Media & Techniques

Getting Started with Adobe Illustrator (Ep. 245)

To coincide with the release of his new Getting Started with Adobe Illustrator PRO Pack, Rich Stachon comes on the show to talk to Tim about all things online teaching and graphic design. Listen as they discuss filming for PRO, teaching for creativity during a pandemic, and the importance of demonstrating and sharing the artmaking process.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University. I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. All right, we have what should be a fun episode for you today. My guest is going to be Rich Stachon. He is a middle school teacher in the Chicago suburbs and he, for as long as I’ve known him, has embraced the use of technology and done some wonderful things with technology in the classroom.

He and I connected a few years back on Twitter, kind of got to know each other. The first time we met in person was kind of fun. We were in Chicago for the NAEA national conference. I was just walking through one of the main halls and I just hear this voice go, “Tim, I need to scan your head.” If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will. But that was Rich, and he had set up his tech and he was scanning people’s heads and then printing 3D portraits of them.

So anyway, that was kind of a fun way to meet, kind of a cool experience. If you go to Rich’s Twitter account, you can actually see him doing the scan… It’s kind of his background picture… from that exact same weekend with Don Massey, so that’s kind of a fun one.

But I have kept track of Rich and everything he’s doing since then just because he is so creative with his teaching and he keeps up with all kinds of new ideas. And of course, he’s got a lot to share, so let me bring him on and we can get our discussion started. All right. Rich, welcome to the show. How are you?

Rich: I’m great. How are you doing?

Tim: I’m doing really well. I’m excited to speak with you today. Lots of good stuff to talk about but first of all, just welcome to the show. And secondly, can you introduce yourself, tell everybody a little bit about your teaching and what teaching looks like for you right now?

Rich: Yeah. So first off, I want to say thank you very much for having me on the podcast here. A long time listener, first time guest so thank you very much for having me.

Tim: Love it.

Rich: I’m an art and design educator Glen Crest Middle School. That’s in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, which is a northwest suburb of Chicago. I teach a range of classes that include mixed media, graphic design and digital art, advanced art, design and architecture/engineering. So we started off full remote at the beginning of the year. We went hybrid for a few weeks in October and now we are back remote.

Tim: Yeah, just a lot of changes, a lot of craziness this year for everybody. Are you handling it okay? Is everything going all right for you still?

Rich: Yeah. I think that definitely a lot of things that I’ve implemented previously in my years teaching, doing things digitally and having videos ready and things, helped me out in order to do this. But yeah, it’s still different. Just the connections. I miss having the connections with the students and still kind of rolling through trying to get those connections I had in class virtually.

Tim: Oh, for sure, for sure. I know that’s something that so many teachers are struggling with right now and just that missing piece. It’s tough for everybody.

But a big reason I wanted to have you on the podcast here is that you have a really cool pro pack coming out about Adobe Illustrator. Can you give us kind of a preview of what to expect from that pro pack, maybe some of your favorite things or best advice that you share in there or some of your favorite resources?

Rich: Yes. So this pro pack has a ton of content, I’m not going to lie to you. We go over all of what you would teach in the classroom, just the basics of the interface of Adobe Illustrator, how to use basic shapes, the pencil, the Type Tool. I give you some exercises that I use in the classroom to introduce Illustrator. We talk about saving artwork and how to turn it in and even how to display the digital artwork.

Though I’ll have to tell you, though, these resources are amazing. Your graphic design department over there that that makes these ideas on scratch piece of paper that I had and to see what they made out of them is just truly unbelievable. And really, my favorite resources are these shape, pen and Type Tool practice pages. The reason I like it so much is because when I was thinking about this pro pack, I’m like, “How would I want to learn a program like Illustrator?” To me, it was more like, “I want to do it along with the person,” and so these resources could be easily imported into Illustrator and you could practice along with me as I’m introducing the pencil, the Type Tool, how to combine shapes, and you could do it. Same thing, teachers could use these practice pages along with their students and introduce these basic, essential Illustrator tools and have them practice them before they even start experimenting in their own artwork.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a really good idea. That’s a really cool way to approach it. I know that’s something we don’t do in a lot of the pro packs, so I like that approach a lot. That sounds really cool. And I guess that makes me want to ask, too, is your pack designed for people who are just starting, just learning, or is there stuff in there for people who already know a lot about Illustrator? Who’s going to get the most out of this?

Rich: Well, I think this pro pack is for both, but I think it’s really for the beginning illustrator. It starts you off on your illustrator journey, really, like the beginners, though even I think seasoned Illustrator users could use this as a refresher or possibly even as motivation to incorporate vector-based graphics into their art curriculum. And whether you have a particular course that’s just graphic design and digital art or you’re just talking about your general art curriculum, I think that looking at this pro pack and learning about Illustrator, you can really utilize it in any kind of platform, no matter what you teach in art.

Tim: That’s really cool. Now let me ask you also, I guess, just more about the idea of teaching graphic design, what that’s looked like right now. You mentioned back at the beginning the idea that you have videos, you have all these things going digital. And with your teaching graphic design, has that been beneficial or can you talk about how that’s beneficial in the current situation? Can you talk about, more specifically, the things that are working really well for you right now?

Rich: Yeah, so the difference is obviously, in person here, we have Adobe Creative Cloud here at my school so all my students have an individual account and they use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator in our computer lab and our laptops that we have here. But in our situation since March, we are… Being remote and even hybrid, I’m not using the school’s equipment that we have here, but we are a one-to-one school district for Chromebooks so I kind of had to flip the script a little bit and figure out, “All right, what do I do here now? I still am teaching graphic design and digital art. How would I utilize what I did before using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and kind of change it into what we have now?”

So the first thing I started looking into was obviously the Adobe mobile apps. They have Photoshop and they now have Illustrator on the iPad and it’s great. I’ve used them and I promote it to my students because they do have accounts in my school district in order to do that, though not every student has an iPad. My school is, [inaudible 00:08:01] I said before, is one-on-one Chromebooks, so I kind of had to look for different web-based applications that could run on Chromebooks and that were alternatives to Photoshop and Illustrator and I found two. I found Pixlr and I found Vectr, so Pixlr for pixel-based graphic design and then Vectr for the vector-based. Really, using those tools has really helped me out. It’s allowed me to continue teaching what I’ve been teaching remotely, and it’s been a really positive experience.

Tim: That’s really cool. I really like hearing that that has worked. Can you kind of talk me through what projects look like for you? What is the art making process for you when kids are at a distance and you’re trying to do some graphic design things?

Rich: It’s all about showing progress, right?

Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rich: I mean, I’ve been on this kind of kick for the past couple of years, honestly, of really putting my words where my mouth is as far as showing… I talk about process and our educators talk about process, process, process a lot, but we seem to always only show the end product.

Tim:  Hey, I’m guilty of that as well. I’ll be honest.

Rich: Well, we all are. We all are. I’m calling myself out as well. I’m not saying that it’s everyone else’s issue, not mine. I definitely am doing it. It was actually a couple of years ago, really. I was at a conference, a local conference, and everyone’s talking about this and I was thinking about this. I’m always trying to figure out this process and it’s really even been even more important now in this virtual world, as far as showing the process and how I do it.

And I’ve changed ways couple of different times as far as how I do it. But what I’ve learned right now… It’s been working so far… is number one, they’re on the computer so much, so I want to really get down to the idea generation and really getting those mind maps, checklists, word association, that stuff first when we’re talking about doing any sort of exercise or projects in our graphic design classes. That way, they’re not on a computer. They’re taking the pencil and paper, they’re getting off the screen and are actually doing something prior to getting on the technology, doing the research, what have other people had done before them, things like that before we really get into any of those programs I talked about.

And that’s been really positive because students respect that because they want to get off the screen a little bit. They want that time to produce ideas before they get on. And honestly, their ideas are better, too, once they end up using the technology to create their work. So that’s one thing.

Another thing that’s really been working is once they’re in the applications that we’re using, whether it’s Vectr or Pixlr right now… I mean, this is something that’s going to carry over, too, when we get back into the classroom and Photoshop is I’ve been creating these Google slides and these templates and we use Google Classroom. I was, early on, kind of doing this individual assignment every day, “Here, show your progress. Hit this. Add the photo here,” and I was like, “Man, this is a lot of work for me, kind of going through all this every single day, all these different assignments.” And the students, too. They kind of think, “Oh man, I got to post something to this assignment every day for this guy? Come on.”

And so I was like, “All right, what are some other people doing?” and just kind of looking through PLN and all these different people doing stuff, even people in my own school district, other teachers in other subjects, “What are you doing?” and I… This idea of this Google slides template where I come up with just a basic template and then they put their work into it day by day and they show their progress, [inaudible 00:11:40] a screenshot or they take a photo of their work each day and then by the end, whether they want to present it to me or present it to someone else or share ideas, they have something right there and it shows exactly what they went through the whole entire time. And they did it bit by bit. It’s not something that all happens at the end or in the beginning. It’s a nice little progression. It’s really nice to see. It’s all in one place and that’s exactly what I like because it’s in one place.

Tim: Yeah, I really like that. That’s a great way to organize and, like you said, a great way to show processing. That’s a very, very cool idea.

And then I guess I wanted to have you talk just a little bit about some specific projects that you’re doing. I know when you and I were kind of chatting about doing this podcast, you were telling me about some of the projects that your students have been working on. Can you share a couple of ideas, a couple things that kids have been doing or maybe just ideas that they’ve responded really well to?

Rich: So one that I kind of was thinking about, I was in the process of putting up posters in my own classroom, covering up blank door areas that I had, and I was using this website called Amplifier. Amplifier is not-for-profit… Nonprofit, sorry… design lab that builds art and media to amplify the most important movements of our time. They have these really great campaigns and they have one on COVID, so I was putting up these signs, positive signs.

I was really thinking about this a lot and I started talking to my students in my graphic design class about the text and how text conveyed a certain message and how the imagery was affecting mood. I kind of challenged them about kind of becoming these mood modifiers and having them create images and posters throughout our school to kind of build up the morale and the positivity and to inspire positivity.

Because we started talking about, “When we walked in our school when we came back in October, how did it make you feel?” They started saying things like, “Well, I don’t know. I was happy that I was back, but…” I’m like, “Well, visually, though, what did you see?” They’re like, “Well, I saw lines on the ground. I saw spaces six feet apart. I saw signs telling me to keep my mask on, wash my hands.” So these are the images that they’re seeing. I said, “Well, how’d that make you feel?” They’re like, “Well, kind of sterile, kind of blank, hospital-like.” I’m like, “Okay.”

When we start talking about, “How do we want to feel? How do you want to feel when you walk into a space like school here?” We started saying, “Well, we want to feel like we’re happy. We want to feel like we enjoy being here,” and so I was really challenging them to be these mood modifiers, like I said, and creating these posters using text, color, imagery, the principles of design, in order to affect people’s moods. That’s something I think is really cool. It’s all inspired by that It’s been really positive.

There’s a lot of stuff going on with these students right now. There’s a lot of different things going on. They have a lot to say, and to teach them that they could do it in a micro sense here in school and still had these macro ideas is really important to me.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s important, just being able to show kids how their big ideas can translate into art and giving them a vehicle to share all of those ideas is always going to be worthwhile. Rich, thank you so much for coming on. It’s been great talking to you. Any last words of advice or recommendations or anything else you want to share with everybody before we wrap things up here?

Rich: Honestly, I just want to say everyone, stay strong. Be positive. These students look to you as a role model and our attitudes reflect. They really respond and they feed off of us and what we do, so we just got to stay positive, really. I know that it’s hard to and I’m not saying that I’m feeding noise to anybody as far as saying that things aren’t going well, but just trying to be as positive as possible, I think, is really my point right now.

Tim: I think that’s fantastic. That’s good advice for everybody. Find the positivity where you can, promote it where you can amplify it and-

Rich: There you go.

Tim: … I think we’ll be good. All right, Rich, it’s been great talking to you. Thank you so much and hopefully, we can have you on again soon.

Rich: That’d be great. Thanks, Tim.

Tim: Now, as Rich said, his pro pack is full of all kinds of great advice for getting started with Illustrator and some great resources that help you with your teaching, some other resources you can go through with your students. I got a sneak preview of the pack and I found it incredibly worthwhile. I’m not the strongest with digital art and I learned a ton. But I saw in that pack and as Rich talked about, there’s some best practices, there’s some other ideas that I think can be helpful for anyone who is using Illustrator with your students. And if you aren’t teaching with Illustrator, if you aren’t doing graphic design, there are a couple other packs that just came out today. One is about needle felting and the other, recorded by yours truly, is about writing meaningful and worthwhile artist statements.

Hopefully, I can find some things there that are good for you and that you can use, but you can check out everything Now, Rich also mentioned a few of his favorite apps and programs and websites, so we’ll make sure we link to all of those so you can check them out, Amplifier and Pixlr and Vectr off the top of my head that he mentioned that I think can all be worth your time. Hopefully between those resources, what you find in the pro pack and this conversation today, you should have a lot that can help you move forward with teaching graphic design.

Art Ed Radio was produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you, as always, for listening. We will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.