Foundation Means Freedom at the School of Visual Concepts

The Seattle school helps its students get ahead by focusing on core creative concepts.

Linda Hunt doesn’t tell her story, she shows it. “We’re visual, you know, we go by pictures,” she says, laughing as she strides through the colorful halls of the School of Visual Concepts’ new facility. The director of the school, she gives an inspiring tour, taking her listeners through the institution’s 40-year history: its founders (both prolific illustrators), its 14-year love affair with letterpress, right up to the annual poetry program that’s produced with Seattle Children’s Hospital. Each child’s poem hangs on the wall, grafted to an artist’s design, like a monument to the healing power of art.

“It helps the children with their illness, and it helps the families,” Hunt says, gazing at a plump, healthy heart. “They have this wonderful group of people that have had the same experience.”

SVC is no stranger to community outreach. An active participant in Bumbershoot for the past seven years, the school has friends in high places, from Sub Pop Records to Seattle Arts and Lectures. Famed art director Jeff Kleinsmith teaches a poster class, and this summer SVC will host a camp for Writers in the Schools. Connections like this make SVC a constant in a city that loves to reinvent itself.

That’s because the focus of each class—whether it’s drawing or UX design—are the things that never change. “We believe in foundation,” Hunt insists. “We believe if you’re going to be a creative person, you need to know how to draw, you need to know typography, you need to know the principles of design and color. Creative people have always been hands-on. Learning by doing is the best way visual people learn.” The hands, Hunt says, work muscles that lie dormant at a computer desk.

So in the age of smartphones and LED watches, shared workspaces and companies that go public without a product, SVC makes letterpress sexy, attracting companies like Facebook and REI to its team-building exercises. “It’s so freeing,” Hunt says. “They don’t have to be plugged in. It’s like an unplugged concert, being on the letterpress.” Though for some it happens quicker than others, eventually students reach the conclusion “I can’t make a mistake; it’s all experimental and fun.”

As an applied arts school, SVC instills the principles as well as the tools new creatives need to succeed. There’s a special workshop on freelancing, and the website claims SVC “can also help you land a job. If the instructor likes you, of course.” Jokes aside, career counseling and curriculum help are all part of the package. Regardless of application, Hunt insists there’s a bit of creativity in all of us.

“However we dress in the morning, however we put our fried egg on the plate. I mean, we’re creative in many ways. The colors we choose, however we lay out the space that we live in. And if you really wanted to test yourself, take a letterpress at lunch workshop. Everyone is so terrified to draw, which is so sad. And [during the class] they get so inspired and over their fear that at the end of 10 weeks I love to read the evaluations. Because that’s what they say: “I’m looking at the world with new eyes–who knew?” So it’s about getting people over the fear, giving them permission to try it. I mean, what do you have to lose?” Find SVC classes at Connect2Classes.com.

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