Academy Voices: Donovan Smith, School of Fashion Textile Design Student

By Nina Tabios

For many, the shelter in place mandate shook most people’s sense of normalcy. But for Donovan Smith, a textile design student from Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion, staying at home is actually more his speed. As an introvert, he enjoys the solitude. 

“I’m in my element,” Smith said over the phone from the 575 Harrison residence hall. His roommates went back home, so Smith has the space all to himself. “It has its challenges here and there, but overall it’s been good,” he said. “I can’t complain, I’ve been pretty blessed.”

It isn’t just a positive mindset that has kept him going. Smith describes himself as a sporadic creator, whose artistry is of the moment. Quarantining in his room with fabric, paints, a screen, and two squeegees, Smith continued to work on his senior collection with fashion designer Faith Winston despite the likelihood it wouldn’t get the opportunity to walk down the Graduation Fashion Show runway this month. However, by embracing the current circumstances, Smith believes he’s coming out a better designer. 

“I’m naturally a creator that way, that makes do with what I have,” he said. “It’s really cool what we can do with limitations. It really forces you to experiment and be more creative and to think outside the box.” 

In conversation with Art U News, Smith spoke about collaboration during a pandemic, self-reflection, and finding balance. 

School of Fashion textile design student Donovan Smith. Photo courtesy of Donovan Smith.

What classes are you taking this semester?

Textiles 6, Senior Collection; History of Tattoos (which is an online class); Film History 2, and Portfolio: Textiles. 

How was it adjusting from on-site to online? 

They’ve been actually great. For my portfolio class, a lot of our projects are computer-based anyway, so we’re working on Photoshop a lot. My film class, usually we’re in the auditorium watching films but my teacher was well-adjusted [for online], so that’s been pretty smooth. Then in textiles, I was fortunate enough to grab a few things from the textile lab so that I can have a little studio in my room. I was able to grab one screen with one of my designs on [it], two squeegees to print with, and all of my paint. Transporting that back here was kind of hard, but it was do-able.

For senior collection, you are collaborating with senior fashion designer Faith Winston. How have you guys been able to continue to work through shelter in place?

We send each other messages, texts all the time, [plus] photos, and updates. I just finished up a majority of my prints last week, and I transported them to her and now she’s just sewing up the garments. 

We both like our alone time, so I don’t bother her too much. She doesn’t bother me, but we both know that we’re working. She knows what she’s doing, so I just leave her to it and vice versa. She trusts me with doing prints, and she trusts my eye in paints. We were able to do two prints before quarantine, but since then, we did make some adjustments because we had certain designs that required the lab and multiple screens. But at the same time, that’s been great, because I have been able to fully experiment with my prints and fabrics. I’m more of a hands-on type of designer and more of a sporadic type of creator so getting to mess around with materials at home and paint in a more natural way is a really great experience for me.

You recently posted a process video on Instagram. Does sharing in this way help your creativity?

It’s similar to being in a classroom. New ideas will bounce off of each other, and so I like social media to encourage people in that way—to inspire people in hopes of sparking someone to create something or start a new piece in whatever medium they’re in. I’m always inspired by the world around me, by a piece of music and how a piece of music can really inspire a print that I do. And it works in the same way. I do it to inspire something in people. If you have the opportunity [at] this time to create something, I encourage it. 

Are you able to separate your home life and school life?

It’s a blur for me. My work does blend in with my life. And I think that just comes with how passionate I am with what I do. But even last week, I was thinking about being gentler with myself. I can be a parent to myself when I catch myself slipping or when I know I’m supposed to be doing something. But I’m also learning that it’s okay to be gentle during those tough times and understanding that choosing to rest is really important too. It’s still a learning process for me, learning how to rest effectively, work effectively. It very much blends for me. 

That being said, what are your thoughts on creators using this time for self-reflection? 

I think by doing so you get to rediscover your ‘why’ or redefine it. Your ‘why’ is the driving force behind everything you lay your hands on and that’s really inspiring. Since I’m the only one in [my residential hall], my energy is the only energy I feel and it reflects back to me in so many ways. I’m naturally an intellectual person and I think about my process—my ‘why’ as a creator—constantly, and it really does put me in this reflective mode. It definitely opens my eyes to all sides of myself, even the sides I want to work on more or don’t really like. It puts that in front of me to deal with in that moment. I can’t run away from myself, so I have to deal with both positive and negative things. They’re all lessons for me.

For those struggling, what advice would you give?

In general, I would say to turn off all the distractions and really listen to yourself. Sit in silence. And really feel your heartbeat, feel your breath, feel what it is to be here. I feel very in tune with the planet and, by the way the world is going, I feel this definite renewal for ideas. I feel like I’m having breakthrough after breakthrough with things I’m working on.

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