A Sneak-er Preview of Student Artistry

April 5, 2019 — “I baked the astronaut. Now he needs a jetpack,” visual arts teacher Lauren Scott Corwin announced to the Digital Design students gathered around studio tables. This cryptic remark made perfect sense to the group, which returned to old-school artistic media for a special project.

NMH is among 500 schools selected to participate in a nationwide contest sponsored by Vans, best known for its skateboarding shoes. The company sent NMH two pairs of plain white sneakers for students to decorate. One pair must represent “local flavor.” The other must illustrate the Vans’ slogan: “Off the wall.” 

“We see sneakers all the time, but we don’t think, ‘How are they made? What could they look like?’” said Corwin. “This lets students use limitless imagination, and gets their art out of the classroom for a real-world application.”

Students — several of whom were wearing Vans themselves — got into the design project body and sole (sorry — soul). Brainstormed ideas turned into sketches, which evolved into plans. There was plenty of room for creativity. Corwin kept reminding the students, “You can go any direction with this.”

The “off the wall” theme’s team turned their sneakers into “astro-shoes.” On one half of the pair, a small clay astronaut hovers above a blue earth, “space-walking” on a skateboard. Hannah Khutorsky ’20 threaded tiny “fairy lights” into holes she punched in the other shoe’s top, creating the Big Dipper constellation of stars. “We could use the lights as laces, too,” she suggested to the group clustered around the table. 

At the next table, students painted “roads” across their tan and green shoes, coloring and attaching 3-D-printed miniature road signs along the edges. A toy car and roadside “foliage” completed this earthbound shoe design. 

Maria Zabara ’20 said creating art for the contest was interesting and unlike the Digital Design class’s other projects. These included making mandala designs and “Google doodles,” as well as pieces incorporating optical illusions, and demonstrating how color schemes influence perception.

The sneaker design contest stakes are high — $75,000 for the winning team’s art department — and it’s safe to say that students will be, well, off the wall if they win. Results of this contest round are due later this month.

Both pairs of finished shoes are on display through May 5 as part of the student art exhibition in the Gallery at the Rhodes Arts Center.

• See a photo gallery of the students creating the wearable art.