Mary Kate Brittain got teary-eyed last fall when she visited Creative Clay, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities improve their quality of life through art. Brittain’s uncle, Danny, used art as a form of self expression to conquer his own disabilities. Although Danny passed away while Brittain was in elementary school, her memories of him remain, and at Creative Clay she witnessed the constructive power of creativity for artists like her uncle.
Brittain was one of nine graphic design students from USF St. Petersburg who recently completed a coffee table book to celebrate Creative Clay’s 25th Anniversary. Led by David Watts, an instructor in the graphic arts program and USFSP alumni, each student worked with two to three Creative Clay artists, creating individual page designs to highlight their unique work.
“The book is a culmination of the work that has been developing at Creative Clay over the past 25 years,” said Watts. “What we were trying to do was take the work of the artists, and put it out into the world beyond the context of a traditional art venue or gallery.”
Creative Clay first approached the Verbal and Visual Arts Department about the project last year, after the nonprofit decided to create a book that would help shine a light on the work of its artists. Watts, who volunteered at Creative Clay while an undergraduate, offered to spearhead the project. Enlisting students from his courses and independent studies, Watts spent the semester mentoring aspiring graphic designers on the processes behind professional book designs.
For Kim Dohrman, CEO of Creative Clay, the partnership with USFSP helped fulfill the nonprofit’s goal of celebrating its anniversary through a physical book, while strengthening its connections to the St. Petersburg community.
“Anytime we can include different facets of the community to meaningfully connect with our artists, it’s wonderful and supports our value of inclusion,” Dohrman said. “Having the college students here engaging with our artists is great.”
This was the first time for many of the students put their graphic design skills to work in designing a book. The students created two-page spreads for each of their artists, submitting between 10 and 15 versions, which Watts would then provide feedback on. The students learned some of the more technical aspects of book designs, such as printer marks and trim, as well as more creative elements like aesthetics and stylistic value. The goal, and the challenge, was to use graphic design to highlight the work of another artist. The emphasis was on collaboration.
When Brittain visited Creative Clay last fall, she met an artist named J.J. “He had such great energy and was really funny,” she said. Brittain was impressed by J.J’s line work and decided to design his pages to extenuate his particular style.
“I thought that would be a perfect way to show off his use of colors, shapes and forms,” she said. “This project made me realize that there are ways of collaborating to really emphasize someone else’s work.”
Watts, who designed the outside cover, jacket and spine, estimated he put in roughly 200 hours and the students put in up to 60 hours each over the course of the semester. He said the students “all gravitated towards the project immediately.”
One of Watts’s aims in designing the book was to surprise readers, so that they find the book engaging and want to know more about Creative Clay. The nonprofit offers one-on-one art teaching for people with disabilities. The result is that each student is able to express their own creative style.
“You may have 50 people in the building at once and no one person is making the same kind of work as somebody else,” Watts said. “It truly is a studio practice in the most traditional sense, just like any other professional artists would have.”
Work by Creative Clay artists can be purchased at the nonprofit’s gallery and found in galleries around Tampa Bay. The coffee table book will be for sale during Creative Clay’s 25th anniversary celebration at NOVA 535 on August 21.