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Biography 

Sharon E. (Libby) Clarke is an artist, designer, and educator living in Maplewood, NJ. She received her BFA in Printmaking and BA and French from James Madison University and her MFA in 2D Design / Printmaking from Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Artist

As an artist, Libby has produced a series of multi-media conceptual products under the name Monstress Productions since 1996. In 2000, she was awarded a project grant from the NEA to produce the first major showcase of these, the Monstress Activities Box. Her work has been exhibited and collected internationally.

Educator

Libby is the Director of the Studio School at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. She began teaching around New York City at FIT, NYU, AINYC, and GSS, teaching subjects such as web design, typography, drawing, and printmaking.  She served as an Assistant Professor at the New York College of Technology in Brooklyn, New York. for five years. She has given lectures on her work at the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center, California State University, the Southern Graphics Council International Conference, and FIT. She works as a part-time lecturer at Parsons the New School and can occasionally be found at the Brooklyn Brainery.

Research

Libby’s current focus is the use of haptic lessons to teach art and design students essential metacognitive skills. She started the EAT Lab with Dr. Xiaohai (Richard) Li to push her practice and research into whole new directions.

Designer

Libby served as the Publications and Information Manager at the Gowanus Studio Space.  Professionally, Libby has worked as an interaction art director for over 17 years for such companies as Agency.com and Scholastic. She is an accomplished designer, producing web sites, apps for phone and tablet, print pieces of all kinds, exhibits, and way-finding systems.

On a personal note, Libby is originally from a small family farm way back in the woods of Allegheny County, Virginia. She can clean and process a chicken gizzard faster than most people, if need be. Libby was lucky enough to be a graduate of Stuart Hall School in Staunton, Virginia. She has had many day jobs including: vacuum salesman, print puller, Chelsea nanny, caterer, face painter, veal farm worker, burger joint mascot, art handler, and telemarketer. As such, she has an alarming amount of anecdotes for just about any situation. She lives in Maplewood, NJ with her lovely wife, magnificent daughter, and Beatrice, their stalwart cat.

Artist’s Statement & Portfolio

I create work that bridges the haptic and the virtual in order to change the world, one person at a time.

In order to clarify this statement, I’d like to give you some context: I became a printmaker in college and it electrified me with the inks, the substrates, and the collaboration with the materials. Then there was the phenomenon of print as a social force: the legitimacy of the printed word and the power of the poster. I dove into all the processes I could, experimented with voice and began to find my way. The work I produced was diaristic and figurative but I could feel a centrifugal pull outwards, beyond my own needs.

I pursued an MFA in Printmaking, only to find the department at my school in painful flux: the department head chose to shed a lot of equipment in order to make room for a proposed radio station and additional computers. It was a hard lesson: we as printmakers are the keepers of seemingly outdated technologies and sometimes struggle to prove our relevance. After a year and a half of struggling with my department head’s decisions, I moved over to the 2D Design department to complete my degree. There I found people reverent to the processes of the past while being fully engaged in the future. There was no disdain for the older technologies but a vivid love of the entire continuum; I learned we are only able to truly innovate when we are well-versed in where we have been.

It proved to be a wildly fortuitous move: Printmaking gave me the tools to become an impassioned artist and Design gave me the methodology to become an engaged creative citizen. I dove into the theory and discourse of graphic design: I learned content production, typography, and branded composition as a print designer. I went on to examine persuasion, propaganda, and perception in an effort to master tenets of design thinking. I taught myself to build and publish web sites in a user-centered production cycle. Most importantly, I learned that creating client work is not selling out but being of service, lending a new dimension of compassion to all my creative output. I necessarily became a hybrid, part artist, part designer. My work went from representational explorations of body politics to packaged aspirational devices: paper products to save the world, as I called them.

Graphic Design has become a major inspiration and energy source for my artwork: it is embedded into the warp and weft of our culture, encompassing psychology, technology, commercialism, and empathy. It has given me the latitude to push my work into media I’d not considered before: video, sound, and performance. My work currently comes with two distinct components: an evocative printed take-away and an interaction system in the form of a website, application, or installation. These act in concert to address issues of metacognition, encouraging the user to navigate common woes with humor. This is how I hope to gently change the world from the inside out.

I am currently developing an installation/performance piece called User Testing wherein the viewer becomes my collaborator, giving her answers to a series of queries that will help shape the next generation of products from my Monstress Productions line. The data she gives will be rendered via algorithm into an original composition which will be printed on the spot and given to her as compensation for her participation. As such, I am moving towards using data as a material, extending the idea of the multiple into yet another dimension while uniting my love of printmaking and interaction design into a force for good.

Teaching Philosophy

I teach to empower my students and to enlighten myself, day after day after day.

I have come upon the single core element I believe is essential for a successful creative life for any person: the practice of fearless play. The logic I try to get my students to internalize is this: if I cannot take risks in my learning, I will never innovate. If I cannot let go of the familiar or secure long enough to make bold conceptual leaps, I will never excel. If, however, I learn to give myself permission to be as bad or awkward as I need to be at something for a while, I will master the skill and move on to the next one. If I become proficient at this cycle of learning, I will be unstoppable no matter what I encounter.

Teaching, in my mind, is full-on activism: I teach to help build the world in which I want to live. To this end, I strive to make my classes safe places so my students are secure enough to learn openly. I always make it clear that progress is the goal, and I am ever ready to guide the students as they become open to more possibilities. I append the day’s lessons with what I call Meta Moments, wherein I go over what is informing the frame of reference at hand or what personal experiences are shaping my teaching at that moment. I model lifelong learning for my students by deconstructing any mistakes or discoveries of my own with their active input. My transparency earns the students’ trust and they begin to make steady leaps forward — once they realize they can.

After the class gains traction, we build a mutually agreed-upon criticality through frequent discussions, field trips, speakers, and demonstrations. I work to partner with each individual student to extract the most meaning out of the material for that particular person. I do not think shared standards are in anyway useless, but I do believe each student needs to learn how to evince meaning out of the world for himself. I can work to inspire and instill vigor, but I cannot dictate how to achieve true quality for another person. It is as such always an honor to be a part of a student’s journey, and I strive to stay fresh and teachable to be of full use.

teach_rubric

I always try to work out the grading rubric in class: obviously I guide the discussion, but the students are basically agreeing to a contract with me. They have to not only understand but come up with the terms.

In my advanced classes, I model and demand the criticality and work ethic a truly delving practice demands. I engender a culture of open, compassionate, and raucous dialogue as I have seen that students who can articulate their intentions and viewpoints clearly and earnestly are by far the most successful in their later careers. I prefer my class critiques to get exacting in terms of content and effervescent in tone: there is so much to learn, we may as well have good, blood-pumping fun in the process. I am not a trainer of divas but a cultivator of future team builders.

I think today’s students are faced with a particularly tough challenge: they have to navigate the supposed chasm between the older art-making techniques and the emerging technologies of today, all while forging a cohesive art practice. My charge is to give my students timeless tools to establish and maintain a healthy sense of perspective in the face of constant, anaerobic change. I want my students to go forth into the world able to apply their art-making skills to whatever life they choose with clear-minded, compassionate alacrity. In this way, I consider myself a successful instructor and cultural producer.

More Work for the Art Center

I have been a bit busy the last few months! As I have been getting used to my role at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, I have been designing on several levels. As the Director of the Studio School, I create classes and events with my staff (Dalila DeCarvalho, I am looking at you!) . As the defacto art director, I design the materials to support them: pieces for print, web, for educational and promotional purposes.

Applying a forming style

I have had to design as quickly as possible, so I work within extremely narrow limits. It’s the only way I know to find great ideas, actually. I have limited the options for grids and fonts as much as I dare and let the color story develop as I go. It isn’t perfect, but it is actually starting to turn into a consolidated style my team can use.

I have been able to get the catalog set up and it has come together well.

I even get to go to Linco to print it!

Press check with a great printer! #lincoprinting

A video posted by Libby Clarke (@mon_stress) on

Designing programs, then promoting them

I have been working on ways to find new students, refresh the curriculum, and engage my instructors. So far I have designed a few programs like Art School Confidential and Raku•Fest, but we are rolling out a few new items and tiers for the coming year. Being able to articulate these visually as well as in life is so exciting.

Developing a campaign as we go

Luckily, I have an amazing Director of Marketing at the Art Center, Cynthia McChesney. She has thought up some beautiful stuff and I keep getting to work on it. It’s been a blast, if a bit busy. I can’t overstate how good it is to work with someone who truly thinks in a very similar way–not that we always agree, but to have a creative who is just as fast as I am and usually right a full minute before I realize it is such a joy.

This is just from one campaign we have been working on.

Giving my team tools and templates

I am trying to help everyone on my team have what they need to improve the ephemera and deliverables for the Art Center.

All in all, I get to go to my job and do a bit of all I am good at doing, each day. Having been a designer has organized my brain in ways that help me all the time, and now I have these opportunities to weave art, education, activism, and design into a daily practice.

 

Art Center Fall 2016 Catalog: Total Redesign!

I redesigned the catalog of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey this month. I took it as a chance to refresh the brand. As the Director of the Studio School, I need to make sure I am reaching and hearing all the people for whom I hope to serve. This catalog, along with the website and other communications, is my program’s lifeline.

Motif

The Art Center connects all levels of art makers to each other and the world. I started playing with these fairly oblique geometric shapes connecting elements to each other in the background. I will pull that thread until I find a way to talk about the entire organization: contemporary art museum, studio school, and community resource. I chose the color as a starting point as I venture through the spectrum until we all settle on a solid color story. In essence, I hope to gently beta test a few elements while I promote all that the Art Center already has in abundance: engaged staff, spectacular museum programming, great instructors, and a solid core of students and visitors. My goal is to create a playful side to the brand, one that allows for more visible evolution.

Team

I am working under the guidance of Executive Director Melanie Cohn and Director of Marketing Cynthia McChesney at the Art Center. They have welcomed me with open arms and have treated me as an equal from day one. They turned me loose, really, and fully empowered me to dive in. I cannot emphasize how crucial that sort of simple respect is to an artist and designer. I have had an almost vertiginous thrill this entire first month from the ability to actually make change on a daily basis.

On the Road for the Art Center: Paper Litho

I was able to do a short segment on News 12’s On the Road program yesterday. I rolled out the Paper Litho and got to talk about the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey.

Materials and links

Click here to see the segment (if you subscribe to certain cable carriers) and here is the handout for your own Paper Litho pleasure.

New Position at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey

I have been chosen to be the new Director of the Studio School of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. I am leaving my position of Assistant Professor at the New York City College of Technology and am relocating my family and studio in the Maplewood, NJ area sometime in the next year. I will continue to teach for Parsons the New School in the AAS program for as long as that fine institution will have me–this coming year, I am teaching online classes for them.

Until the transition is complete, I remain active on the Steering Committee of the Gowanus Studio Space and continue work on my long-running Monstress Mid-Living suite. My work with the EAT lab is still underway, albeit a bit slowed by all the changes.

More Results: Paper Litho for Beginners at the Brooklyn Brainery

Excellent class!
June 05, 2016
Brooklyn Brainery, as per usual!

I am starting to find all sorts of ways to push the instruction. There are some new ways of putting together the image that I want to bring into the class next time, concentrating on using juxtaposition of unlikely items more and more. The process is so easy to learn, I want to push the learning into some more interesting areas…

Paper Litho for Beginners at the Brooklyn Brainery

Come join me at the Brainery!!

$35 per person

Learn the loveliness that is the Paper Litho (also known as the Gum Arabic Transfer), a simple non-toxic technique that mimics lithography using nothing more that gum arabic-laced water, black laser prints, and oil-based printing ink! You will go over the process a few times to learn the basics and go home with original art of your own.

Be prepared for evocative textures and unexpected collaboration with the materials–it really is a lovely medium!

Sign up today!

Monstress Studio Clear-Out Sale

I am starting a new career, moving my family to a new town, and rebuilding my studio this year as I embark on a new suite of work. Buy some art, support Monstress!

Community Building: Workshop for GSS Members

I coordinated a workshop for Gowanus Studio Space members called Grant Writing for Artists which was led by Andrea Petrini. It’s all a part of my effort to give the studio quality programming that deals directly with the business of being an artist. Andrea is an expert on the subject, being both an accomplished artist and grant writer on the individual and organizational levels.

Overall, we all were shocked at how logical the process is; personally, it is hard to think of so many of my regular activities as being worthy of funding. I’d never think of putting a stipend for myself in the budget, for instance. This starvation mentality is from years of doubting my creative output’s value while dealing with the overall scepticism or apathy the world generally seems to be filled with. How amazing it is to consider that organizations are genuinely interested in supporting our work! I came away determined and renewed.

Andrea will be giving another workshop in June for GSS members, then we may schedule in a few for small groups of the general public.

Typography Through Printmaking Workshop at the Brooklyn Brainery

I’m coming to the Brooklyn Brainery! I have the opportunity to bring my research-driven typography lessons to the public, so sign up and learn some loveliness!

Learn Typography Through Printmaking!

Sunday, May 22, 11:00am-1:00pm

A steal at $26! Click here to register!

In this class, you will learn the basics of typography through an engaging printmaking exercise: you will carve some letters of your own! You will discover first hand the concepts which make even the lowliest letters fall into a lovely composition. You will master the basics of setting type in a welcoming, informative setting while learning about the basic history and anatomy of type. You will walk away with any cards or papers you print upon and the handouts you need to continue to do this at home.

Class Size: 12
No materials needed, but be prepared to get ink on your hands!

Former Sessions
January 17, 2016

December 20, 2015 3:30-5:30pm