Earl Snellenberger is a favorite instructor in the drawing and illustration and printmaking programs. He is committed to making a positive impact on the lives of our students, their learning experiences, and their creative work. He cares deeply about connecting to Herron's students as he has a long link to the school that goes back to childhood.
Snellenberger attended Saturday School classes from the age of seven through high school and graduated from Herron with both bachelor's and master's degrees in art education. During that time, he studied with some of the most influential emeritus professors, including David K. Rubins, Harry A. Davis, Jr., and Robert Weaver, who inspired him to continue the tradition and establish a career in teaching and curriculum development.
Wanting to learn more, we asked Snellenberger to share his thoughts on teaching, creativity, and the legacy he has made. This Q-and-A is part of the ongoing "Five Questions" series with Herron faculty.
HERRON: Your course assignments are always themed, and you often dress the part in costumes. What are some of the ways that your 'cosplay' encourages learning in your classroom?
EARL SNELLENBERGER: I readily admit that I have a somewhat theatrical approach to teaching, which goes back to the days I spent as a puppeteer. Wearing costumes helps to set the stage for assignments. I wear costumes, and models often wear costumes that I have bought on trips around the world. I've dressed as an East Indian maharajah and worn a Steampunk outfit.
I'm a pack rat, bringing in antique artifacts, masks, puppets, and furniture to create environments for my drawing classes ranging from a replica of King Tut's golden throne to a Chinese carved ebony dragon chair—things that students have probably never seen before to pique their imagination. When we observe something unfamiliar, we are likely to be intrigued and willing to spend time studying it carefully.
In other words, I'm doing everything I can to capture the attention of students and draw them in, building community, so that we can carry on an exciting learning experience together. Our students are wonderfully responsive, cooperative and enthusiastic. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a noted American essayist, philosopher and poet, said, "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." I believe that and I try to inspire enthusiasm and practice it myself.
HERRON: How does your teaching style help train students to improve their drawing skills, creativity, and imagination?
SNELLENBERGER: I am convinced that technical drawing skills are a springboard to creativity. Skill sets for drawing the human figure – the most difficult subject for artists to master – are of particular importance because they exemplify all the elements and principles of art. And what one learns from figure drawing applies to the drawing of all else.
As far as creativity and imagination are concerned, I firmly believe that artists should be among the best educated people in the world, following in the footsteps of Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Albrecht Durer. They were knowledgeable in many areas, and ideas for works of art can come from anywhere and anything. The better educated we are the more ideas we have to spark our imaginations. I encourage students to learn everything they can about any topic that is of interest to them because you never know what could prove to be useful later in your career.
I was interested in taking as many science classes as possible in my undergraduate studies, and many of my later creative works relate to science. I wrote and co-illustrated more than 30 children's books with my deceased wife, Bonita Chandler (also a Herron grad), on different aspects of the natural world: wild animals, farm animals, birds, dinosaurs, sea life, the solar system. I'm currently engaged in giving a new life to some Victorian dissection puzzles similar to the well-known geometric tangram puzzle, and I'm researching other subjects for new books-in-progress.
I encourage my students to conduct research for each assignment and I am committed to empowering them to be lifelong learners. All we know can become a grist for our creative and imaginative artistic mills, grinding out some awesome works of art.
HERRON: Your paper engineering courses are very popular! Herron is the only school in the state to teach this subject. How did these courses come to fruition? What tricks or tactics do students learn to leverage when they take their 2-D works into a 3-D realm?
SNELLENBERGER: One of the unique things about Herron's paper engineering courses is student access to the large array of antique and contemporary pop-up books I've collected since early childhood. Obviously, my interest in kinetic paper sculpture has been there for as long as I can remember. I jumped at the opportunity to develop the paper engineering courses (HER-G 212, HER-G 300, and HER-G 400) at Herron.
Students study the history of paper engineering, learn about ground-breaking movable book publications, and learn how to master the subject matter themselves. In making moving paper structures, one is really talking physics – the forces of action and reaction. In the first semester of paper engineering, the tricks and tactics students learn to leverage come from the design of some 40 different basic mechanism models in heavy-weight white paper.
In examining the books created by master paper engineers, students see how the basic mechanism models they create are the underlying structures of the pop-up illustrations in the books. Each of the six main assignments in the foundations course involves the use of different mechanisms and approaches. Students learn the necessary skills to take their two-dimensional works into a three-dimensional realm in progressive steps that help ensure success.
HERRON: Another new course you've developed and launched is hand-lettering for visual communication design students. How long have you been a calligrapher? How do you think artists and designers benefit from practicing this art form?
SNELLENBERGER: I have been a calligrapher since the age of thirteen as a freshman at Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. The art teacher taught us how to do the Gothic Black Letter alphabet, and I was hooked!
Artists and designers who practice the art form of hand lettering benefit in many ways. In creating calligraphic lettering (calligraphy is the art of creating beautiful letterforms), one simply draws the letters, paying particular and critical attention to their shapes and proportions. And every lettering style has its own unique characteristics, so in a sense, one makes portraits of the individual letters. Attention to detail is of sustained, vital importance.
Hand lettering takes a lot of self-discipline, and that's a good thing. Brushes and pens must be manipulated in the hand, rolled between the thumb and the forefinger to draw the letters precisely. Brain, eye, and hand must all be inextricably coordinated in order to ensure the successful production of professional hand lettering. It's an art form that integrates several of our senses, and the skill sets that are developed are readily helpful in drawing and painting.
A remarkable thing occurred in 1972 when I taught at the University of Indianapolis. I arranged an exhibition of calligraphic artworks in the university gallery, coinciding with a presentation by Donald Jackson, the calligrapher of the British Crown. He was touring the United States to promote his newly published novel, "The Story of Writing," and we were able to schedule him for a presentation in Indianapolis thanks to an outstanding local lettering artist, Juana Silcox, who trained with Jackson in London. Jackson's speech to a standing-room-only audience led to the founding of the Calligraphy Guild of Indiana. Juana and I are the guild's two honorary lifetime members. As the host of the guild-sponsored workshops, over the years I was able to study with outstanding hand lettering artists from around the world.