BFA Illustration faculty member Stephen Savage (MFA 1996 Illustration as Visual Essay) regularly teaches a course on “spots”—newspaper and magazine illustrations that mirror the content of a story. When he introduced a student competition last year with the prize of publishing work in The New York Times, it seemed like an opportunity that was too good to be true. Working directly with Times deputy art director Alexandra Zsigmond, students are given the rare chance to earn a byline that most illustrators, student or not, can only dream about.
This year’s winner, fourth-year BFA Illustration student Eros Dervishi, was tasked with illustrating one of the biggest news stories of recent months: the Ebola crisis. Given the devastating death toll of the ongoing outbreak, the assignment was a sensitive one. “Countless lives and communities have been destroyed by Ebola,” Dervishi says, “and being aware of that is crucial.”
The finished illustration, which ran in the op-ed section of the paper’s April 20 edition, captures the complexity surrounding the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. Conveying so much in such a small space was not easy, but the difficulty of the assignment, and the gravity of its message, didn’t faze Dervishi. “I approached the spot just like any other illustration,” he says. “A ton of sketches early on, followed by getting rid of clichés, then finalizing them visually.”
Most of all, Dervishi feels a sense of relief after his breakthrough and first professional byline. “As a student, you always think about your first job and it can seem a bit daunting and impossible. To finally see that on paper is really nice.”
But the Times illustration competition isn’t designed solely for the benefit of students. Zsigmond thinks the reward is mutual: “For the students, the assignment is often their first experience working for an actual client, and it provides firsthand exposure to the responsibilities and pressures faced by the professional illustrator. For me, the exercise is a chance to scout emerging talent and establish working connections with professors and schools.”