Posted on Monday, August 20, 2012 by Rachel Walther
Leslie Saiz (Graphic Design 1997) is always working. By day she's the managing producer and creative director for Petpet Park at Nickelodeon's Virtual Worlds Group, the creators of all of Nick's online virtual worlds content. Nights and weekends you'll find her either volunteering her time for creative organizations in her East Los Angeles community -- such as Self Help Graphics & Art, a nonprofit center providing youth art classes in printmaking and graphic arts -- or working on her own projects at Ex-Voto Design, a creative lab she's developed with her husband, Stephen Saiz.
How do you divide up your time and juggle so many responsibilities?
Working with a nonprofit can be pretty time consuming. It's essentially another part-time job! But when you’re doing work you enjoy, it becomes effortless. It's easy to become obsessed with the work and lose track of time.
My husband and I have been scaling back our involvement with Self Help Graphics to have more time for a couple of new projects. Ex-Voto Design is a personal company -- a venue for our own work and for projects of our choosing.
Another project I'm working on was spearheaded by my brother, Aaron Duran, called Hard N Da Paint (HNDP). The name is a term from basketball, which means to aggressively finish a task -- to drive to the hoop within the painted region of the court. The project is intended for kids from the East L.A. neighborhood of Boyle Heights who are interested in hip-hop, but all genres of music are introduced. We provide them with a space where they can write and record their music, and opportunities to perform. The primary program includes an eight-week course with deadlines they have to meet. They learn about all the hard work that goes into putting together a show, from audio production and recording to graphic design for making flyers. They need someone who believes in them, and a place where they can focus.
How far along is Hard N Da Paint?
We're finalizing the nonprofit status submission, putting together the board of directors, and applying for grants. We'd like to get a mobile truck (like the ones for street food vendors) to take the project to schools in other neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The truck will include a permanent audio system, a recording booth, laptops, iPads, and wifi. We'll be doing a Kickstarter campaign by the end of the year to start accepting individual donations as well.
What brought you to CCA? Why didn't you choose a college in Southern California?
From early on in high school, I knew I only wanted to go to art school. I even took extra classes at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, like figure drawing and painting. I went to two events at CCA for prospective students and parents, and I just loved the vibe of the school -- the feel of the Oakland campus, the smell of the oil paints. CCA was the only school I applied to, and I lucked out and got in! I really wanted to go to another city for college to have that moving-away experience.
My first year, I took advantage of all the exploration that my core classes offered. It was great to have the opportunity to work with so many different mediums! I became interested in sculpture, woodworking, ceramics, and textiles. You take all of that with you, and it all becomes a part of your work. I settled on Graphic Design figuring I could use my illustration skills within advertising. I was fascinated with print publications and originally aspired to work at a magazine. David Karam's courses introduced me to the possibilities of online design. Now, things like animated rollovers seem fairly basic, but at the time I was amazed at all the experimental stuff he was showing us.
How did you come to identify yourself as a Chicano artist?
I was always aware of and interested in Chicano culture, having grown up in East L.A. I took a Mexican literature class my senior year with Marianne Rogoff. The class tied in thematically with my senior thesis, and Marianne worked with me individually. When I returned to Los Angeles, I started to do art shows and get more involved with the community. My first show was at a bookstore that sold Chicano books, and I became more involved with Self Help Graphics, which I had always been aware of growing up.
Tell us about your journey from fledgling designer to Emmy Award winner.
In 2006 I started my own website design company. Mike Young Productions, an independent animation studio, bought us out within the first year. The studio had initiated a deal with Comcast to create a channel that housed all of their TV shows and videos. When they purchased our company, we began creating a variety of websites for them, one of which was Kabillion. This site was designed for youth markets and has all the virtual-world components the kids are looking for -- they're able to watch videos, play games, and create avatars. This was the type of design work I'd done previously at Neopets, before I branched out on my own. I won the Emmy for Kabillion in 2007 for New Approaches -- Online Videos in the Daytime Children's category.
How did you get to your current position at Nickelodeon?
By 2009, I was ready to move on from Kabillion. I went back to NeoPets, which had now become part of Nickelodeon. It was a great opportunity; Nickelodeon was much larger in terms of its marketing and development teams. I am now the managing producer and creative director for Petpet Park, a premier kids destination for Nickelodeon Virtual World Groups. Since I work with the Internet and online social media platforms, as they change, my position changes. Lately we've been designing more mobile projects.
What are your personal goals for the future?
I'd love to study more art history. At CCA I was so focused on my studio courses that I didn't take enough advantage of the academic offerings. I'm learning French. I've gotten back into painting and drawing for myself by going to open-studio nights. It's been a great stress reliever, very different than being creative in a corporate environment. I'm also trying to connect with other CCA alumni down here in L.A., which is difficult since everyone's so spread out. I'm trying to seek out more community events, and bring together as many people as possible who are working in the arts.
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