Amelia Ann Berninger '17

For my Capstone project, I created a series of hand-drawn illustrations. Each illustration depicted a different human body part that was damaged in some way; however, most of the pieces included a more “redemptive” second layer that became visible as a result of the damage. For example, a ripped apart face revealed a field of flowers behind it. Many of the individual pieces were interactive, and viewers could lift flaps and pull tabs in order to reveal the second layer. All of this represented the idea that we often have to confront things that are difficult or uncomfortable (in this case gruesome, mangled body parts) in order to see the true merit in a seemingly negative situation.

I knew that I wanted to create my project completely by hand, with no digital intervention whatsoever, because that's what started my journey as a VCD major to begin with. I became interested in design because I'd always enjoyed more traditional fine art practices, so even as I grew within the program and became more familiar with digital methods, creating things by hand just always felt very natural for me. As for the theme and subject matter, I was really interested in taking people out of their comfort zones a bit. At its core, my project has an optimistic message, but you have to look at some sort of disturbing stuff to get there. I guess that's pretty reflective of my outlook on life as a whole.

As a result of this project, I learned how much spending an extended period of time on something and really doing a lot of research can really give you a new perspective on the idea you initially started out with. I had a basic idea of what I wanted to convey from the beginning, but throughout the research phase I was really all over the place trying to find the right angle from which to back up my work. There were so many different solutions to this one problem, but finally I started to pick up all the common threads between the things I was researching to support my thesis. And then there were some sources and theories that I wanted to make sense and align with each other, but they just didn't. In a nutshell, there were lots of different paths I could take to get to what I wanted to convey, and finding the one that was right for me took a surprising amount of work.

Right now I’m interning at an agency near Harrisburg, Pa., and dealing with how surreal it feels to be a college graduate. All through school you’re always getting told that you're preparing for “the rest of your life,” and now “the rest of my life” is here and it’s weird to process. Really, I think that deviating from what one might consider a traditional “design” project for my Capstone might have helped me land my internship. When I was interviewed, my boss was really interested in all of my illustration work, and after I got hired I realized that he’s also pretty into in that “fine art” side of things, and it shows in a lot of his past work as well. So I learned that sticking whatever your little niche is rather than doing what you think will have mass appeal can really help open a lot of doors.

My advice for students working on their Capstone is to do something that they’re going to stay interested in! Like I said, playing to your strengths and pursuing something that satisfies your niche style definitely isn't a bad idea. But I think Capstone can also be a good time to take a risk and try something totally new and off the wall. There aren't really any wrong answers, in my opinion. And remember to have faith in yourself and in your work. Don't get discouraged by professors’ critiques—they’re only trying to help you. Just be prepared to defend your ideas. They want to see you be passionate and have a strong rationale behind what you're doing, they don't want you to doubt yourself and alter your project into something you think they want to see.