Signature move: Alum Laura Leiman’s Creative Identity project explores the power of the pen

Laura Leiman's students learn carving techniques

Laura Leiman’s students learn carving techniques

“The signature is a singular fingerprint, original and distinctive to each person…and it is fast becoming extinct,” says Laura Leiman (BFA 99 Graphics), a graphic artist, student mentor and recent Regional Arts & Culture Council grant recipient, who has observed that most of her students printed their signatures with few distinguishing qualities. In fact, Leiman’s students’ signatures were often so similar, it it was hard to tell them apart.

Leiman noticed students were missing something key to individuality: the ability to communicate a written signature clearly yet uniquely as their own. Leiman’s Portland public school students wanted to learn cursive and calligraphy, neither of which is consistently taught. More importantly, students were eager to create identities uniquely their own—something they could use and develop through life.

Leiman's students explore monogramming

Leiman’s students explore monogramming

Student curiosity and enthusiasm inspired Leiman to develop Creative Identity, a project-based exploration of student artwork (funded under a Portland Regional Arts Council award grant) examining how students wanted to be viewed artistically. Creative Identity provided students the chance to draw, doodle and find the ‘me’ in letterforms and symbols that felt right. Students created signatures, monograms, soap carvings and identity marks, as they tried new materials like watercolor crayons and inking pens.

Creative Identity also provided students with the opportunity to put away computers and smart phones to experience the mind/body connection via one of the most fundamental and evolving art forms humans practice: putting a pen to paper.

Leiman and her students

Leiman and her students

Studies indicate doodling is great for concentration and brain development and can improve higher thinking, which is key to art and design. The act of writing and doodling fosters creative thinking because it requires consideration and time, according to Ronald Kellogg, a Saint Louis University Professor of Psychology. Writing engages us in a way that texting or typing can’t.

Recent studies indicate doodling can turn on neurological networks in the brain responsible for imagination and discovery—and, by extension, innovative and creative thinking. “The next generation of artists will still need to experience eye to hand drawing,” says Leiman. “I’ve noticed when students settle in to drawing or doodling they become more focused and calm. I believe most students think more clearly after drawing for several minutes.”

After participating in the twelve-week project, sixty-three students from two Portland schools exhibited their art work. “The result was profound,” says Leiman. “I saw students transform their relationship to art as they experienced letterforms as artistic expression.” Creative Identity has caught the attention of teachers & administrators and Leiman hopes to expand the project next year.

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