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“I Am South Hills” – Luciano Sormani

Fast Facts About Luciano Sormani:
Q: How did you become interested in art?

Luciano: I come from an artistic family. For as long as I can remember, I was always drawing and going on photo shoots with my dad or going to visit museums. Around the age of 13, I also got interested in designs, graphics, and fonts. I created graphics for different kinds of projects, like the school newspaper. At that time, I didn’t have a computer, so most of my work was on paper.

Q: Where do you get your creative inspiration?

Luciano: I get inspiration from a lot of things, from my surroundings and things like textures, geometric shapes, architecture, and nature. I also love art books and researching art. I am inspired mostly by art from the modern era: the impressionist era, the modernist era, from the turn of the century onward. But I don’t limit myself. I am inspired by other works like Japanese prints or design elements in stamps or seals.

Q: One of the things you’ve recently introduced at South Hills is the Graphic Arts Program Lecture and Film Series. Talk about what gave you the idea for the series why you feel it’s important to share that type of information with South Hills students.

Luciano: The series is a weekly program of lectures, documentaries, films about other designers, artists, architecture, photography, really any creative media that’s out there. And it’s just kind of a fun way to introduce our students to a wider world of art and creativity that’s out there. As part of the curriculum for my Fundamentals of Design class, we look at well-known designers from the past as well as contemporary designers. I thought a good way to introduce some of them was to show a lecture or to show a short film clip where the designers talked about their work. Showing the documentaries is an easy way to expand my students’ horizons and show them a larger picture of creativity, art, photography, and architecture. That can help to have a positive effect on their own creativity and on the way they handle their projects in school.

Q: So before becoming a faculty member at South Hills, you were a student at South Hills. Tell us about that experience.

Luciano: I am a graduate of the Graphic Arts program, and I think that helps me in my role as a teacher because I’ve gone through the whole process…I’ve had that student experience.

When I was younger, if you had told me I was going to be a teacher, I’d have said, “No way! Never! It’s not for me.” I believe that came from not having a good college experience somewhere else when I was younger. When I came to South Hills, my perception changed completely. It was the best educational experience I’d ever had. And I saw that it could be different. The teachers were really engaged, they cared about their students, the curriculum was well thought out. There was not a lot of “filler” material; in fact, it was almost like there was too little time to cover everything that we wanted to learn. So that was a big difference from my previous college experiences.

As a student, I did well in a lot of my classes, so I had time then to help out my classmates and answer some of their questions. This inclination to help others sort of generated this idea that I could teach, that I had something to offer other people instead of just doing my own thing. When one of the teachers retired, I was asked, “Would you be interested in staying at South Hills and taking on this role of instructor?” And I told them very candidly, “I never thought I would, but because of my experiences here, but I’ll give it a try and see how it goes.” South Hills is just such a great place to work and teaching came very naturally to me. I really took to it very well. And then to see students graduate and actually really become successful in their own right, I think that really keeps me going.

Q: Describe some of the projects you’ve given students in the Graphic Arts (GA) program.

Luciano: One of my favorite projects is one that I got to do as a student. It teaches packaging design. Students are tasked with designing a beer label and a beer six-pack package. It’s so much fun to see them go through the process, partly because of the technical aspects of dealing with the three-dimensional medium and the limited dimensions of bottle labels. The project requires problem-solving and creativity. Students have a lot of freedom, and because it’s given later in the program curriculum, they have already learned most of the skills that they need to be able to do it. But it’s also a challenge because this is a new medium. They go out and do it, and usually the results are spectacular. It becomes a really prideful moment for them to be able to get it done.

Q: Talk about “The Restaurant Project” – a student favorite!

Luciano: Another important cornerstone project we assign to our Advanced Photoshop students requires them to develop all marketing materials for a new restaurant. The student assumes the role of the restaurant owner. The project combines the technical aspects of the software with marketing & design skills and out-of-the-box thinking to develop branding for the restaurant. The students have to go through the whole process from naming the restaurant to coming up with the restaurant’s physical layout and the business concept. We look at high-concept restaurants, so it’s not a typical chain restaurant on the corner. It has to be very specific and unique.

Because the designs are for an imaginary restaurant, the sky’s the limit. We want the students’ creativity to shine, so they have the opportunity to come up with something unique that is all about them. We bring in so many elements from their coursework: marketing, advertising, and product design. It’s very exciting. In the end, they get to present their restaurant concepts to an audience of their classmates and actors playing the roles of potential investors.

Q: What do you think makes South Hills different from other schools?

Luciano: South Hills is like a big family. The people here really care about your success and you as a person. That is something I’ve never experienced at any other place. As a student, you can walk down the halls here and people will know who you are; people will know whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. It’s said that if you do something that you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work. I just enjoy being here. I enjoy interacting with the staff and other faculty members. I feel very supported. If there’s something I need, I don’t hesitate to ask for it because I know that it’ll be received very well. Another thing I think is great about South Hills is that it’s always changing. We’re always looking at, “How can we make this experience better? What can we offer the students to be better? How can we keep engaging them?”

Q: What are some of the takeaways that South Hills students graduate with?

Luciano: South Hills Graphic Arts students graduate with a full print portfolio as well as an online portfolio on a personal website. We feel it is really important for them to have those tools when they head out into the world so they’re able to secure jobs. Designers just need to have both. A lot of places will only accept electronic resumes and electronic portfolios. For an employer, it’s just easier to access.

Q: South Hills faculty members all have work experience in their respective fields. How do you keep your skills sharp and how do you keep your expertise fresh outside of your teaching position?

Luciano: In addition to being a teacher, I’m also a freelance graphic designer and web developer. My client projects are very diverse. I do everything from promotional material and print materials to updating websites and creating new websites for clients to email marketing. Not only does it keep my skill set current, but I also get to share some of these experiences with my students.

Q: What makes you proud to be part of South Hills?

Luciano: What makes me proud to be part of South Hills is the fact that we care about our students’ success. When our students graduate, go out into the world, and find jobs or start their own businesses by becoming freelancers, it’s like this growing community that sort of shares the same values as we do. Just knowing they are impacting the community in a wider sense—that’s what it’s all about really. It’s not about the paycheck. It’s not about having something to do during the day. Even if you’ve lost contact, when you see former students after a couple of years and ask them, “How’ve you been since you graduated from South Hills?” They’ll tell you about the jobs that they’ve done and what they’ve been up to since graduation. It’s always so gratifying to see how successful they’ve become.

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