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A semester in Canada

A semester in Canada

Alizée Parry, a first-year student in MDes Brand Design & Food has just done a one-semester exchange program at OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) in Toronto. She gives us her impressions of this international experience.


Can you tell us a bit about your studies since leaving high school?

I’ve done all my studies since high school at L’École de design. At the outset, I came here because I was genuinely blown away by the school. I came with a view to doing space or product but at the end of my first year, I decided to go into graphic design. At the end of my undergraduate studies, I took part in some briefings and decided to try the Brand Design & Food MDes program.

OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design)

What made you choose this destination for your exchange semester and why this establishment specifically?

I lived in Canada for 3 months when I was 15 and I really wanted to go back. I went to Berlin for my second-year internship and I wanted to go outside of Europe this time. I definitely wanted to go to school rather than do an internship. I thought it was a good opportunity to get into certain establishments that might not be accessible outside an exchange program and, above all, I wanted to go and see how things worked elsewhere!

It was a coincidence that OCAD, the school I liked best, happened to be in Canada! What I wanted to get out of this experience was something fresh and new: an opportunity to learn new techniques, something that I wasn’t doing at school, like a 6-month discovery period in the middle of my degree course. And what I wanted to do more than anything was print: I wanted to do more technical courses, use workshops, etc... OCAD (Ontario College of Art & Design) offered a course in printing techniques which ticked all the boxes.


What type of courses did you follow?

I was on the printing techniques or printmaking course and I followed 5 classes. I didn’t have any compulsory lessons so I was able to take mainly workshop classes. I did a course in screen printing, one in lithography, one in engraving, which included wood engraving and linocuts, a course in typographic printing and finally, my only non-manual class, a lesson in graphic design. In each of these classes we had about 4 or 5 projects in the semester, which were exercises to teach us the techniques (for the workshop-based classes). For example, we started off with an edition using a single color, then 2 colors, etc... After the exercises, we had a big project at the end of the semester.

"Broadside" project

Tell us about an important project you completed during the semester

The project which made the biggest impression on me was the one we did for the typographic printing class. The object was to create a typographic poster, or a “broadside”. Historically, broadsides are posters generally printed on one side only, used to announce events, proclamations, laws, advertisements, etc. They are posters that are plastered all over city walls and destined to be constantly ripped down and changed. The aim of this project was to create a typographic composition using wooden and lead characters. The aim being to produce a batch of 15 prints, and for them to be as uniform as possible.

For this project, I decided to work on some of the slightly absurd laws that exist in France such as, for example, the law stating that UFOs are prohibited in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The law that I chose for my project is a law stating that it is prohibited to name one’s pig Napoleon. The law was enacted in 1807 under the First Empire and still exists today. We had about a month and a half for this project. The hardest part was creating the composition with a limited number of typefaces, as we didn’t have every font imaginable. We then had to position them on the printing press, line them up and make sure they didn’t move between each print. I wanted to play with the transparency between pink and yellow and my pink ink wasn’t suitable for the press so I had to print that color by hand. Working by hand it’s much more difficult to control the quantity of ink you put on the typeface and it’s more difficult to get an even result.


What similarities are there between the establishment and L’École de design?

I think that the similarities can mostly be seen in the running of the school. Despite the fact that some teachers are more relaxed about absenteeism, only a certain number of absences are tolerated. Any more and they take points off your average overall grade like at L’École de design. As far as projects are concerned, it’s pretty similar. Firstly, there are several projects at the same time, which isn’t the case in every school - some schools make their students work on a single project for 2 weeks. At OCAD, I had 5 classes a week and therefore 5 projects at the same time. For most of the classes, we had oral feedback at the end of the projects, after pinning the work up on the wall and briefly presenting what we’d done.

What differences are there between the establishment and L’École de design?

There are many differences: firstly, OCAD has around 6 times more students than L’École de design so the whole administrative system functions differently. For us, everything is handed to us on a platter whereas over there you have to do it all by yourself. You have to choose your classes by yourself, you have to get your student card and queue up for half an hour, you have to go and pay the course fees in a building two blocks away, etc. The “campus” is spread over a district of Toronto, but the main building houses nearly all of the courses. It’s a truly incredible building where you can see all kinds of things and meet all kinds of people. As the school offers many different courses, you can find workshops for working with wood, metal and ceramic, a 3D laser printing lab with at least 5 or 6 different printers, screen printing workshops with century-old presses, workshops for painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.

The major difference with the school is that at OCAD, you have to pay for everything, not just the tuition fees. You have to pay a fee for using facilities, for the lockers and even for the student card. As for the running of the courses, they’re not classes but lessons. Each student chooses their lessons based on their credits and curriculum but also based on their interests - each semester, students can choose a course outside their specialty in order to discover something new. The students are given total freedom. They can use any of the school’s workshops whenever they like, as long as it doesn’t disturb a class. There are technicians in the corridors who are available if you need them. They really trust the students. The work pace is also different. For us French students who are used to working really hard in the third year, the work pace is quite relaxing as there are only 5 lessons a week. That leaves us time to work in peace the rest of the time. I think that the other OCAD students have a different experience as most of them work in their spare time to pay for their studies.

What did you get out of this semester at OCAD?

This semester taught me a lot of new things. New techniques which could be useful either in personal projects or school projects. The semester allowed me to learn techniques that otherwise I may never have had the chance to learn, such as lithography. I learnt to use machinery and presses that I might never have touched. It gave me the chance to do what I wanted with a lot freedom. The course I was following was really geared towards the technique rather than the content. We were more interested in the neatness of the print and the uniformity of the edition than the meaning of the artwork. I had some incredibly interesting teachers who talked about presses or inks with so much passion that I really learnt a lot: loads of anecdotes and vocabulary.


What did you learn from your time in Canada?

The experience enabled me to meet new people from all over the world. There were about thirty foreign students in the school so it’s easier to get on when you’re all part of an exchange program. Otherwise, the semester obviously helped me improve my English – primarily my spoken English. When you don’t have any choice and you have to make yourself understood, it’s the best way to learn. And especially when you have to present your project to the class or to the teacher, you have to make an effort with vocabulary and that helps a lot. Finally, I realized that although I really like Canada, I don’t particularly want to live in a North American city. I feel much closer to European culture.

Which master’s program did you join and why?

I joined the New Eating Habits Design Lab and, to be more precise, the Brand Design & Food MDes program taught in English. It’s a program that will help me broaden my skill set as a graphic designer working on volume projects, such as packaging or product. And more importantly, it’s a master’s program which lets us ask real questions about the future of what we eat. I really wanted to take the opportunity to do a Master’s in English so as not to lose all the benefits of the semester abroad.

How do you see your future once you graduate from L’École de design?

For now, I think that when I graduate from school I’ll probably stay in the food sector. I want to see where this master’s program can take me - but most importantly, I’m passionate about it! I’d like to work directly with chefs or maybe in a studio that does packaging.