The MFA Journey Begins

The MFA Journey Begins

Summary: July 2014 marks the beginning of my 2 year journey towards receiving my Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degree from the Hartford University Low Residency Illustration Program. These are a few notes from the beginning of that adventure.

My journey really begins with some long conversations with Carol Tinkleman in 2013. She talked with me numerous times over the course of a few months. Her warm and endearing personality was able to coax out of me a life’s story which was all too real and raw. In the end some of her advice to me was that “success is the best revenge” and that the Hartford Low Residency MFA in Illustration would be just what I needed. She was right.

On Saturday July 16, 2014 I stepped off a plane in Hartford Connecticut and into an experience that is currently changing my life. At the airport, I quickly met two other gentlemen one of whom will be graduating from the program in 2015, Jeff Sangalli, and another Jim Mravec who will be graduating with me in 2016. Together we drove to the hotel where most of us would be living for the next two weeks.

Murray Tinkleman addresses the MFA students.
Murray Tinkleman addresses the MFA students at the 2014 Hartford contact period. Photo by Ronni Mitten

The first days of the program were what you might expect. Lot’s of introductions, a tour of the campus, including a library that I never got a chance to explore. We met with the other classes. Because of the structure of the program, the summer contact period means that there are three class levels at the school at one time. The intersection of the incoming class, my class in this case, and the graduating upper class men and women.

The luncheon under the auspicious eyes of Hartford University
The luncheon under the auspicious eyes of Hartford University

After introductions were made and everyone had arrived and gone through orientation, the real work began. The first week of classes was extraordinary. We were scheduled for 12 hours a day, with the addition of home work. The instructors for my first week were Robert Hunt, Alice “Bunny” Carter, and Dennis Nolan, as well as daily history lessons with Murray Tinkleman and daily presentations by a wide array of illustrators.

Alice "Bunny" Carter and Dennis Nolan trace our linage back to the Father of American Illustration: Howard Pyle.
Alice “Bunny” Carter and Dennis Nolan trace our linage back to the Father of American Illustration: Howard Pyle.

By the third day of this intoxicating schedule our whole classroom was deep in the zone. There were some slight conversations between students, but the charge of mental focus and diligence created a sort of positive feedback loop. This carried through into the evening where my room-mate, David Hohn and I would pop on our headphones and grind down pencils, or in David’s case the digital stylus he used, and just by virtue of seeing the other doggedly working was enough to hold us each to task. It was magical.

Focusing On The Task at Hand
Focusing On The Task at Hand. Photo by Ronni Mitten
David Hohn and the evidence of a week's worth of work.
David Hohn and the evidence of a week’s worth of work. Photo by Ronni Mitten

It was during this time while I was placing all my effort into creating the over 300 images that we would work on that first week that it dawned on me that I was as happy as I could be. There was no place else that I would have rather been and nothing else that I would rather have been doing. The long hours were fantastic, the instructors spoke to truths into the hearts of the students, and the work was delightful. Being with my class-mates in those moments was deeply satisfying and moreover helped me to re-affirm my deep love for illustration.

Almost all eyes are on Alice "Bunny" Carter as she talks to the class.
Almost all eyes are on Alice “Bunny” Carter as she talks to the class. Photo by Ronni Mitten

Some of the comments that I personally received from the faculty about my work affected me so deeply that I literally had to step away from the classroom and to spend 20 minutes recuperating by a nearby stream. These affirmations were not limited to me, and the air of belief in each other began to build a strong network where we can each feel supported and safe in taking artistic risks.

Life has taken some many a strange turn since I first graduating from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 2006, and this opportunity to begin re-find my heart and deep passion for illustration is rejuvenating. The lessons that I learned from this first week of the MFA program will continue to expand my practice and my career for years to come. I look forward to sharing a few thoughts about the second week in another upcoming blog post.

Thank you for taking to the time to check out this blog post, please feel free to leave a comment and share this with your friends!

5 Responses to The MFA Journey Begins

  1. I’ve been really blown away by how you are developing as an artist. You always had a knack, but it’s blossomed into something really amazing. We may not have talked in years, but I still regularly check in on your work and it really delights me. Can’t wait to see what else your brush comes up with

  2. This is amazing. I’m so glad I found this! I’m hoping to enter into an illustration program (I’m actually looking at this school as well)too and you are so inspiring! Thank you!

  3. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for checking out my blog. The Hartford MFA program has been just spectacular for me, and all of my cohorts. If you have any questions feel free to contact me and I’d be happy to talk with you about it.

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