Feedback from a Subject Matter Expert

This week I met with Sarah Sandman, a designer, activist, and educator in Brooklyn, NY. I presented my project to her (proof of concept, prototype, early branding, etc.) and she offered some really great reactions throughout the process.

A couple of things in my proof of concept resonated with her particularly. She like the idea of showing up to an event with a design already burned into the screen, that would allow anyone to step in and participate. This is a notion she referred to as “accessible replication.” For example, that art activities I did at Can Can Wonderland allow folks to pull a print of a black and white coloring poster, then they could color it in and make it their own.

Similarly, she referred to something she calls “unified individualism.” The project I led at United Seminary — where I designed a poster and participants got to print it, then add on to it with whatever messaging they wanted — was an example of this, according to Sarah. The idea is that you show up with an existing “canvas” with parameters for folks to work from. Then participants layer onto that canvas with their own voice, to whatever extent they are comfortable. A lot of times people feel safer or more at ease participating in this way, particularly if they don’t already see themselves as “artists.”

Sarah herself has created projects engaging this notion of unified individualism. One example is WE SHOW UP. Sarah and other facilitators dyed scarves by hand and printed the phrase WE SHOW UP on each scarf beforehand. Then participants got to choose a scarf and print additional phrases onto the scarves as they desired, using pre-made relief printing blocks. In this way, each product was unique based on the participant, but there was an overall impact of all the scarves being unified as a canvas for the messaging of the project.

Sarah and I spent a little time talking about the concept of design justice. We took a look at the Design Justice Network website and discussed how this is relevant to my project, as well as how Sarah has worked within this framework. Generally speaking, design justice is about creating a practice that centers “those who stand to be most adversely impacted by design decisions in design processes.” What this can mean functionally — for me in particular — is that I will strive to serve as a facilitator/partner, rather than an expert/gatekeeper, in the process of these printmaking workshops. My intention is to center this framework as I move forward with planning my project.

In terms of what participants will actually create in workshops with me, Sarah brought up an excellent question: what is the next step for the work created? Will it be displayed somewhere? Wheatpasted on walls? She urged me to consider the work that participants create as a unified canvas made up of multiple voices. I love this idea. And it could add a whole other aspect to this project.

At this point we started walking through my prototype, and the sample lesson plan I created. Overall she really like what I had planned, but her biggest feedback is that I should cut back considerably on how much I talk. She believes I can restructure the plan and get the whole workshop down to three hours instead of four. She also encouraged me to make sure people are doing something hands-on as quickly as possible. I mentioned that, after presenting my prototype to the class, I had a thought that it might be smart to set up something that’s ready to print immediately as participants arrive at a workshop. That would grab their attention from the beginning and give a taste of what we’ll be making. Sarah loved this idea. She also suggested something like a zine that gives an overview of the concepts we talk about. And maybe participants print or stencil on the cover of the zine? Or maybe the stencil that they make in the workshop is the size of the cover, so they can print their own design as the cover of the zine? I really love the possibilities of this idea.

Lastly, Sarah encouraged me to start making now. Whether it’s a zine for potential workshops, or test prints for bookmarks for a book reading, she really encouraged me to get out of the zone of the theoretical as soon as possible.