Riverfront: The Project Process

Our day began on a bitter February morning at the St. Louis riverfront. It was 8:30 and twenty or so Communication Design students approached the banks. Despite the cold, we were excited to be out of the classroom. Our sketchbooks in hand, we bounded beneath the Arch down to walk by the water. River barges advanced with heavy loads as pens scribbled furiously with numbing fingers. We chatted idly, bonded over increasingly chilled toes, as our explorations traveled from one bridge to another, up and down stairs, under arches, towards and away from the water.

This was a research outing, the first step in the process of information gathering for a design project. This particular one was for Word and Image, a communication design course taken second semester sophomore year. I chose the riverfront option for this round of assignments, so I took the research collected on that chilling riverfront morning and moved into the discovery portion of the process. The information gathered on this excursion accumulated on the walls in the Word and Image classroom. A few days hence sketches, notes, and explorations plastered the space of the wide studio.

Next it is time to step back and consider the information captured at the riverfront. As artists, we articulate what we were drawn towards in relation to the project prompt: capturing the riverfront in word and image. What does the riverfront means to me? To others? To the city? as a working waterfront within broader society? I was drawn to observing the links and interactions that exemplify the pragmatic connection of how society leverages waterways for industry and recreation more so than it is an aesthetically curated experience of space.

Part of discovery is developing images. I used a broad collection of media for these explorations. Painted, drawn, and collaged bridges filled the walls of my dorm room, Modpodge caked my jeans, and ink stained my fingernails as I dived deep into the construction process. Regardless of the various ways that students approach projects, a lot of this process requires initiative in developing their set. Happily, professors are very hands on with mentoring feedback and prompts. A real back and forth of discovery occurs that guides my efforts into a place where reality matches intention and then expands upon it. As I struggle to move through a certain idea, professors work through a series of exercises with me, advising change media, time, and perspective in order to expand range of my work.

This process of construction transitions into a phase of refinement, in which we begin to reflect about how myriad ideas interact within our larger composition and with each other. We’ve watched our information flourish into compositions we could never have dreamed we could create when we started. We have fun making and bonding with each other. Our professors continue to get to know us better to push us further. We finally begin to to curate the information we gathered within the page and adjust the images we created so they accomplish the task at hand seamlessly, harmoniously. Once the assignment is turned in, we relax, we reflect and then… we press on.