Groovy Majors

Caty Bartholomew

Caty Bartholomew
Teacher of Toy Design at Parsons New School for Design

So what does one learn in a Toy Design class taught by Caty Bartholomew at Parsons New School for Design? Well, you will take found objects and craft them into toys, create designer toys, visit with guest artists, and even dangle marionettes out of windows to the delight of the people below.

Illustrator/artist and educator Caty Bartholomew teaches at Parsons and has illustrated articles for publications including The New York Times and Rolling Stone. How did she find her way to this groovy career and to teaching this groovy class?

When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I think I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator. I really liked drawing pictures that made people happy, or told a story. I suppose that’s where the illustrator in me was born. I understood illustration to be an art that you can share with anyone and everyone. Museums always felt a little stodgy.

I was also a pretty quiet kid, and art gave me a voice. I remember when I was around four years old, I drew some naked people, and how powerful I felt!

What did you study in college?
I graduated from Pratt Institute and majored in Illustration.

You are an artist and a teacher. What’s the grooviest part of your work? What’s the most fun?

It’s a great balance. Being an artist is a pretty solitary experience. Teaching is outward and group-oriented.

Illustrating is great. I love making pictures, creating characters and stories, communicating ideas. It’s rewarding to see my image in print, in The New York Times, or some other magazine or newspaper, knowing how many people will come across it.

How did you get into teaching?

Dance Marathon, Caty Bartholomew

I was feeling very fulfilled in my freelance illustration career, when a teaching job kind of fell in my lap. I agreed to do it because I have a knee-jerk response of “yes!” to almost any career opportunity that comes my way. I was truly surprised to discover how creative teaching can be. Art school is a rich and stimulating environment. The student work is inspiring and I often invite guest artists to come in and talk about their work. I also enjoy creating a curriculum and crafting the exercises and assignments to support my teaching goals.

Last year we made people-size marionettes of some of the characters in Pinocchio and dangled them out of the eighth floor window to the street. We had a great time and bystanders seemed to enjoy the show.

Here’s the link to our class blog:

What do students learn in your course, Toy Concept Development and Design?

The course was inspired by the designer toy culture that burst on the U.S. scene eight or nine years ago, and stores like Kidrobot opened with funky characters that were new and fresh. Illustrators are naturally highly qualified storytellers (UglyDoll creators, David Horvath and Sun-min Kim came out of the Illustration program at Parsons).

Students learn to create characters and their background stories, and bring them to life using various materials. They work with paper construction, found objects, plush and modeling materials.

With the skills learned in your class, what groovy career paths can students follow?

Students might follow several possible career paths after taking the class. Some become entrepreneurs, creating a final toy to shop around to toy companies or open a store on Etsy. Others use it to round out a portfolio to become an animator, or interactive game designer. A few might create works that will be in fine art galleries. Several illustrators and designers specialize in paper engineering, like Matt Hawkins who came to speak to the class this fall.

Character design is very big these days. Just this past weekend, Parsons co-hosted a symposium based on character design, with a Berlin-based group called Pictoplasma. Pictoplasma hosts character festivals around the world, inviting artists to speak and show their works. There is usually a great deal of animation included, as well as toys, sculptures, play spaces, costumed performances and game design. I see all these facets as relevant tangents to my toy concepts course.

What career advice to you have for young people just starting our in the “real world?”

Clifton Chenier, Caty Bartholomew

I always believe in following your heart. If you are an artist, you need to put in the hard-work hours, every day and every month and year, until you create a world that you believe in, and at the same time, your basic skills will be developing.

If you can’t get that golden job right out of school, especially in this economy, see if you can intern for a company or artist that you truly admire. Even if you can only afford to work a few hours a week for free, it could be an invaluable learning experience and may pay off with a job in the future.

All my other advice should go without saying…create a web presence, network on and off-line, stay on top of the industry news, have your best possible portfolio/resume on hand….you know the drill.