Connecting Cambodian and American Cultures [through Graphic Design]

In my first Graphic Design class after returning from Cambodia I decided to challenge my students with an assignment we were given by a drawing master from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in Phnom Penh. He had been a much revered professor of our traveling companion Yary Livan and we were all tasked with creating geometric illustrations of lotus flowers as well as many other traditional Cambodian symbols. With no tools other than pencil and paper this became quite a challenge. However our education did not start there.

On our second day in Cambodia we traveled to the American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP) where we were instructed on various building styles and symbols used in Cambodia. And as a treasured gift we were given many pages of out-of-print graphics as pictured. These are the basis for many of the artifacts we would see on our journey and now we have a collection of art to share with our students here.

So just as we were tasked to recreate these drawings in a hotel lobby with a RUFA Master in Phnom Penh I assigned my students to create the traditional lotus flower giving them only pencil and paper. I explained the need for a right-angled straight edge in order to draw a perfect square and so I gave each student 2 post cards from the hotel lobby – just as I had borrowed at the Queen Grand Boutique where we had stayed.

As the students worked on these creations they grew to appreciate the complexity of the work and the intricacies of these designs. This led to many discussions of the
geometric building blocks of societies, the symbolism used in their architecture and the myths surrounding them. This was followed by a slide show of examples in architecture, ceramics, painting, wood carvings and silk weavings taken from many locations in Cambodia such as the Royal Palace, Angkor Wat and other temples, Artisan D’Angkor, the National Museum and our river cruise from Siem Reap to Battambang.

Some of the most impressive scenes were from our trip to Kampong Chhnang, the birthplace of Cambodian pottery. My design students could see that with even the simplest tools great ceramics could be built and that the desire to create is a driving force within each artisan. Lack of materials will not stop gifted people from expressing their creativity. I believe my students saw this as inspirational and use this knowledge to promote their own talents.

Graphic Design II Class
Fall Semester

After our lotus drawing challenge we completed a series of lectures on marketing strategies in US consumer markets. We discussed local grocery stores as a place most consumers visit as opposed to more specialized shops such as those you might find in a mall and the strategies used to lure in consumers. Product placement, location, color, shelf appeal, type clarity and branding were discussed.

The student’s first graphic assignment for the semester was to brand a new product being imported into the United States from Cambodia. They were asked to design and package a well known product from the region: Black Pepper from the Kampot Province of Cambodia.image2 copy

Students were allowed to decide what amount, brand and package container they thought was best suited for the project. Who (what demographic) this package was aimed at and how best to display the product. Some chose smaller more gourmet designs while others chose a more traditional look. The students had to do research on the product and defend their decisions before their peers. You will see a large variety of solutions in the photograph of boxes and jars. One student created a folding book with a pop-up lotus flower. The book contained recipes and a pocket holding a bag with 10 oz. of pepper. Another wrapped the top in a Krama, the traditional scarf worn in Cambodia. We strive for individual creative solutions and the students rose to the challenge.image1[4] copy

Graphic Design II Class
Spring Semester

Building on the success of the previous semester we began the Spring with new students. Once again we started the class with the technical drawing of the lotus as I was taught in Cambodia by the Royal University Fine Arts drawing master. I also showed some impressive examples of his art and restoration work at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

After discussions of marketing strategies and consumer products I gave them their design assignment. As we strive to keep each student’s work unique this semester their project was to design a package for imported Palm Sugar. We talked about people I had met who live in rural areas and make their living from the land around them. We were fortunate enough to be invited into a home near a school we had visited. The woman explained how each day her 80 year old husband climbed the palm trees to tap the flowers for their nectar. When enough is gathered she cooks it down under her home in a large iron shallow pan. Here she is offering us a taste of pure sugar. We looked at other examples of how it was cultivated and processed in other areas. Many stories and photos of my travels in Cambodia were shared and my students began their research.image1[3]ServingSugar

One of our students who lives in Lowell, Massachusetts, which has the second largest population of Cambodians in the United States, brought in some Cambodian Palm Sugar drops from a local market and shared them with the class. He also used them inside the jar he designed. The students learned about presenting a Cambodian product to a US market as well as explored a variety of packaging options. Boxes and many containers had to be made by hand. Hierarchy of type and legibility had to be considered. Appropriate symbols and graphics needed to be drawn with a sensitivity to a country’s culture. You will see a large variety of creative solutions in the photograph. Students enjoy learning about their own culture and those of their classmates. Learning to design with another’s sensitivities in mind is very important and I believe these lessons have been successful in bridging cultural gaps and enhancing student’s awareness and education in communicating with people on many levels.PalmSugar

Graphic Design Portfolio Preparation Class
Spring Semester

Students are encouraged to expand their ideas for their senior portfolio. Most students shown have a year to go but one student from Indonesia has already taken that challenge. Here you see her pepper project expanded for her portfolio. The 3 Kampot peppers, red, white and black are held in a handy folding package. This gourmet trio is designed to be sold at an airport as a gift set.3Peppers