For her Graphic Design senior thesis, Stephanie Rott ’23 sought to display SUNY New Paltz students’ personal graphic art with a gallery and website of creative tattoos and the stories behind them.
The combination creative/research project serves not only as an arts archive, but as an anthropological examination into tattoo culture on campus.
“I just love admiring the art of tattoos on other people,” she said. “Everybody that I know who has tattoos, or anybody I have ever asked about their tattoos, always seems very eager to talk about them. It’s a very interesting conversation starter, and I wanted to explore that more.”
Rott found in her research that students’ reasons for getting tatted vary widely – some use it as a way to express personal stories, from mental health struggles to family connections, while others just like the way they look – but one common theme was college-aged people using body art to express personality, which aligns with national trends.
“Through my initial background research, I found that there’s been a crazy increase in the amount of people who have tattoos, especially among Generation Z, simply because they look cool,” she said.
Rott built the archive by inviting submissions of photos via Instagram, and used these to create a website and a physical exhibition of student ink in the Sojourner Truth Library’s lobby during the spring semester.
“I wanted the whole project to be a showcase for the reasons why people get tattoos, and I wanted a public space to show that off,” she said.
Rules are meant to be broken
Rott says that a lesson she learned through this project is that, in graphic design and in life, following the rules is not always the best path to success.
“A big takeaway that I’ve learned from graphic design is that there can be a lot of rules, but it’s about how you break the rules that can make it creative or interesting,” she said.
The collaboration with her peers gave her the creative freedom to present her research in a unique, twofold way.
“I wanted to go out of my comfort zone a little bit and have it be a project that would incorporate students while granting them anonymity,” she said. “At the same time, I wanted to showcase the designs in spaces where they could be seen.”
Rott credits New Paltz’s Graphic Design program with empowering her to explore the more intellectual aspects of her creative process.
“The Graphic Design program is structured in a way that allows you to not just paint, draw or sculpt, but allows you to think about why we create and how we should examine our creativity,” she said.
Once she graduates in May, Rott seeks to apply all she learned about the intellectual pursuit of design in a career as a User Interface and User Experience, or UI/UX, designer.
“UI/UX design is more about the way users use websites and apps and more of an online space,” she said. “There’s a lot of organization with design in this line of work, but you have a lot of creative freedom at the same time, which interests me.”