Head topic Designedto teach
GREENWICH — As a youngster growing up in Greenwich, Phil Lohmeyer always had his nose in a comic strip: Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, Peanuts.
As an adult in the field of visual animation, he did ink work for Beetle Bailey and created logos for sports teams and businesses in the region.
But coming from a family of teachers, his passion for comic and graphic design was matched by a desire to teach and encourage students to think visually. Today Lohmeyer is a design teacher at Whitby School in Greenwich. He recently developed a book for people to work out projects based on flag design; and he’s working on a graphic novel.
Lohmeyer has successfully integrated his passions. But when he started his classroom career more than a decade ago at New Lebanon School in Greenwich, his use of cartooning and animation in lessons drew some skepticism about his methods.
“When I first started, it was kind of an uphill battle. Comic strips were not legitimate in the world of education. That has totally changed,” said Lohmeyer, now a Stamford resident. “Something I had to do, when I was first teaching comic strips, was to find evidence that it is educational, that it does helps kids with their story-telling abilities. Especially English-language learners.
“It’s no longer an uphill battle,” he said.
Since he began teaching, graphic novels and comics have shed the perception some held that they belonged at the low end of the cultural spectrum. They have become the subject of critical study and even earned a place in the pantheon of world literature, in some cases.
Thinking visually, the design teacher said, can be a valuable way to tackle a big project. His self-published book “Wave the Flag,” which he will use as an educational tool in his middle-school classroom, uses the design of a flag as a conceptual tool.
“I always liked flags, they’re the ancestors of modern-day logos,” Lohmeyer said.
“Flags represent the most organized way to arrange information,” he continued. “The goal is to use the flag to follow your entire project, through all the steps. Who’s your audience? What’s your objective? What are your production needs? How can it be used successfully?”
Lohmeyer’s website, where his booklet can be ordered, is www.lohmeyerdesign.com.
Designers, he noted, have an important role in society, though their work is often hidden in plain sight. Lohmeyer said he relishes the role of design work, how its practitioners use a visual tool kit to shape perception.
“Designers - they’re trying to accomplish something, to make their creations have a function,” he said.
The teacher said he also wants to help young people understand the powers of visual persuasion, how packaging influences consumer choices.
His goal is to allow young people to find different ways of telling a story and exploring their world, and to unleash their creative potential — whether it’s in digital form, on pen and paper, or through video animation. “Being adaptable, that’s so important,” Lohmeyer noted, especially with today’s changing technology.
At Whitby School, the design program is a way to get students to think big, said the head of the upper school, Jonathan Chein, as well as to collaborate on projects.
“It’s problem-solving, taking action and engaging, doing something,” he said. “It’s cartooning and learning about animation, but really what Phil does, he gives direction to kids to dream bigger, and figure out how to make ‘bigger’ happen.”
The students work together to create projects, using video, animation, graphics and design. The goal is not be better consumers of digital culture, but creators as well, Chein said.
“It’s cool to watch him work with kids and provide them with opportunities to do stuff. It’s a whole system,” Chein said, “It’s kind of magic. And he works hard at it, there’s a lot of legwork and groundwork that goes with it. Not only is he passionate, he’s prepared.”
Above all, Lohmeyer said he wants students to retain that love of drawing and creation that comes instinctively to young people.
“It’s to take the things they love and find fun, seriously. If you can take your passions seriously, other people will, too,” he said. “And it helps them understand the power they have as storytellers, using their own creations.”