West Georgia dominates the T-shirt design contest

Few have dominated The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race like those who sit in a yellow cinder-block room, more than 50 miles away.

From their first entries in 2007, students from Clint Samples’ classes at West Georgia have owned the T-shirt design contest for the race. From 2009-13, the students comprised 16 of the 25 finalists, with three winners. This year, Kristen Cone and Natasha Stansel, students in Samples’ Digital Media for Artists class, are two of the five finalists. The winning design will be unveiled race day on the Fourth of July.

“When I started, I thought if we did things right and started critiquing better, we could compete,” he said. “I never imagined it would be what it would become.”

The classroom where two of this year’s finalists worked on their projects doesn’t look it would contain a roomful of artists. Perhaps because it is the summer and there are few students on campus, but there are no photos, paintings or drawings on the walls or drafting tables.

The only art is supplied by Stansel and Cone, who brought in samples of how their entries evolved from pencil sketches to polished images that can be seen at www.peachtreeroadrace.org/event-information/t-shirt-contest.

It’s evident that the students put a lot of work into what they did.

“Hard work pays off,” said Stansel, whose work spilled into several folders. “I put a lot of effort into it.”

Samples decided to use the contest in 2007 as a means of developing skills simply because the timing worked. The Atlanta Track Club wanted designs submitted around the same time that Samples was looking for a project for his students. The timing has worked every year.

Participating in the project enabled Samples to teach the students how to use various software programs to craft and mesh ideas into one cohesive image. Some students are very good with one program, but not with another. It’s the same set of skills that he will later have them use to build resumes and websites.

Things didn’t start well. None of his students made the finals in 2007 or ’08. Samples began to merge some of the lessons he learned about critiquing from the corporate world. The critiques, done by students in the class and whomever else the students feel like asking, began to make the projects better.

Cone, a graphic design and photography major, started her design by drawing a peach and filling it with triangles for no reason other than she likes triangles. After the first of four in-class critiques, it was suggested that she lose the triangles because they had no relevance to the race. She kept the peach outline and began to draw runners of all shapes and sizes, including a wheelchair athlete. Those images eventually became the focal point of her entry.

The important thing, Samples said, is being open to both getting and giving feedback.

“They won’t be competitive unless they hear tough feedback,” he said.

Stansel, an art-education major who hopes to teach elementary school students, went through a much broader and extensive critiquing process. She estimates she wrote the word “Peachtree” hundreds of times, trying to find a script and look she liked. She eventually used one that she wrote on the first day of class. Her design features a large word, “Peachtree,” in blue script. The outline of a peach is in the background, with stars representing the holiday throughout the image.

“It looks very festive to me,” Stansel said. “It’s not contained, it’s breaking out.”

That willingness to keep working is also an important part of Samples’ teaching process. He said he tries to be firm, but fair, and will never tear down the students. It’s something he learned when he was an undergrad at West Georgia from his mentor, Bruce Bobick, whose name graces a gallery on campus.

Samples drives the students to work like professionals to strengthen their resumes should they be chosen as finalists or winners.

He uses himself as an example. From the time he made his first pencil drawings of a dragon with a pencil while in elementary school, he knew art was what gave him confidence. Before teaching, he worked for a textile firm in LaGrange. He knew nothing about textiles, but brought strong resume and samples to his interview. He said he was hired on the spot.

Of course, not being chosen — there was one student who entered this year’s contest that Samples thought could be a finalist — can also teach them that life for an artist sometimes isn’t fair.

“You just try to be caring with the kids,” Samples said. “You want them to be successful. You want them to do well.”

It’s evident they respect him.

Cone took the Digital Media class because she had previous class in which Samples was the instructor. Stansel also was a student of Samples in the past, and she was worried about the Digital Media class because of the extensive use of computers to craft the final images. She scheduled extra sessions with Samples to gain a level of comfort with the technology.

“The fun of the whole project is not knowing what will happen,” he said. “Can we keep it going? Will a student win? And of course, watching them light up when they get that (finalist) phone call.”

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