As If by Design

Author: Lisa von Werder

I have a confession to make. A few weeks ago, I skipped watching the home football game and all the festivities that went with it.


Instead, I went to the Snite Museum to write a short paper on a piece in the Decorative Arts exhibit, and then I went to Riley Hall to work on casting plaster molds of a clay ant and a plastic heart. Such is the life of an art student at Notre Dame.


Lisa - art projectMy memory reflection project for 2D. I chose to depict the moment my high school show choir won grand champions my senior year, and all the hard work that led up to it.

Now, this isn’t to say you can’t be social or enjoy the football games! You will have plenty of time to do whatever you want—since I don’t usually go to the games, I take advantage of the time I have to work on my projects outside of class. Studio art classes give you plenty of in-class time to work, but ultimately, it’s up to you as the student to make sure you get your project to a point where you’re satisfied with it.

I started my first year with one studio art course—2D Foundations—and a bunch of classes to fill university requirements. 2D was my favorite class by far. It wasn’t overwhelming in size, like my cosmology or calculus classes. It wasn’t essay-heavy like my university seminar. And yes, okay, I loved Japanese too, but I loved art more. It confirmed my enthusiasm for art as well as giving me opportunities to incorporate what I already knew about design. The next semester, my advisor was able to get me into VCD 1, which introduced me to the vigorous design process, and I continued to fulfill my BFA requirements with Drawing I. I loved these classes even more than 2D Foundations. That was all I needed to confirm my major as a BFA in Design, with a concentration in Visual Communications.

Lisa - design project 1Part of my first VCD project. We compiled collections of images, and I showed off my aesthetics, Photoshop skills, and makeup skills.

So let’s backtrack a second. Why did I come to Notre Dame to study art? That doesn’t seem as academically challenging as mechanical engineering or finance. I’d known since junior year of high school that I wanted to be a designer, so my first requirement for a university was that they would have a good design program. On the other hand, I wanted to be sure that if I ended up not liking design, I’d have plenty of other options to choose from. Notre Dame presented itself as an option, and although I was nervous about the art scene at such an academically focused school, I loved the campus and the opportunities it offered me.

Lisa - design project 2My final VCD project, 1/2. We had to create a poster about a social issue, so I chose to touch on feminism and the stigma of its exclusivity.

Now I’m in my third semester, taking Painting I and 3D Foundations. These classes require a lot of time spent in Riley because I can’t just take the projects back to my dorm room. (You really don’t want oil paint or clay in your dorm room.) My BFA requires quite a few basic studio art courses so I currently feel like more of a studio art major than a design major, but I know I’m getting there and I love creating physical art, so I am definitely not complaining. The projects are thought-provoking and require just as much critical thinking as writing an essay. The workload really isn’t bad, as long as you space it out so you’re not pulling all-nighters the day before they’re due. (Don’t do this. I’ve done it. It’s bad.) The in-class critiques help make you less sensitive and more open to criticism, and vice versa: you become much better at critiquing others in order to help rather than tear them down.


Lisa - design project 3My final VCD project, 2/2. We had to make a symbol that would fit within a symbol system that already existed, then design and bind a book outlining the process of making the symbol.

And the faculty—amazing. Honestly, maybe the best part of my art experience at Notre Dame so far. All my art professors have been incredible and they are the most interesting and down-to-earth people I’ve interacted with. Whenever I see my Drawing professor, he says hi to me and asks how I am and what I’ve been up to, almost like we’re old friends. And yet they’re not too friendly, too lenient. They offer insight into your pieces that you couldn’t pick up on, and they genuinely want to see you excel in whatever you do.


Sure, sometimes the late night studio time wears me down, and yeah, sometimes when the final product isn’t even close to the vision I had in mind, it’s frustrating. And thinking about how expensive art gets is a whole other story. I don’t want to get too cheesy, but... I wouldn’t trade my art journey here at ND for the world. In the end, the art that I get to create, the things I learn, and the people I meet along the way are well worth any obstacle life could throw at me.