Art & Design Education Research trip

At the moment I am busy preparing for a trip to the U.S.A to visit 2 art&design academies.  We are looking forward to learn from them as well as share our own ideas and experiences. There are several topics that we hope to talk about. I am looking forward to share an overview of the outcomes of our meetings after we return. Feel free to leave comments or recommendations if you wish to share your ideas on ant of the topics below:

  • Best-practices of art academy ‘core values‘ translated into strategy and operational management. How do academies ‘position’ themselves between other institutes and how is this translated into daily activities?
  • Best-practice samples of ‘modulair/flexible‘ art&design education. When the program is not a lineair-proces; how can the level of proficiency increase throughout the years? How can growth be measured?
  • Best-practice samples of art academy ‘outreach programs‘. How are these connections made, and are they sustainable for the long term?
  • Best-practice samples of ‘inclusive pedagogy‘ in terms of protocol. For example how are admissions organized? What is the role of language and cultural background in this process? How do you create ‘safe spaces’ and prevent conflict for students and teachers?
  • Best-practices samples of online-learning-tools for art education. What tools are used for; student project interaction, feedback form, and grades? What are the lates tech-innovations in art&design educations and how are teachers and staff trained in using these tools?

bridge the gap between art academy and work

Last month I had the pleasure of contributing to an interview for Dude, Dutch Designers Magazine #1 2018, which is out now.

The article was about the transition from art academy into the professional design practice. It argues that a smooth transition is rarely the case for many students. There are questions if design design training sufficiently reflects the reality of the professional field. The author spoke to teachers, designers and design-buro owners.

I was happy to inform how we try to bridge that gap at the WdKa by using the following tools;

  • specify the design practice into 3 different ‘area’s of expertise’
  • offer authentic and challenging design projects
  • offer integrated courses in business and value creation for design
  • let students collaborate (multidisciplinary) in open workplaces (stations)
  • open dialogue about the professional practice through assessments
  • provide student coaching

Last month we had a presentation by Gert Gerritsen & Markus Praat (owner of the ‘New Chique Agency‘) about the BNO, the Ducth Design Union, which received many positive reviews by students. I believe in many ways we’re trying to make that gap smaller; by having dialogue with students about how they see their future.

No More Homework

Illustration by 2nd year exchange student: Alice Cousely

Last Friday I made a visit to Gorssel where our 2nd year WdKA illustration students were spending some days to draw and paint outside, visit musea like Kroller Moller Park.

Our goal of the fieldtrip is to strengthen the bond between students and stimulate informal learning. We chose for an isolated location to be away from distractions of life in the city.  We hoped that students would feel safe to experiment in this new environment.  We asked students to make a 150 drawings to give them the experience of the pleasure of drawing. The illustration is I used is one of the many drawings that were made.

I find the text on the illustration interesting. We tried to generate freedom; and there were no deadlines or grades. It seems this students still felt something ‘had to be done’ instead of him/her ‘wanting to do it’.  I think the key to successful education is when we can convince students; that learning is something they want to, instead of have to. I think that by giving students homework we’re not giving them the opportunity to reflect upon this.

2018 Personal Change

“Sad Satan 2018”

The sculpture above was a gift made by Han Hoogerbrugge. He gave it to me for my new job at the WdKA. The title is “Sad Satan’ and it has two holes in his head; where his horns used to be.

Since January 2018 my position at the WdKA has changed from course director illustration into coordinator of the education station. It felt as a big step, but at the same time a great new challenge. If I have lost my horns; I have also gained the opportunity to grow something new.

I am still passionate about illustration, but my focus will shift towards higher art education. As coordinator of the education station (WdKA education centre) I will be working on topics such as; teacher training programs, projectbased- education, off- and online learning tools, inclusive pedagogy, and international classroom.

Looking forward to inform you on what this year will bring.


D a n a i




Invitation to: Zine-Camp Sunday 12th of November


Rejoice! My Hands are Dirty!

I am excited to announce that this Sunday the 11th of November I will present my own freshly printed zines during Zine-camp at Worm in Rotterdam. I am looking forward to show what more than ’10 years of academic studies’ can amount to.

The event is exclusive, because my zines have not been presented before and will never be presented again afterwards. There is only a limited amount of copies available. It’s Sunday or never.

My zines are a self-initiated project, which is something I vigorously advocate. Many thanks to the support of Kim Hospers and the facilities of the WdKA Publication Station.
The images include gazed-at and stereotype-depictions of anonymous, voluptuous and lascivious women. Possibly inappropriate and untimely for today’s conflicted world. “But elegant and seductive as well”; said the scorpion to the turtle. I hope that the ‘Avantgardistic State’ of Worm will offer sanctuary for my work.
Everybody is welcome,


D a n a i

More info:


Departure Lecture professor in Illustration


Yesterday I visited the symposium and departure lecture of profession dr. Saskia de Bodt. Over the last 9 years she has been the Dutch ‘special professor in Illustration’ at the University of Amsterdam. This position was supported by the Fiep Westendorp Foundation.  She wrote several publications among which:

  • From Poe tot Pooh; illustration to pay your brushes? An overview of Dutch Childrenbook illustrations from 1850.
  • De “imagionists” (De Verbeelders) An overview of one century Dutch Book Illustrations (Nominated for the Golden Tulip Award).

It was an inspiring symposium with interesting questions such as:

  • How can we visualize our society in such a way; it clarifies the essence of our society?
  • Statement by John Berger (Ways of Seeing): We learn to interpret illustrations before we understand the meaning of words; therefore the image is not the illustration; but it’s the text that illustrates the images.
  • Can illustration convey the message of ideals such as: freedom, peace and solidarity? (Like it is done in music?) Images are always related to an ideological tradition.

The ‘departure-speech’ of Saskia was interesting because I found out that one of my most cherished children books was made by Tomi Ungerer; who has his own ‘Tomi Ungeren – illustration museum‘ in Strassbourg. Which might be comparable to the House of Illustration in London.

Schermafbeelding 2017-11-04 om 3.16.05 PM

Last but not leas; a student from Saskia explained the 3 wise lessons she had learned from her and are still just as valid for anyone:

  • In principle everything is possible; but you have to organize it yourself.
  • When you think it is not possible; you should probably try it anyways.
  • You have to be able to estimate your own value.

Last scoop: Saskia received a fresh new publication on Illustration: ” De Verbeelders Verbeeld(t); an intruiging follow-up of her previously mentioned publication. I will be looking forward to read it.

Schermafbeelding 2017-11-04 om 3.24.10 PM

The new Dutch ‘special professor in Illustration’ at the University of Amsterdam is: Emilie Sitzia. Looking forward to see her progress in the academic field of illustration.


Artistic Vision

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How to explain your artistic vision during art education assessments


With the implementation of ‘competency assessments’ at the Willem de Kooning Academy (WdKA), students are faced with a new form of evaluation in which they must demonstrate within the setting of a formal portfolio, presentation and dialogue (assessment) that they have acquired specific professional competencies. One question that keeps popping up in these discussions is: ‘what is your artistic vision?’ The question itself is not new in art education; one could argue that this is the most important question you will be asked at the academy. It can be challenging, even confronting, to articulate your artistic vision in the setting of a formal assessment. The aim of this post is to contribute to a better understanding on the part of any student struggling with this question.

What is the question?

A vision is an idea or a mental image of something. A mission statement is a description of what a person or organization would like to achieve or accomplish. Artistic vision can be described as an idea or mental image of what the artist/designer would like to accomplish: in other words, the artist/designer’s basic principles. This implies that a designer always has a set of basic rules/ideas that will influence how the work will look or how the project will develop.

During an assessment, a student must be able to explain their principles, and to clarify how these are applied within their projects. Perhaps most importantly, students must also be able to critically reflect upon how these personal principles relate to the context (the world, market, society, history, competitors, etc.) of their work. In other words, students are asked to explain how they approach their projects as designers, and how they are trying to accomplish change in the world through their ideas.

Why is this important?

From a market perspective, it’s important to be able to clarify your artistic vision as an artist/designer in order to find clients. In a competitive (design) world, knowing who you are and what you have to offer to the market is an important tool for attracting the right clients. Being able to present a clear narrative about why your work matters is important, for example when you are negotiating for reasonable fees for your work.

The same principle also applies to most other professions. If you are studying to become a doctor, you have to understand the principles that you will be applying in your profession as a doctor. This is important for yourself as well as your patients. For example, you should know whether your treatment is based on Western medicine, shamanism or voodoo. If you become a voodoo doctor in a Western-medicine world, you will probably need good communication skills in order to convince your clients of your treatment.

However, if we only look at it from a market perspective, one could argue: ‘who cares about vision, as long as I can sell my product?’  Patients are not always interested in how the doctor cured them, as long as they get better. In the same way, it is possible that future clients of your designs will never ask you about your artistic vision. Clients often only want a good product. However, hoping that clients will always be able to find you, and will always be willing to pay a reasonable fee, might not be a strong strategy.

From the perspective of the academy, it’s important to clarify your artistic vision because this is the only way for you to find out how you can get better at what you do. If you want to get better at anything, you have to know in which direction you need to look. We always have to make choices within the available time. You have chosen to study at an art academy in order to expand your knowledge of art and design.

However, studying is not only about expanding your knowledge; it’s also about focus and selection. If you choose to study animation, for example, you will learn little about product design. With the introduction of the Practices at the WdKA, students can select and personalize their own educational content. You can choose any of the Practices, but you have understand how this relates to your professional development. If you don’t make conscious choices you could end up as a ‘jack of all (sorts of) trades, but a master of none’.

Why is the question so hard to answer?

Clarifying your artistic vision is difficult for many reasons. By understanding some of these reasons, it will become easier to recognize your own position. An assessment is not the same as a general project evaluation. The question about artistic vision is about your overall ambitions and aspirations as a designer or artist. The question can be regarded as a ‘wicked problem’, which implies that there are no complete solutions, no obvious or practical answers. It’s hard to focus on questions for which you will never find completely gratifying answers.

Furthermore, it often doesn’t feel nice when your ‘biggest dreams’ are being questioned. The question often exposes vulnerabilities. For example: ‘to which extent are you able to incorporate your principles in your projects?’ Realizing your own limitations can lead to fear and anxieties. As a student you might not yet feel ready to commit yourself to answering such questions. Students therefore sometimes dodge the question by saying: ‘I will figure that out after graduation’.

Last but not least: reflecting upon what you think you should do, and where you want to go, is not the same as doing it. It takes time and focus in order to achieve clarity. Thinking about your artistic vision is not as gratifying as making (and feeling good about) your work. That’s why we often tend to avoid it.

Are there any shortcuts?

There is no easy way of answering questions about your artistic vision. It can help to realize that everyone has uncertainties and anxieties when asked about their future strategies. The academy should be seen as an opportunity to research this question. Tutors and fellow students should be your critical friends and sparring partners, allowing you to develop and construct your personal narrative. Others can often see more clearly what may be too obvious for you to notice.

Four questions can help get you going in the right direction:

  • What do you think needs to change in the world (of design)?
  • What is your role in this change?
  • Which qualities do you have now that will help you accomplish this goal?
  • Which qualities do you still need to develop to accomplish this goal?

The final advice is to realize that your story about your artistic vision is never static. Students should not worry about having to commit to these principles for the rest of their professional career. Statements are only relevant for any given moment. As time passes and new insights are found, principles must be reconsidered and often changed. The goal of the assessment is to find out how well a student is able to explain and defend their ideas at that specific moment.

What can Possibly go Wrong?

  • this is a rough first text on the subject of failing on personal student projects. Any feedback is welcome.

“How students can fail in personal projects at the WdKA”

Before the summer holidays it’s ‘project assessment time’. When it comes to independent student projects it can be difficult to understand for students why they failed. In this type of project students can decide their own topic, their own research method and their own type of products that they wish to deliver. With so much freedom it’s sometimes difficult for a student to understand why the project was failed.

With an overview of scenario’s in which projects can go wrong; students can try to identify their own situation and possibly learn from their mistakes. The failing of projects is often based on a combination of several of the listed scenario’s. I have divided the situations into 3 main categories: concept, process and presentation.


a. Knowing too much

Theoretical insight can make the design development more difficult. Having knowledge of all the complications of the design-topic can lead to ‘design-freeze’; not creating out of fear of making mistakes. As a result there is an over-focus on rationalizing the theory. searching new data is easier than creating design solutions.

b. Knowing too little

There is never a garantee that research questions can be answered. Sometime the research question involves topics which are not clearly defined or are not explained in relation to each other. The project then lacks focus.

c. Saying too little
Sometimes the student feels no need to make a critical statement or position the work in a defined context. As a result it raises the question how the project can be relevant. It’s not enough if the work has esthetic value or has been constructed in a skilled manner. At the academy the personal goals and ambition of the maker are always relevant.

d Urgent, but not effective
A student can be overwhelmed by the urgency of a certain theme and believe that anything that supports this cause is by definition good. The quality of a project is only measured partially by the relevance in a bigger context. The sense of urgency of the matter can also lead to feeling powerless to alter the situation with design.

a. Too little time
Research findings can lead to new insight which alter your direction and can influence the time left to develop products. With too many changes, sometimes too little time is left.

b. Too little connection
Research can be inspiring and relevant, but sometimes the connection into designing a related product can difficult. The research must have visible influence in the final product(s).

c. Too little skill
Research can lead to new inspiring design strategies. However it always takes skill and craft to realize a product. Sometimes choosing a new technique can result in less quality project, because there was too little experience in the chosen technique.

a. Too little confrontation
A project can be developed within the context of the academy. However at the final presentation it is expected that students already have brought their work in confrontation with the outside world.

b. Unclarity of presentation.
Even good research and well developed products can be missunderstood when the end presentation does not communicate enough. The presentation is always a design-task. Being to caught up in the project, can lead to too little time to design a communicative presentation.

c. Relation to the professional practice
A personal project offers the opportunity to create anything for anyone and place in any context. However in order to evaluate its quality; there has to be sufficient context. It is the responsibility of the maker; to provide and clarify that context for any audience. Especially if the maker goes beyond the context of the traditional professional practice.

Illustration survey – interest and opportunity in Illustration

Introduction.  I’ve done a small follow-up illustration survey in class with 23 2nd year illustration students. The goal was to get some insight in student interests, ambition and their view on the field of illustration. There were 4 ‘closed’ question:

  • what are an illustrator’s best chances in today’s market?
  • what are you current interests in relation to market opportunities?
  • What is important about freelancing for students to learn at the academy.

Based on the input we can make some crude assumptions. When it comes to ‘best chances in the market’ students consider: advertising, animation, editorial, and product/fashion as their top opportunities. Historical/Nature/Documentary (one topic), science are considered as the worst opportunity to find illustration work. Gallery- and expositions also score low in the expectations of students for illustration work. When asked about the students personal interest gallery- and expositions score highest. Followed by editorial, product/fashion, and advertising. Science, Historical/Nature/Documentary score relatively low. What students want to learn about freelancing is primarily the ability to work independently and proactive and communication skills. The ability to make deadlines and to be flexible with client is considered less important to learn at the academy.

Interpretation Based on these outcomes I have the following impression; the majority of the students have an interest in gallery-work and expositions, but it might give limited chances for work. When it comes to editorial illustration, I understand the students interest in this area, but I don’t share the idea that there is a lot of job opportunities in this area. Further more I think we (as a department) can improve by showing students the possibilities that the field of science-, documentary-, nature-, and documentary illustration can offer. I do believe that the field of information, and data design offers new opportunities for illustrators.

Regarding freelance work; it’s interesting that students show such an interest in learning how to work independently and proactive. Stimulating self-motivation, and independent learning is often a challenging topic for tutors to teach students. It’s also interesting that the results show that students are less interested in learning how to be flexible with clients.  I think the academy is a place where students can learn what it implies to be flexible in a safe and playful context. Staying loyal to artistic principals in an applied, and commercial context is often difficult.





Will Instagram Render the Art Academy Obsolete?


I have some rough thoughts about this question. The question belongs to one of my illustration students. I think it’s a relevant question because many illustrators promote the use of Instagram. I hope to further elaborate on my thoughts later.

Instagram is a social networking application.  It allows you to share photos or videos within a community. It is similar to facebook and twitter. Illustrators post their work on instagram where clients can find it, which can lead to commissions. I understand it can give illustration students the impression of a short-cut to ‘illustration-paradise’. Why bother with; academic theory classes, complicated conceptual issues, or vague hypothetical questions about artistic vision? Why bother with any academic content at all when all you need to do to become a ‘successful illustrator’ is post online and get noticed? As course leader of Illustration at the WdKA I feel I must reply.

My reasons why I consider studying at an art academy is more meaningful compared to posting your work on Instagram.

Passion.  The art academy encourages students to discover their individual qualities. It’s important to learn about yourself in order to understand how you can develop your creative abilities. It is not easy to find your passion as an illustrator. We often don’t find them unless we are willing to try and experiment. The academy serves as a place in which students are more likely to experiment. One of the roles of teachers to push and shove students (at times). A personal passion is not easily discovered.

Part by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on wasted potential […]

FOMO […]

You can look at other illustrator’s work on Instagram; but looking at images alone, will not increase your understanding. My colleague explained; the term ‘theory’ originates from the Greek; it implies ‘to look at’. Not just to ‘notice things’ but to acquire insight. We don’t study theory at the academy in order to gain ‘cold knowledge’, but to find a better understanding of ourselves.

The ‘applied arts dilemma’. How to stay with your artistic vision in a client-orientated market. […]

Market. The second reason is to learn about the ‘illustration-market’. This reason is complicated, and often misunderstood by students. By understanding the market; I don’t mean that students have to understand the client. Of course in some degree they must, but it is much more important to understand the: questions, principals and challenges of today’s illustration market. We should not teach students how to comply to clients. In stead we should talk on how the market should change. Instagram might be a market-influencer for illustrators, but who is reflecting upon this influence? There will not be any easy answers, but the academy is the place in which this should be addressed.

[platform-economy] – What is the bargaining power of todays freelance illustrator? What is the risk of an unprotected and open market principal for illustrators […]

Synergy. The last topic is about what can be achieved when a student can connect the three topics. It will give them a deep awareness of their individual role and possibilities as an illustrator. This is not a guarantee for economic success, but it implies that the student has discovered how to make a personal meaningful contribution to the world […]

Instagram can be an effective tool to acquire economic success for illustrators, but I hope our students will be the ones to contribute to the development of the new Economy.