Vaughan Lewis Carman
On creating connections
A conversation with Vaughan and Kendra
Vaughan RISD’s crazy—in a good way. It's a healthy crazy—everyone always seems to be doing something cool. There’s so much going on. You can just be like, “I’m going to see this,” then someone’s like, “Wait, did you see this?” And you’re like, “Wait, no, I was at that.” But that’s how you decide your future...map out this, this and this. Okay, I got it.... RISD’s like Chutes and Ladders. You know Chutes and Ladders?
Kendra Hmmm, no.
Vaughan Well, it’s this board game where you start at the bottom left—
Kendra [laughter] Wait, is this Snakes and Ladders?
Vaughan [laughter] Yeah, maybe. Probably?
Kendra Yeah, we have that game, we just call it something different in Asia.
Vaughan Then you know how it is—you go along and if you get a ladder you go up, and if you get a snake or a slide you go down. RISD’s like that, but not in a negative sense, more like you could one day get invited to a show by a friend and then your other friend says, “Hey, let’s go get some pizza” and then at the pizza shop you end up meeting some people you didn’t know from school and you go to visit their studio. Maybe they’re in Painting and you’re in Apparel but you’ve never been to Painting before. You just meet so many people here, it’s gnarly [laughter].
Kendra [laughter] In Graphic Design most of our work is done in front of computers, so sometimes we’ll visit our friends in Textiles and do our homework in the Textiles studios. The studio environment isn’t exactly a place, it’s more like the people you're inspired by and who you want to work with. You find them, you bring your work over.
Vaughan I think it’s good to get techniques from your friends and apply them to your own major. I’ve done pattern work for Industrial Design and Textiles. It’s so fun, oh my god…I still paint and sculpt to get clothing ideas.
Kendra I actually thought about doing a double major because I kind of view myself as both an artist and a designer...at least I like to do both. I started with a very fine arts background—not that I went to a fine arts high school—but I was more drawn to conceptual art and painting, that sort of thing. I basically chose to major in Graphic Design on a whim. I never really thought of myself as a graphic designer. Before I declared, I probably wouldn’t even have laughed about Comic Sans. I’d be like, “Hey guys, what’s so bad about Comic Sans?”
Vaughan [laughter] Oh man...I also feel like I struggled with confidence at first. Usually in the studio everyone’s working, making stuff, but if you have questions you should not be afraid to ask your classmates or teachers or whatever. Relationships with other students or with faculty, they are literally what you make of them. They take effort, like any relationship. Bonding with a teacher can be one of the coolest things. If you end up being able to vibe over something you’re making with the person who’s trying to help you do better work, that’s like—
Kendra I feel the same. At RISD the professors are so open to students—you know, to what they think and their ideas. Maybe I notice it more because where I come from, in Singapore, teachers tell you what to do and you just, you know, listen to them. I was actually really surprised by how open it was when I first got here, and naturally that came with a lot of difficulties when it came to speaking up in class. I don’t know if you remember from our first year, but I was really quiet in the beginning. I think it was a mixture of being shy and also being more interested in certain types of critique than others. If you ask me to critique in a way that's purely formal I’d be like: “I like this line...great composition?” That’s it…
Vaughan Yeah, but you were good in crit. I always find myself going like “Oh, I like this,” and that’s like the worst crit you can ever give.
Kendra [laughter] That’s always the kind of crit I don’t want to give!
Vaughan [laughter] Yeah, here’s some advice for new students: don’t just say, “This is cool” or “This is dope” or “That's awesome.”
Kendra I am always interested in hearing about the thinking behind a piece—in what people have to say about why they started the process and their rationale for choosing different materials. To me that has so much more potential for interesting conversation. Now that I’m in Graphic Design I crit a lot more. I've discovered that I’m so interested in talking about future technologies—just, like, new interfaces and possibilities. The professor ends up calling on me directly for work that has technology-oriented processes. I mean, in crit I don’t think you should force yourself to say things just for the sake of saying things—it’s not about being heard—but more like: Can you contribute something meaningful to the conversation? Can you be sensitive to rationales? Give people your thoughts, because what you think has value, instead of being like, “Oh, this is not important” for whatever reason...no! You have to share what’s on your mind because your classmates really do want to hear it.