UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – When graphic design students in Rodney Allen Trice’s Time and Sequence course were assigned a group project to work with a client — a friend of Trice's and fellow artist — to develop music videos for her songs, they set out to create what they thought would communicate their client’s message and to earn a good grade in the class. As a bonus, they figured they’d get a cool interactive piece to add to their portfolios.
What they didn’t expect was for the artist to fall in love with their video and for her to submit it to be shown during an art exhibition in a major Pennsylvania city.
But that’s exactly what happened to fourth-year students Alexis Stern, Amelia Ball, Kayla Corazzi, Callahan Miller and Noemie Noullet. The group’s video for artist and singer Christiane Dolores’ song “Killing Patterns” made such an impression on their client — who also goes by Madame Dolores — that she then submitted it to be used in the Streaming Space exhibit, which runs April 12 through May 12 in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh.
Trice met Dolores in 2017 when he returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh to explore the city he was again inhabiting (while splitting time in New York City) before being hired by the graphic design program at Penn State. Trice, who had lived and worked in New York for the previous 30 years, says he was encouraged by friends to explore the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, which is where he met Dolores, who serves as the artist relations manager for the council.
“He came into my office with his black leather on, jewels on every finger — just like my sister — and his wild hair celebrating its grayness, and I knew instantly that we were going to be friends,” said Dolores. “I love Rodney’s ‘go get ‘em, leave no stone unturned’ spirit and I think more Pittsburgh-based artists could benefit from having an attitude like his.”
Trice, who is a professor of practice in graphic design at Penn State, echoes Dolores’s sentiments on the “immediate connection” between the pair and said they started talking about ways to collaborate together.
Trice’s Time and Sequence class presented the perfect opportunity for the two artists based in the same city to work together.
“Time and Sequence is all about adding the use of sequential design and storytelling to the core skills students have been honing,” said Trice. “On this project, taking that new dimension and adding a living, breathing and particular client — instead of our hypothetical clients — was exciting and interesting to watch unfold.”
Dolores, who had worked on a video in the past with a student from Robert Morris University and found the experience rewarding, was excited and curious when Trice approached her about his class project.
The class of 19 students was divided up into four groups and leaders of those groups were selected after they pitched their video concepts to the class. The top four pitched ideas belonged to Jessica Finlayson, Kathleen Mensing, Eleanor Wing, and Stern. The group leaders then assembled their design teams for their concepts.
“We held Skype sessions and the one thing I tried to make clear is that I didn’t have a storyboard, I didn’t have a script or a vision for these songs,” Dolores said. “I gave the students a list of what I don’t like and implored them to be free to express what emotionally strikes them in the songs."
Stern took on the role as the creative director of her team and set out to incorporate patterns, as the title of the song she selected, references into the video.
“I wanted to do something different with this video. Every music video today seems like it’s some sort of montage storyline, it’s never really just focusing on the artist,” said Stern. “I wanted to combine that focus on Christiane as an artist with the title of the song, so I knew I wanted to incorporate a whole bunch of pattern effects.”
While Stern served as the design lead, the project was a collaborative effort right from the start.
“Alexis came up with this concept but we immediately all jumped on board because we were interested in her ideas and we knew we could help bring her vision to life,” said Miller. “I’m from Pittsburgh and was going home one weekend, and it just so happened to work out that my schedule aligned with Christiane’s so I could film her 'singing' this song.”