July 5

Function Meets Art

The School of Visual Concepts is more than just letterpress and Steamroller Smackdowns.

The School of Visual Concepts’ annual Steamroller Smackdown is on the horizon. The artistic competition will be full steamroller ahead on Friday, August 11 at the SLU Block Party. Representatives from 20 local companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Tableau, Paper Hammer, and more, will create oversized posters that are printed with a steamroller rather than a printing press.

Jenny Wilkson, founder of the Smackdown and the letterpress program at SVC, explains that letterpress printing is printing is relief printing. It involves moveable type and hand-cut linoleum. It’s an age-old form of printing with modern-day applications that can fulfill creative needs that technology can’t. “It allows people who don’t work with their hands to have a sense of accomplishment in creating something with a lasting physical creation. It’s gratifying for people to create something they can put on their walls,” she says.

This year’s non-profit partner is KEXP, and so the theme, Where the Music Matters, is quite fitting. Cutting the linoleum is incredibly time-consuming, so teams work on developing and cutting their designs weeks leading up to the competition. The day of the event, the competition runs in five one-hour heats of four teams, giving each team a small window of time to use the steamroller. There are three criteria for judging: the creative interpretation of the theme, aesthetic merit, and team spirit (according to Wilkson, one of the most entertaining things about the competition is watching the teams come up with costumes).

If you want to learn more about letterpress, SVC holds a number of classes covering the medium. The letterpress program and the Steamroller Smackdown are two well-known aspects of SVC, but it’s important to note that those elements are a tiny part of what the school offers. “The letterpress programs are actually less than 10 percent of our business,” says Larry Asher, co-director at SVC.

The core of SVC’s curriculum are marketing, communications, and design. According to Asher, that includes graphic design, UX, content writing, design strategy, branding, and more. SVC recently added new certificate programs that package multiple classes of its traditional offerings with new classes that are tailored to the certificate program. All the students are assigned a professional-level mentor. The first program was built around user experience. Asher says SVC is set to offer certificate programs in visual design for the web and content writing this fall.

In addition to educating students, SVC has built a popular corporate training program from the ground up. It started when working professionals would attend SVC’s workshops. “Inevitably, someone would say ‘my whole team needs this,’ and decided to build some corporate programs. These started five or six years ago. In June, we’ve done more than a dozen and hope to increase our offerings,” Asher says. The corporate program includes an up-front audit, specialized instruction, and live training at the company’s offices or at SVC’s SLU campus.

SVC’s free public workshops will be announced in the fall. Visit SVC’s website for more information about classes and corporate training.

Story by Ethan Chung and Photos by Daniel Berman and Nataworry Photography.

Denny Park

Seattle’s first park — and former graveyard