Students Gary Josh Weyandt (with his decorative milk jugs) and Jacob McMullen.

How to find stuff

Visual art studies (VAST) students took a field trip designed to show them how to find special things, like treasures, to include in their artwork or to use as raw material, reference, or inspiration.

By: Marissa Carney

Sometimes, you just need a little guidance on how to find stuff, especially if you’re an art student.

Eleven visual art studies (VAST) students took a field trip in mid-September designed specifically to show them how to find special things, like treasures, to include in their artwork or to use as raw material, reference, or inspiration. “We have found that students over the last few years resist searching for the right thing for their concept and settle on what is readily available online,” says Rebecca Strzelec, Distinguished Professor of visual arts. She believes what students find that way don’t typically match the aesthetics required for the piece or project they’ve been assigned.

Student Madisyn Simington and Susan Marie Brundage

Student Madisyn Simington and Susan Marie Brundage.

Image: Penn State

Strzelec and Susan Marie Brundage, associate teaching professor of visual arts, accompanied the students to four local businesses that tend to have a large selection of odd, interesting, or otherwise hard-to-find items; Mallow’s Hardware, Surplus City, Salvation Army, and Nolt’s Bargain Barn in Martinsburg.

“I was super excited to go on this field trip because I love thrifting,” says VAST senior Andrea Regalbuto. “I was astounded at the amount of stuff some of these places had—odds and ends you typically can’t find at a Michael's or Hobby Lobby were all there.”

Students in Strzelec’s classes had to find something to use in an assignment that was due the day after the field trip. They listened to an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible that addressed one case study of inspiration and how it sparked unexpected outcomes. They then had to find one object on the trip to serve as inspiration for five new ideas for a piece and work through those ideas in their sketchbooks. The point was not to have a finished art piece, rather to start the practice of recording ideas as they strike to refer to or build on later.

Gary Weyandt found a set of decorative milk jugs that inspired his sketches for class. “I was so pleased with the sketches that I've started making them into completed pieces outside of class.”

Regalbuto was drawn to a metal doll bed that she transformed into a patio, a swing set, monkey bars, a gate, and a bow and arrow. “The assignment was useful to me because it taught me to keep an open mind when it comes to an item’s use. And now I know of some new places to shop for art supplies.”

Brundage had students from two different courses. Inspired by the work of designer Lisa Congdon, students from her color theory class were each assigned a specific color and had to make an arrangement of ordinary objects in that color. “The trip allowed both classes to see the potential to transform ordinary items into works of art,” states Brundage. “It was great to be there with them to give advice on what might work or what wouldn't or to point out stuff they maybe didn't see. I am hopeful that going forward, students will have a better understanding of the potential of found/ordinary materials for making artwork and the types of off-the-beaten-path places to look for these things.”

“I've learned of alternative options from today's click-and-wait shopping,” adds Weyandt. “I also learned that with a little imagination anything can be a treasure.”