Graduate transitions from student to professor
GVL / Robert Mathews
BreeAnn Veenstra knows her way around Grand Valley State University’s art and design program. Four years ago, she practically lived in the Calder Art Center while finishing up her degree in illustration.
After pursuing several freelance projects, starting a business, getting married and having her work sold around the world, Veenstra is back at GVSU, but with a new role. She’s teaching the digital illustration class Intermediate Illustration I, which she took as a student with her married name, BreeAnn Czuprinski.
Because she graduated in 2009, many of her former professors are now colleagues, which was a weird adjustment, but helpful, she said.
“It is a little bit different going from that, you know, kind of professor-student relationship and now I’m more on their plane, but we definitely still, we respect one another and I respect them for their experience and advice and what they have to offer too,” Veenstra said.
The position is usually filled by an adjunct professor, and when it opened this semester, illustration professor Ed Wong-Ligda reached out to several of his former students whom he felt would be a good match for the class.
“I am constantly evaluating my students in terms of professionalism, intelligence, creativity and dependability, because those are the traits a good professional illustrator needs,” Wong-Ligda said. “I need this information handy because I often receive requests for my students and alumni to work on professional projects. So, I have a good handle on these attributes in relationship to all of my current students and alumni. Bree scores high in every category.”
Although she’s never taught professionally before, Veenstra’s eager to help share her digital illustration knowledge with students. To teach the class, she uses what she learned from her professor Matt Manley, a former GVSU adjunct faculty member.
“I draw a lot on my experience for how he proposed the projects and what he taught, different techniques and stuff, a lot of it is kind of going over the basics, but I find myself thinking, ‘What would Matt do in this instance?’” she said. “So that does help a lot and it helps me feel more comfortable in the classroom.”
But she incorporates her own illustration background into lessons, too.
“When he taught the class it was more focusing on how to take stock photography and manipulate the objects and then your drawings, too and kind of collage everything together,” Veenstra said. “Where for mine … because mine is so different, I’m going to be teaching those elements too and probably focusing on them a little more because that’s how I work and that’s what I know and that’s what I’m best at.”
The course is required for illustration majors and teaches an overview of Adobe Creative Suite programs such as, Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign. Even if her students don’t plan on becoming digital illustration artists, she hopes they gain an understanding for it as an art form.
“I’d love if they could just develop an appreciation for digital art too, I mean, technology is advancing every single year,” Veenstra said. “And it’s a fairly new medium in the art world when you consider everything on a whole. And I know when it first came out, when people started working digitally, there was some controversy where people weren’t really sure if it was art or not, like they thought, ‘Hey this isn’t art, the computer’s doing the work for you,’ and that’s not at all true.”
She teaches her students to use the computer as a tool, in the same way paint or clay is used.
“So you’re using the program Photoshop, but that’s your pallet of oil paint instead,” she said. “You still have to do all of the creative work and manipulation and know what to do and make the decisions.”
Her passion for digital illustration has shown through her work as a professional artist, having been featured in publications, including CMYK Magazine and Ikarie Magazine. She is in the process of launching a line of illustrated paper goods and has designed custom wedding invitations for brides throughout the U.S. and Australia.
“Bree is an exceptional artist, who is nationally competitive in illustration,” Wong-Ligda said. “And she is continuing to grow as an artist.”