/Drawing, Studio visits. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Presentation by Rebecca Graves and Studio Visit: Phillip Shung and Mallie Mickens, 11/10/10

  1. Pingback: Mural design workshops with Rebecca Graves, 3/3/11 and 3/10/11 | Smack Mellon Art Ready

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