Get to Know HFC: Vicki Shepherd works to diversify the voices and faces in the art field
When a former art teacher suggested that HFC fine arts instructor Vicki Shepherd should become a teacher, Shepherd’s response was “No way, not me!”
Like many of us, she changed her mind about her future. She has been teaching at HFC since 2006, full-time since 2012. She also taught at Specs Howard School of Media Arts in Southfield from 2008-12.
“Teaching seemed like a natural fit from the beginning,” said Shepherd, of Dearborn. “Helping others learn and be successful gives me a great sense of purpose.”
Born in Dearborn, Shepherd was the middle of three children. A single mother, she has a son, Henry Walters who is a a software engineer in Ann Arbor.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, Shepherd graduated from Huron High School. She took classes at Washtenaw Community College, where she studied graphic design. Transferring to Eastern Michigan University, she earned her bachelor’s degree, majoring in interior design and minoring in fine art.
“Decolonizing” graphic design
Shepherd later earned her MFA in graphic design from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA. Her thesis was on graphic design history.
“What drives me is decolonizing graphic design,” she said. “The text for the course used in most design programs is a terrific resource. Yet throughout history, there is a canon of design that includes mostly European men born before 1920. A lot of history is missing. I have been working on expanding the materials for the course to include a more inclusionary body of designers. I could talk about this for hours. In short, it is my mission to expand what graphic design looks like for our students.”
Shepherd takes seriously her mission to diversify her program and her students’ experiences. “The History of Graphic Design class is often open discussion, which is rewarding. Since Black Lives Matter became known, there has been an explosion of BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) designers tackling this issue. The HFC Digital and Graphic Arts program is very diverse, which makes it much more robust. Every student in the program should be able to see designers who look like them, and design that is inspired by a wide variety of referential points of view. Schools are revamping their History of Graphic Design classes to move forward in a more inclusive, intersectional way. I’m working to bring that to HFC. Design is a reflection of period zeitgeist – we need new voices going forward.”
She also completed additional coursework in graphic design at HFC. Her mentor was retired HFC fine arts instructor Kirk McLendon.
Keeping the creative spark alive
“I’ve always been creative. As a child, I would build things and draw house plans. Creative writing was encouraged at WCC. In high school, I was often found in the commercial art studio or out with my camera,” she recalled. “I would now consider myself an artist; however, I mostly thought of myself a designer. When I was young, there wasn’t much support or encouragement to study art. And I couldn’t afford college. I attended WCC part-time while I worked for the EPA as a QC auditor. The contractor I worked for wanted me to study engineering, so I quit at age 28 to attend EMU full-time. Fun fact: I lived in an outbuilding without running water for three years in order to afford college – the rent was free!”
As a single mom, Shepherd worked several jobs. She was a freelance graphic designer for small businesses and non-profit organizations in addition to teaching art. When she was at Specs Howard, her side work allowed her the ability and the financial wherewithal to pursue her MFA.
At HFC, Shepherd has taught many classes, including:
- Graphic Design Studio
- Color Theory
- Graphic Design Studio II
- Advanced Projects
“I recently created a preliminary storyboarding class, which was fun to teach,” she said. “As a designer, most of my recent work has been surface illustration for wallpaper and home textiles. But I find the computer to be too perfect, too precise. To loosen up my style, I am currently working on expressive multi-media collage and abstract paintings and have recently begun making handmade books. I also do gestural cartoons based on life.” (See selections of Vicki's art at the bottom of this story.)
Working with students outside art classes
HFC Faculty Chair of Fine and Performing Arts Steve Glazer spoke about working with Shepherd, his long-time colleague and fellow fine arts instructor.
“Vicki is fun to work with. She’s very passionate about art, and she’s an excellent colleague. I really enjoy working with her,” said Glazer.
“I enjoy working with alongside students and am politically-minded,” said Shepherd. “Both Honors and STUCO give me an opportunity to get to know students across the campus.”
HFC Honors student Ashley Trent, of Wyandotte, wants to be just like Shepherd when she grows up.
“Vicki Shepherd is more than an instructor to me – she's a personal hero,” said Trent. “I have been fortunate to really get to know her in my time at HFC, and while she isn't the most ‘traditional’ person or professor, that's a huge reason why I love her. She's passionate about her field and she truly wants her students to succeed, and she's a compassionate human who does well in her position while still marching to the beat of her own drum. We often talk about how I'm going to be her when I grow up, and I really hope that's true! Being a student at HFC has been all the more valuable for me for having met her.”
“It is my role to help students succeed”
Shepherd has won many awards for her artistry, dating back to when she was in sixth grade. She won an award for the best greeting card design. Her artwork has appeared at HFC’s Sisson Gallery and through the Artists’ Society of Dearborn. In 2020, her photo was selected for inclusion in the City of Dearborn calendar. Most recently, Shepherd had an illustration published in the international magazine Uppercase.
“There is nothing like the feeling when a former student writes to tell me about a new job they landed,” she said. “If I have students for several classes, I get to know them. It is my role to help them succeed and be the best they can so they can go into the industry or other creative pursuits. Students who may not be ready or cannot go to a 4-year school can get a respected design education at HFC. It is also my role to make sure HFC Digital and Graphic Art programs stay on top of industry tools and trends in a vastly expanding field. We recently connected with a 2+2 articulation agreement with the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and have a similar agreement with Lawrence Technological University in Southfield. These are terrific design schools."
Shepherd is well-versed in helping artists learn the skills they need in the real world. "We are a career program, and it’s very important to me that we give students everything they need to go out into the field. It takes a team of like-minded educators who all work with that same goal in mind and we are lucky to have several CCS and Cranbrook grads, award-winning designers and animators teaching in the HFC D&GA programs. I have so much empathy for the students who work hard to be successful. HFC is in my heart and home. My instructors at HFC gave me a new start, and I try to pay it forward every day.”