Hi, I’m Sean. I want to talk about my past and how it has shaped my art making in the present. I wasn’t always interested in graphic design, in fact, I made conscious decisions to get away from digital and fine art. When I was finishing up my last year in high school, I knew that I wanted to follow my passions and not just play it safe in college by getting a business degree. So, after a lot of contemplating, I decided to follow my passion in music and go to school for audio engineering. I was fortunate enough to get accepted to the audio engineering program at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. I was ecstatic not only because I was going to music city, but also because I could finally take my music goals seriously.
This excitement was short-lived however because I quickly realized that Nashville was not my cup of tea. There were too many tall cowboy hats and too much honkey tonk music playing everywhere I went. After a lot of contemplating, I decided to move back home to Spokane and attend college at Whitworth University, my mother’s alma mater. Art making was something that I enjoyed and I thought I was good at, but I never really considered making a career out of it. Not until I saw Whitworth’s Art Department and all they had to offer. Even though I knew nothing about digital art, I decided to major in graphic design and start fresh.
The number of metaphorical tools in my tool box has increased exponentially since beginning the graphic design program. Just two years ago, I couldn’t have told you what a layer mask is or what isometric design is. My time interning at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Art Museum and Sculpture Garden allowed me to contemplate themes in contemporary art and how I can incorporate some of those themes within my own work. I now feel much moreconfident in my work and what I produce and I can attribute that to the Art Department here at Whitworth.
My focus now is on how I can blend what I have learned about audio with what I have learned about graphic design. My belief is that any work of art can be enhanced with the incorporation of audio and vice versa. Exploring this theme has led me down some interesting paths which I like to express in my work. The most recent theme which I am exploring is uncovering how technology can be beneficial as well as detrimental within daily life and our contemporary landscape. Specifically, the ethical implications of graphic design in modern advertising culture. My work “Some Goddamn Peace & Quiet” showcases this theme well and is the culmination of all of my knowledge and skills I have learned over the past five years. Audio, film, graphic design, and some aspects of fine art are all showcased within a minute and a half video and the accompanying object.
In this next blog post, I want to talk about how my ideas of critiquing consumer culture in advertising formed. Then, I will try to explain how I convey this idea within my own work. Before getting involved with graphic design, I only saw advertising in two ways; informative or annoying. The more I learned about graphic design and technology, I slowly realized how manipulative and aggressive consumer advertising has become over the past few decades. Entire million-dollar industries are built on selling users’ personal data for targeted advertising and there is no sign of this trend slowing down. I was disgusted not only in this societal trend, but also in myself for being a part of the problem as a graphic designer. To combat this, I started researching how graphic design can be used ethically. The best way to reveal the dangers of advertising is through counter advertising. More specifically, promoting awareness of this problem through graphic design.
My first project involving this topic is my “Consume Magazine” made in 2019. This magazine was meant to be about how we consume resources; whether it be food or media. The project was fairly successful in my opinion, but due to my limited knowledge of digital graphic design at the time, it now looks a bit mediocre. Nonetheless, I believe that this project helped me start thinking about art and design in ways which provide some sort of information to a viewer or consumer. Particularly information about how technology influences human life.
Another project dealing with this theme is my “Consume Catalog”. It is fairly similar in terms of content, but I feel it was more successful in conveying the idea of mass consumption. Pictured within the design are various dismembered cow parts or tools used in the cattle processing industry. They are advertised as if they were for sale in some high-end market and the prices listed are ridiculously high. For example, one of the images is a jar of cow eyeballs listed for $1,520. What I was hoping to convey in this was the brutality of the cattle industry and the extents that some people go to in order consume what they want, whatever it may be. In this particular work, I juxtaposed these ideas with trends which can be seen in the fashion industry of soaring prices for seemingly common items.
In this next blog post, I want to talk about my passion for audio and highlight some of my works which influenced my ideas. I started getting interested in making music around the age of 12 when I was learning about computers and all of the tools the internet had to offer. I stumbled onto an online program in which I could arrange certain sounds on a grid and have it play over a set amount of time. Soon, I was creating my own beats, and eventually those became songs. Around 14, I started listening to a lot of electronic music. I loved that with music, your mind could wander endlessly; but at the same time, I was in awe of fact that someone had created it. Someone could alter or mash or combine an infinite number of sounds to create something completely new.
I soon wondered if I could create something like that, and after some research, I found a program called FL Studio. This program and others like it are called Digital Audio Workstations. D.A.W’s allow users to alter or create sounds with digital synthesizers and effects. The possibilities are almost endless, but I don’t want to get all nerdy about it, so I’ll leave it at that. Around the age of 17, I started releasing some of my beats on a website called SoundCloud so that I could share my work more. This motivated me to start taking my practice more seriously.
Click on the image above or use the following link to hear the music: https://soundcloud.com/terpalien/sets/zeal-ep
After getting some support from friends, I was feeling good about my music. So, when it was time to look for a college to attend, I decided to find a program in audio engineering and learn more about the music business. I chose to attend Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and it was great. I learned about recording technology, media and society, and temporal processing, but I missed my family in Spokane. The decision to move back home did not hold me back or deter me from making music. It just allowed me to focus on my other passion, graphic design.
Click on the image above or use the following link to hear the music: https://soundcloud.com/terpalien/sets/ooze
Attending Whitworth provided me with both an education in one of my passions, and the ability to be close to my family. While learning about art, I realized how similar art and music are to one another. I wanted to start integrating music into my artwork at Whitworth and during my Senior Seminar class in 2020, I was able to do just that with my “Amplex Zeal EP” project. In this project, I created a four track EP album and the accompanying album artwork. This project really allowed me to refine my skills as well as learn new ones in audio and graphic design.
After beginning the Senior Exhibition class in the spring of 2021, I was conflicted about which one of my projects I would exhibit. I knew I wanted to incorporate audio, but I also wanted to showcase my graphic design work. The obvious answer was to exhibit my Amplex music project from the previous year, so I started planning how I could present audio in a shared gallery. This led me to acoustic isolation chambers. They solved the problem of keeping the gallery space quiet while providing an individual listening experience, but when researching costs online, I figured it would be too expensive to buy a professional isolation chamber. Therefore, I felt I had to scrap the idea and find another way to showcase my work.
While contemplating my work and what to exhibit, I began thinking of the exhibition as an opportunity to say something, or to promote awareness of a problem I saw in society. In thinking about my relationship with technology and how much information I consume on a daily basis, I found myself disgusted with the amount of information forced upon me in the form of advertisements. As a graphic designer, I started thinking about how these ads drive supply and demand which contributes to the endless cycle of consumption. This consumption leads to pollution, deforestation, and in some extreme cases, slavery. Should designers consider these ethical implications, or should they just finish the job to make a quick buck? I knew that I needed to make something which encompassed that question, but I didn’t know where to start. I began thinking of acoustic isolation chambers as a way to escape the psychologically manipulative advertisements and that lead me to the idea of Some Goddamn Peace & Quiet.
The construction process was a bit more complex than I initially anticipated. I began by purchasing an orchestral stage microphone stand and 48 acoustic foam panels. After days of searching countless Home Depots, I finally found a flowerpot large enough to act as a base for the acoustic foam. I spray painted the flowerpot black and began attaching the foam panels with adhesive spray glue. The first problem I ran into was that the foam panels would not keep their shape when fixed to a curved surface. To solve this, I cut the panels into strips and attached them lengthwise with staples until I had a piece 1 square by 32 squares in dimension. I then created rings from these pieces which would fit better horizontally along the surface of the flowerpot. To compress the rings as they got closer to the top of the piece, I used 8 staples on each individual square and tightened them with pliers to get to my desired size. Around 2000 staples were used and this was the most time-intensive part of the process. Once I was happy with the shape, I attached rings of EVA foam on the top and bottom edges to cover any flaws and provide a cohesive structure.
The final step was to create the accompanying audio and video for the advertisement. Over the course of a week, I storyboarded the film and with the help of some friends, we began shooting. The video process was quite straightforward, but the post processing was much more difficult. Using the skills in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator I learned at Whitworth, I was able to create the backgrounds as well as the product logos for Some Goddamn Peace & Quiet. The humorous nature of the video made it enjoyable to create, but more importantly, I felt I was conveying something important and relevant to modern society. The project left me with a sense of accomplishment, and I was glad that I had the opportunity to bring my idea to fruition.