Walker's alumna Liss Couch-Edwards '07 is a designer and illustrator from Simsbury, Connecticut. Liss holds an MFA in Illustration from the University of Hartford's Hartford Art School as well as a B.A. in Art History and Film from Mount Holyoke College. After teaching middle and high school art for nearly five years at Walker's, she now works as the marketing and graphic designer coordinator at Hartford Stage, a Tony Award-winning theatre company in Hartford, Connecticut. Liss' artwork for Hartford Stage has been featured in The New York Times. Learn more about Liss' arts background, favorite medium, and advice for Walker's girls interested in pursuing a career in the arts.
What do you do at Hartford Stage?
I am the marketing and graphic design coordinator, which is a fancy way of saying graphic designer. I design and execute anything that needs to be printed in physical form, and I work with most departments, including Artistic, Education, and Development. I also work closely with the digital media manager, who shares my designs digitally on the website, on social media, and in targeted emails.
How did your studies and experiences lead you to work in the arts?
People assume that I majored in Graphic Design, but I actually did not study any visual arts in college – I majored in Art History because I loved interpreting what art meant. My dad is a minister and so from an early age, I was exposed to a lot of religious paintings and sculptures. I soon realized how much symbolism there is in all types of art, and that I can create symbolism in my own designs. As a member of the yearbook staff at Walker's, I was introduced to the basics of Adobe InDesign, and an Independent Studio art class was my introduction to Photoshop. I discovered Illustrator soon after that. You can only learn so much in a semester-long class, though, so I continued to teach myself these programs; I found video tutorials and answers to my questions online. I spent about eight years (all of high school and college) learning on my own which led me to the opportunity to return to Walker's to teach photography and to design for the Marketing department. I later realized that I did want some education in visual arts, and received my Master of Fine Arts in Illustration in 2016.
I started designing theatre posters, specifically, in college when I stage-managed a show called Hello Failure. The student who normally designed the posters had graduated the previous spring and the director needed artwork for her play. I stepped in and offered, and because she liked my work, I continued to do the posters for the department's productions for the next three years. I also designed all of Walker's theatre posters while I worked there, and design for the shows that my mom directs at a private school in Virginia. I enjoy creating theatre posters because they say so much about a show, but without giving too much away. It needs to grab someone's attention, yet leave enough mystery so that they come see a performance to find out what it is about. My favorite thing is how people can often better understand the poster after they have seen the show – anything that was unclear before suddenly makes sense. The elements that piqued their interest in the beginning have now been explained.
What is your favorite medium or approach to your own artwork?
I have two ways of creating my personal artwork: both by hand and completely digitally; it depends on the style I am going for. In the children's books I write and illustrate, I do line drawings by hand, then apply color and texture to scanned versions in Photoshop. For other things, I enjoy using Illustrator to manipulate flat shapes into the figures and elements that I want. I have also begun experimenting with hand lettering, which I am excited to explore further.
Have you always been interested in the theater? In fine art? In commercial art?
My family is very arts-oriented, so I have been exposed to theatre, visual arts, music, and dance for my entire life. I am very inspired by American painters from the 18th and 19th centuries, and heavily influenced by 1950s and 60s illustrated advertising. I also love the animation and background art of classic Disney movies (Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan) and of recent Pixar films (Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Inside Out). There is such a range of styles that exists out there – from simple lines to lifelike renderings – that is completely inspiring. Every artist has a place in this world, which makes me incredibly hopeful for the future.
What is your advice for Walker's girls who are thinking about pursuing a career in the arts?
Do it! It does help to have an educational background in art, but that certainly should not prevent options in any way. Do not limit yourself by thinking you are at a disadvantage – as long as you have passion and a willingness to learn, you can have a future in it.