Faculty Feature: Grant Shaffer, Will Varner
Illustration faculty members share their art on NYC sidewalks
May 20, 2019
by Michael Bilsborough
The LinkNYC communications network has replaced the city’s payphones to build the world’s fastest and largest free public Wi-Fi network. Now, it displays artists’ visions of New York City living, part of LinkNYC’s #ArtonLink initiative. Joining the list of notable, participating artists are Grant Shaffer and Will Varner, two superstar faculty members here at SVA Continuing Education (SVACE).
“New York City’s local artists have a unique perspective on city life, and we are thrilled to give them a platform to showcase their work on LinkNYC,” said Ruth Fasoldt, Link’s Director of Community Affairs. “#ArtOnLink has created a unique way for New Yorkers and visitors to view and appreciate local artwork on the go -- and even learn some of the unspoken but important NYC tips and etiquette rules that New Yorkers know well!”
Grant Shaffer’s participation began on Instagram, where he was sharing drawings to illustrate daily life in New York City. “I had noticed the #ArtonLink hashtag on the LinkNYC kiosks, and I just started tagging my NY SEE comics on Instagram and the LinkNYC team contacted me.” He adds, “The only technical challenge was the fact that the kiosks featured long, vertical formats, and my comics were square panels, so I had to re-design a vertical layout to make everything fit.”
Will Varner shares Grant Shaffer’s ability to produce art that adapts to the LinkNYC format. “The majority of my illustration work these days is for the internet, so it’s usually viewed on small screens. To plan for work that would be on larger screens and viewed publicly took me out of my comfort zone a bit. I wanted to make sure the images would stand out amid the considerable visual stimulation on a typical NYC street but also be interesting up close. That said, I believe hand drawing stands out in our image-saturated world, anyway — so I didn't really do too much different.”
Varner joined the project through a narrative concept and a network of creative contacts. “I knew a couple of illustrators whose work was featured and it was so exciting to see their work all over the city, so I reached out to them… The art director there was super easy to work with. I sent in three ideas and they picked their favorite. My concept for this project was Urban Legends of NYC. I've lived in the city for over 13 years and love the many stories that have accumulated here. Doing a series based on stories New Yorkers have told to each other for generations seemed like a great way to engage with people on the street and share my love for this place.”
“Two things made this project special for me. First, it was for NYC, my adopted home, so it was nice to put in references or sight gags that were specific to this place, small things in the backgrounds that would feel super familiar to New Yorkers. For instance, I drew Pizza Rat in one image and one of those orange and white tubes that spew god-knows-what in another. Second, the images would be displayed in an open, public space, so that was exciting, too. I liked thinking that maybe someone would look at the image, then see the real version of what I'd drawn right next to the kiosk.”
“When the project was running, I took a lot of photos and video of the kiosks, and on Instagram, I asked my followers to send me their photos of the kiosks, too. Then I posted the photos and video as new content on my account. I think it gives viewers an expanded appreciation of your art work when you can show it in real world situations.”
For Shaffer, the project was an extension of his ongoing artistic output, and of his teaching. “I always tell my SVA students to try and draw something every day. I basically took my own advice and decided to post a daily drawing on Instagram, and thought it would be fun to document things i see around the city. It has been fun!”
Both artists have incorporated teaching as part of their professional artistic practice. So what inspires each artist about returning to teach this summer?
“When I see a light go on over a students head, or when a student has an ‘ah-ha’ moment and they learn something new, that is just the best,” says Shaffer. “I love how the class always forms a small community of sorts, and we encourage and inspire each other. That’s what i look forward to each semester.”
Varner adds, “In each session, I'm always amazed by how much knowledge and creativity the students bring with them. Often times they have an intuition about how they can use the tools provided by social media, but they just lack the confidence or context to really go for it. I get really motivated by helping others see what they are bringing to the table and then honing their brand to reach their individual goals. It's not just all about how many followers or likes you have…it's more about engaging with your audience, large and small in ways, that are meaningful to you.”
Will Varner teaches Illustration for Social Media, while Grant Shaffer teaches Exploring Career Opportunities for Illustrators: A Drawing Workshop. Look for Shaffer’s new children’s book, Honey & Leon Take the High Road.