Arts, Arts Features

Student Designer’s Playful Style Evokes Nostalgia

The walls of the WZBC lounge are plastered with posters, but one giant, glossy image stands out. A distorted, rainbow-colored prism pops on a black background. The letters of the radio station are reconfigured in elegant and wavy fonts. Amanda Roussel, MCAS ’21, designed the poster, commemorating the radio station’s 60th year on air. Responsible for creating many of the funky posters adorning the radio station’s walls, the contents of Roussel’s creative brain are on display—metaphorically and literally. 

After getting an MRI last spring, Roussel’s doctor handed them a copy of their brain scans. Immediately fascinated by the images, Roussel took the scans and created a promotional poster for the radio station to reach out to other BC students with musical interests. 

The poster was one of Roussel’s first projects for WZBC and helped ignite a growing passion for graphic design. 

“I’ve realized that it’s a passion because it’s something that doesn’t feel like work all the time, and it’s something that I’m willing to put in like a lot of hours into doing,” Roussel said.

Formerly the AM radio coordinator at WZBC, Roussel became the publicity coordinator in January 2020. They began creating more posters and stickers for the station, honing their graphic design skills. 

Before the pandemic hit, the station was gearing up for a concert at the Great Scott, a music venue in Allston, and Roussel started working on a poster for the event. Roussel’s staple bold colors—vibrant blues, pinks, and yellows—stand out on a distorted geometric landscape. Pink lines bend across the page, lifting the names of the bands the board was planning to host. Quinn Kiernan, the current operations manager for WZBC and MCAS ’22, said that Roussel’s impressive posters offered him some consolation when they were forced to cancel the event. 

“[The] concert never happened, but I’m just so glad the posters happened,” Kiernan said. 

Embracing their newfound passion for graphic design, Roussel started creating more merchandise for the station. Last year, the WZBC office was abandoned after students were sent home due to the pandemic, and any chance of a concert was canceled. But, Roussel’s designs helped the station remain active even while remote last year. Roussel produced mugs, stickers, koozies, sweatshirts, and t-shirts—each item emblazoned with one of their unique graphics.

Roussel spent their summer learning Adobe Illustrator and InDesign, which helped them face the challenge of revitalizing the station’s image. Turning to the classic WZBC sign, which hadn’t changed since the station’s founding in 1960, Roussel enhanced the logo by simplifying the lines and adding blue, green, pink, and yellow layers to the lettering. 

“It just felt, you know, like [with] COVID and everything … we weren’t able to do that much, so why not try to reinvent ourselves and just imagine and recreate these things that, you know, [have] been around [like the logo],” Kiernan said on utilizing Roussel’s design skills. 

Amanda Roussel designed a poster to mark the 60th anniversary of WZBC.

As a senior, Roussel’s time as a WZBC board member ended last semester, but their creative projects extend beyond the walls of the station’s office. 

Roussel, a psychology major and art history minor, also works as a McMullen Museum of Art student ambassador and helps design marketing materials and educational guides for the museum. 

Roussel’s work is rooted in the creative instincts they developed growing up in Birmingham, Ala. They grew up sewing and creating projects with unique materials, leading them to love the sensation of crafting something with their own hands. Roussel recalls making sculptures out of abandoned wires and distorting photographs of nature using Photoshop as a kid. 

Roussel’s latest project, however, branches away from graphic design, as they’re reconnecting with the unconventional tools and materials of their childhood. Over quarantine, Roussel explored jewelry design, recreating styles they saw in stores and playing around with an assortment of beads they found. 

With their collection of beads and jewelry flourishing over winter break, Roussel started selling their earrings on their Instagram page called gears—gear for your ears. The earrings—handmade with the bright, colorful shades Roussel is drawn to—are a collection of classic shapes that are reminiscent of childhood imagery: hearts, stars, and butterflies. The tactile experience of piecing together the colorful earrings connects them to the fun projects of their childhood, Roussel said.  

Often inspired by the playful craft supplies found in the aisles of Michaels, Roussel has experimented with multi-colored polymer clay and Shrinky Dinks, a craft that minimizes and hardens drawings when put in the oven. Raiding the shelves stocked with miniature figurines, Roussel made one set of earrings with small, glass mushrooms. Their products are an eclectic assortment of bold pieces—including large, multi-colored moons, stars, and cacti. Roussel’s daintier pieces feature smaller, pastel-colored beads. Their most recent earring creations are clouds and flowers in shades of pink, blue, and gold. 

In their dorm room, Roussel’s stockpile of clays, beads, and figurines are stuffed into a large, black crafting toolbox. The white walls of their dorm are bedecked with their earring display and an array of soft-hued postcards, which showcase Roussel’s personal style.  

Commandeering the common space in their suite, Roussel has continued assembling earrings for customers, mostly other BC students, throughout the semester. Recently they made a Valentine’s Day set, a collection they are particularly proud of. The festive collection includes pieces with long chains connecting large flower, heart, and butterfly shapes and embellished with pearl beads.  

Erin Ballengee, Roussel’s roommate and MCAS ’21, has watched Roussel’s graphic design skills improve. Ballengee said Roussel spends all of their free time cultivating their individual style. 

“I think a lot of it could be called whimsical, kind of nostalgic, like looking at them just like makes you happy,” Ballengee said. “Like whatever medium [it is], the graphic design is kind of—[it] can be almost psychedelic sometimes. And the earrings are just really pretty and dainty.”

Roussel was surprised to be spotlighted as an artist on campus, having just recently started taking art classes and using unconventional artistic methods. But, Roussel’s rebranding work for WZBC and their inclination to transform the kitschy crafts of childhood into trendy jewelry testify to their artistic abilities. 

“It’s taken me a while to like learn that I can allow myself to take art classes and … that those are skills for the real world,” Roussel said on how their outlook on their personal art has evolved. 

Graduating this spring, Roussel said they don’t see themself working in a creative field but knows that art will always be a resource for relaxation and expression, as their unabashedly vibrant colors and shapes recall the simpler pleasures of childhood. Always returning to the words “childlike” and “playful” to describe their work, Roussel’s work speaks to art’s ability to transport people to a different time and place.

Q & A

Best spot on campus for creative inspiration.

The woods around the reservoir. Climbing over the rocks and walking on tree stumps feels childlike and light in a way that I can’t find inside.

What visual artists inspire you? Musical artists?

Charles Burchfield and his dreamlike watercolor scenes, Helen Frankenthaler and her massive abstract Expressionist paintings, and Beth Hoeckel and her collages.

For music: Phoebe Bridgers, Bedouine, Arthur Russell, and Weyes Blood. 

Favorite club/organization you’ve been a part of at BC.

WZBC. I found such a cool community here, a place to practice my hobby, and so many new artists to listen to!

What is the most influential class you’ve taken at BC?

I’ve loved all my art history and studio art classes, but PULSE was really the most influential. I genuinely loved my placement at Coyne Rd. house [a group home for women] and grew personally from our class discussions and readings.

Favorite book, album, or film.

I wish I could wipe my brain so I could read both The Secret History and The Goldfinch again. They’re both by Donna Tartt, who creates such a deep dive into a particular subject for each book—classics and the art world, respectively. The stories are twisty, full, [and] mysterious!

Favorite jewelry item that you’ve designed. 

I’m proud of my clay-checkered flowers. Making checkerboards was something I’d been trying to nail for a while, and I’m so happy with how they turned out, especially with the three colors!

What will you miss most about your time at BC?

I’m afraid to think of big things like traditions or people! One of my favorite days on campus I’ll miss is the first warm day in spring, when everyone finally comes outside. Seeing the grass covered with people really makes this look like a college brochure, and everyone’s in a good mood.

Photos by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

Graphic Courtesy of Amanda Roussel

March 15, 2021