comments 24

Which School? Help!

I’m writing today to ask for your advice.

Over the last five years, I have come quite far – rediscovering and developing an art form which is fairly unique, meeting many like-minded and gifted artists, and making friends all over the world through our shared love of paper arts. This has been a wonderful journey and I have loved every minute of it.

However, I’m at a bit of a crossroads right now. I have so many areas I want to explore; working with metals, wood, fabrics, leather, and plastics, using CNC routers and lasers and plasma cutters and 3D rapid prototyping… but I don’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to do these things. This has led me to the decision that I really need to find a school or university where I can learn all about these technologies and techniques, and put them to good use making my own artistic visions become reality.

… And I’ve hit a stumbling block. Most of the schools I am looking at offer either focused Paper and Bookmaking Arts programs (like Columbia College in Chicago) or more general Fine Arts programs (Pratt, SVA, etc.) which often require students to have the ability to draw/sketch/paint. This is not a gift I happen to have 🙂 I also have little desire in designing book art; I truly adore good book art but it’s just really not something I see myself doing, and I hesitate to look into a program that would want me to spend a lot of time working with books rather than the paper itself.

Here’s where I need your help, fair readers. Do any of you have suggestions or ideas as to schools or universities I should look into? Is there a better focus to look at, like design vs. art, that would allow me to better use the talents I have? I’m very interested in branching out to new art forms and materials but I do have a rather focused interest, which makes this all a bit complicated. I want to find a school that focuses my geometry and pattern skills to their best possible level.

I’ve seen so many interesting things that people do – design, architecture, sculpture, paper arts, graphic design, printmaking, and so on… I’d love to pursue these things further and see where my potential can take me.

If you have any ideas, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line at I’d be happy to have a phone conversation with you, just send an email and I’ll respond with my contact info.

Thanks so much to all of you! I greatly appreciate your help.

-Eric Gjerde

(And a quick note – I’m currently working on some new projects out of leather, I hope to have finished pieces in a few weeks to share with you! I’m very excited with how this is turning out!)


  1. Malachi says

    I don’t have an experience with art schools, but I do have one suggestion. Find some schools that have the resources you desire to work with and contact them. Ask them if it is possible to build your own curriculum or substitute self study courses for the traditional course work. If you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to study, they might be amenable to accommodating you. I would expect in the arts there is probably precedent for people who want to study but whose talent lies in a niche area.

  2. Hi Eric,

    I’ve asked origamists and artists a similar question before, and I usually get the answer that it would be very hard for me to go to school for paper art in particular. Instead, I’m encouraged to go to school for sculpture or design, and to choose a school that has the resources (be they equipment or faculty) I’m interested in. Like Malachi said, if you’re motivated to make your own path and study in a specialized line, nobody is going to stop you — it’s usually encouraged.

    If you are going to try to go to school for art/design, I think it’s hard to get anywhere without being able to draw / having taken drawing classes. Even if you don’t plan on using it in what you want to do, it’s a step in being taken seriously by art schools, from what I’ve heard (3 parental figures in my life are artists).

    Please keep us updated on where you get with this pursuit, as I’m looking to follow it too!


  3. Hi Eric!

    I assume that you’re not considering going to school just to go to college to have the experience. That means you’re viewing attending a college or university as a means to an end. My question for you is: What end are you striving for? Do you want to have a certain degree in order to get work/be taken seriously/other? Or do you mainly want to learn certain skills? Or are you looking for a place to grow as an artist?

    I guess I’m wondering what going to school really has to offer you. I can see how you’d really like to have access and learn how to use things like a 3D printer and other tools, as you say. So maybe it’s just a matter of looking for schools and programs that have the resources you want, and then see what kind of programs they offer.

    But Ray is right — most art programs will insist that you have a basic background in drawing or they won’t take you seriously. (I encountered this when I was in college and tried to show my origami artwork to art professors. They all told me to go learn how to draw. In contrast, I found the design and architecture professors much more receptive.)

    It might be better to find a school that has the tools you want to learn about, and just take classes that teach those tools and give you access to them, without enrolling full time in a program for a degree that you don’t necessarily want.

    Another thing you could try would be to approach artists whose work you admire and ask them how they learned to do what they do. For example Bathsheba Grossman might be the kind of artist who would have interesting answers to your questions. (She got an MFA at UPenn’s Sculpture program, but I don’t think they’re exactly what you’re looking for.)

    I hope that helps, and good luck!

    — Tom

  4. Mike Assis says

    I have a friend at Kutztown University in PA. The art department there includes an Art Education and Crafts degree, and within crafts you can specialize in Fibers, which I think is closest to what you do. I have two art student friends who have now told me that the newest trend in art is to take traditional crafts and study them more rigorously within art programs. I haven’t searched for other similar programs to Kutztown, but I would imagine that you could find plenty of other universities offering a specialization in fibers.

  5. don’t worry about the drawing, i’ve been to some artschools and only a very very small fraction of the people know how to handle a pencil.
    however, even if it seems not obvious at the first sight, i’d recommend at least considering a school for architecture.
    i think they teach what you are actually into. yeah, i know you’re not into buildings so far, that’s not what i’m trying to say.
    but just think about it.
    while everybody else is focused on particular issues of design, architecture offers you the most you can learn from in terms of space, folding, complex spatial things, etc.
    besides that, they have all the machines you can dream of. it’s the most abstract and real-world discipline out there.
    good luck anyway 🙂

  6. Justin says

    I agree with the above comment. You should consider a progressive school of architecture. This would take you in many new and unexpected directions. Look at the work of the British engineer Cecil Balmond or the architecture firm Aranda/Lasch for examples of designers who are exploring their deep interests in geometry through architecture. Best of luck.

  7. Hello Eric,
    Your tessellation work is a subset of Textile Design. I took a hybrid approach where I had a University degree in Fine Art and then went to a college to get the hands-on technical training in Textiles. In Ontario, Canada Sheridan Institute of Technology and Learning (SITAL) has many programs that are applicable for you: a School of Craft and Design (textiles, ceramics, furniture, glass) and a Tool and Die program that teaches the CNC technology as well as others. I am certain that the US has many schools with similar offerings. Industrial design may be another route to consider.

  8. Consider Harresh Lalvani at Pratt Institute – Architecture. He is a morphologist who received phd under Bucky Fuller at Penn.

  9. Hi Eric,

    I`m an industrial designer, origami fan, and I share here my experience.

    Just like yourself, I want to do a lot of things like experimenting with new materials and their inherent processes. You are already an artist, so you have in mind what you exactly want to do, and have already visualize what it would look/be like in your mind´s screen. Mi hint is not to look for a college or any other long term studies. Otherwise, take intensive courses on CNC programming, learn SurfCAM, ArtCAM or any other CAM software. CNC laser and torch cutters, along with CNC mills, are not quite different from an operation point of view, but they have their own particularities. I suggest you to adquire practical knowledge from certified vendors or technical schools, which, will allow you in the short term to put hands on…

    Kindest regards!

    P.S. I´d like to adquire your book, and have it signed by you, can this be possible? How? Thanks!

  10. Kris says

    Hi Eric-
    I teach at the University of Maine in the Art department there – I’ve admired your work and followed your development over the past few years as I work with similar geometric arrangements myself, only with various metal leafs and paint. ( I frequently show your work to my design classes and many students have visited your website to see more) I also sculpt.
    From what I can tell you are already ‘college’ educated +++ – I think some of your correspondants are right- It might be a good idea to apprentice yourself to an individual(s) who knows what you what to learn and can teach it – not necessarily at schools ( although schools are fine) but also within your community i.e. the best welders are out in the field. The more one-on-one contact you have with a ‘master’ ( for lack of a better description), the more you learn. As a teacher, one of my frustrations is that time with each student is limited because of class size.
    If you feel the need to go back to school, I hope you’re thinking GRADUATE school.
    Your work is wonderful.
    Best, Kris

  11. Ctrlsave says

    I would recommend schools like AA in london where various forms of architecture are explored. From what i’ve seen over the past few years, they have been doing some really great experimental work with generative architecture and using tools like cnc and 3d printing to visualise it. And of course alot of works using paper as a medium have been explored as well.

  12. Eric I just wanted to wish you luck, I am also interested in getting your book and if possible get it autographed. Hope all works out well for you.

    Sal R.
    Simple Origami

  13. louis says

    If you do follow the advice of people who suggest architecture school, be careful and look very closely at programs first. If you don’t you will subject yourself to a considerable amount of pain with little to show for it. If what you want to develop a completely different set of skills that your already existing skills suggest you might be good at, then some form of design school is certainly among your better choices. If you are really committed to continuing to do what you do, but to have it evolve, then art school is likely a better choice.

    I think what we really need is a new sort of school, where people such as yourself, Marius Watz, who I see listed in your links to the side, and the countless others of us who are interested in studying these types of things can converge the way an earlier generation did at the Bauhaus and develop a really new paradigm for thinking about making things. That happens to some extent temporarily at least at conferences like Generator. You may find that your money is better spent by attending what you can of them rather than a school.

  14. I’m deciding on programs now myself, I feel your quandary.

    I got access and training for all of that kind at the newly-opened TechShop Durham. The three TechShops don’t offer degrees, but there is plenty to teach and learn.

    (fo.ol on flickr)

  15. look into Art Center Environmental Design Dept. it’s were i am currently a student. Peep my website and flickr site for examples of the projects we do and technologies we use.

  16. Hi Eric

    There’s a product design course at Central St Martins, London which might be of interest to you. (probably a bit far but perhaps they’d be interested in you teaching a one off session who knows)

    I bought an origami type lampshade from a mainstream furniture shop in England – Habitat. cost me ÂŁ65 so I’m trying to make my own version but haven’t really got the skills: just messing around really.

    Thought this might be an avenue you could explore, link below is to the lampshade, for you to have a look at:


  17. Emil says

    It was so interesting to read what you had to say because I can see myself in your exact shoes in the next few years. I am a graphic design major at rhode island school of design, but was between graphic design, industrial design, architecture, sculpture, textiles, and printmaking because i too am obsessed with paper folding and “origami tesselating.” Those majors just seemed to each have a little bit more to offer me in paper folding. I’ve been discussing my options with one of my teachers, and he recommended staying with graphic design, but taking classes within each of my majors of interest. That way, I’ll have enough understanding of material and structure, and I can delve into a world where “structure” could anything from toy design to architecture, and few have delved there before. It was really interesting and helpful, and maybe what you could do is simply find a school that offers a broad range of classes, making sure you’d be able to take classes in many subjects rather than settle on one major.


  18. Hi all,
    As for as my knowledge, most of arts school must give training to their students about plasma cutters, how does it works and how we can cutt easily metals thereby. I though it’s very essential tool for arts.


    Plasma cutters

  19. Education encompasses both the teaching and learning of knowledge, proper conduct, and technical competency. It thus focuses on the cultivation of skills, trades or professions, as well as mental, moral and aesthetic development.

  20. I’m really loving the blog, and hope this, as well as the excellent article some other people have written, will help somebody

  21. Douglas Hill says

    If you are still interested in this question, you might consider Alfred University’s MFA in Sculpture/Dimensional Studies in the non media specific track. Their art facilities are staggering. All accepted students receive tuition waver and stipend.

  22. voce vai adorar ourivesaria, design, adoro origami, e me apaixonei pela ourivesaria.

    onde vc esta ?

    estou no Brasil, vc pode trabalhar com metais e outros materias, na arte de joias contemporanea,

    boa sorte

    ps. venho tentando passar para o metal, um certo tesselation, precisaria ser feito em 3D, mas ainda nao encontrei ninguem capaz de fazer, quer tentar ???

    estou a sua disposição,


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