Insider's Guide - Studying at School of Visual Arts

Insider's Guide - Studying at School of Visual Arts

Whether you’re already at school, looking to find a new school or even considering moving overseas to study, nothing beats hearing from the students themselves! We speak to Brithney Rivera about the ins and outs of studying at School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, New York City.

Whether you’re already at school, looking to find a new school or even considering moving overseas to study, nothing beats hearing from the students themselves! We speak to Brithney Rivera about the ins and outs of studying at School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, New York City.

School of Visual Arts
A multidisciplinary college of art and design known for its unparalleled faculty and innovative curriculum.

The Specifics

What’s the name of your school?

I attend the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, New York City.

What’s the name of the neighbourhood?

Our campus stretches through a few neighbourhoods! We have buildings in Chelsea, Gramercy, Kips Bay, and the Flatiron District! The main building I have most of my classes in, is by Chelsea.

Closest train station or public transport option?

The M/F train line is 2 blocks away from the building I spend the most of my time in. I commute from Brooklyn and transfer from the G line to the L line. Sometimes I like to walk the 7 blocks to the building, but I can always trust the M/F to take me right to where I need to be. The School is in a really good location! You’re in Manhattan, and almost all the trains pass nearby, so transferring is really efficient.

Other nearby trains include the 1,2,3, A,C, 4,5,6, N,Q,R,W. Almost all the trains in fact.

How long have you been there?

I have been attending the School of Visual Arts for 3 years now. As a junior, I've really come to understand all the opportunities our school has available for us artists. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the professors worked extra hard to let us have access to as many programs and facilities as possible, with dozens of us remoting in daily. I had the opportunity to create good work as if I were sitting in the labs in person, and my creativity did not waver. Now that we’re back in-person, I’m surrounded by so much drive and creativity; I don’t find myself falling behind at all.

Why did you choose to study here?

When researching schools to study Computer Graphics at, several didn't have a curriculum as thorough as the BFA Computer Art, Computer Animation, and Visual Effects degree at School of Visual Arts. It's difficult to come across a school in the heart of the Art World that didn't push unnecessary courses outside of the arts onto students that wouldn't help the artistic process.

With faculty that are current artists, and work in the present with companies all around, School of Visual Arts was my top choice.
Image courtesy of SVA

Having professors that know how the industry works in the present and giving us tips to build a work ethic that keeps up with recent developments, allows for me to create art in a professional manner.

I am able to hold more control and test the limits of my creativity, never wondering if it is possible, but rather working on making it possible.

One thing I sincerely appreciate about this school is the love faculty have for students. Humanities teachers encourage students to approach the way we make our art in different theories, and critical analysis. They want to see us make good work, and make our dreams a reality, while also encouraging us to learn more about art outside of the simple practice of it.

You’re learning a wide range of skills and software. What subjects or tools are you enjoying the most so far?

I love hard surface modeling in Maya. I’m slowly getting into a groovy workflow, and always learning new ways to be efficient. I’m also getting the hang of soft modeling in Zbrush, making characters and fun scenes with it. Substance 3D Painter is also amazing, it lets me texture my models with custom brushes and layer up like a Photoshop file, and this is where I get to see my models come to life. I also adore Photoshop because it is awesome for painting and detailed work. I draw all my concept art here.

The Scene

The first thing you see when you walk outside your school?

The main building I go to is 133/141 West 21st Street, and I see another SVA building right across the street! In that building are several other majors, including some 2D Animation labs. Walking down the block I am met with 7th avenue, where if I look uptown, I can see the Times Square screens in the distance, If I walk in the other direction, I am met with 6th avenue. If I look downtown From 6th Avenue, I can see the Freedom Tower glistening in the sky, as it stands in a perfectly clear view at all times. I see skyscrapers everywhere.

The closest shop to outside your school is:

Trader Joe's, the go-to place for groceries or a quick snack you've been craving while in the labs all day. But also, we’re in Manhattan! If you’re craving anything or want a good meal, it’s guaranteed to be found within a 5 block radius. There’s always something new I discover while walking leisurely in the area. Since SVA has buildings across town, you can come across so many good locations, it’s just a matter of walking in and checking out what’s for sale.

Your school is great, but you wouldn’t mind a bit less:

Divisions amongst the majors. As a Computer Art student I spend a lot of time in the labs, and I commute from Brooklyn as well, so it can be hard to meet folks outside of the classes I take. Most majors are cooped up in their own floors and don’t get to interact with one another, so if there was less physical division in distance, maybe I’d get to meet more artists outside of my comfort zone.

Image courtesy of SVA

The unofficial uniform of your school is:

The calm tote bag. I have seen everyone, at least once, carry a tote bag with some survival essentials in it. SVA frequently drops new tote bag designs for events, so everyone gets to carry their goods. I’ve seen students pack notebooks and hard drives, camera cases, groceries, art supplies, all in the sacred tote bag.

A mandatory stop for anyone new to your city:

Listen, you have to get out of Manhattan. Take a day and visit some of the other boroughs! It is not as scary as it seems, and you might find a new neighbourhood with a community you think fits for you.

Manhattan can be quite expensive, so I always try to bring my folks to Brooklyn. I like to go to Dumbo, where you can walk the Brooklyn Bridge and take sick flicks, while also enjoying some of the best pizza in town. There’s also the great Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you can walk, hang out and eat outside with friends and family. Plus, the ferry stops by, so you can ride the ferry if you’d like.

A common myth about your school is:

There was a legend of an SVA student who saved a turkey that was about to be murdered in a processing plant. They secretly raised the turkey in the dorms and folks caught wind of it. They made a petition to make the turkey a school mascot. The school caught on and they ended up relocating the turkey to a farm where it was not cooped up in a dorm. Truly a wild tale.

A massive night out for students at your school is likely to be:

Group Trip for dinner! Karaoke! Sleeeeep! A rewarding night is a night you can step away from the computer and just hang out with your homies outside of schoolwork. It can be rare, but it’s so precious when it does happen.

The Superlatives

You won’t find a better place to eat than at:

You can’t make me pick! I’ve gone to so many really good places to eat, the list would be endless. I will say my go to place to eat a quick filling meal is Yaya’s on the East Side of Campus. They have good bubble tea and rice balls for a decent price. I usually come here to eat something quick and on the go.

The strangest thing you’ve ever seen at your school is:

There was a porta potty out in front of the buildings with a funny brand name. It seemed like the company forgot to pick it up after construction finished, so tons of New Yorkers put graffiti on it. There were some really unique phrases, and people got creative.

There’s also memes everywhere in the Computer Art department. We try to have some taste and stay updated with the memes.

One thing you’d never change about your school is:

The community! We care a lot about each other and we’re always looking out for one another. My favourite thing is working in the labs and someone coming up and hyping my work up! Or working together to fix a problem. I love how we bond over our work, and get to make true friendships that make our artwork blossom.

Image courtesy of SVA

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is:

More room! And windows. A lot of classrooms and facilities don’t have windows. I feel like I’m becoming a vampire and hiding away from the light whenever I go outside. It’s Manhattan, so the deeper into a building you go, the less sunlight, but damn do I miss the sun.

How would you describe the school community?

We’re all here because we’re artists. Some of us are more technical, others are more practical, we are all across the artistic spectrum.

Our school community pushes for us to work our hardest and challenge ourselves, while also teachings us how to care for ourselves and when to set boundaries.

Our classmates are our future coworkers, so we’ll work with one another and set our foundations strong. Once we graduate, we’ll be helping one another out beyond college.

What advice do you have for students thinking of studying for your degree?

Do it! If there’s a voice in your head that’s doubting you and your skill, you push that voice out and tell yourself you got this. Your art in the program is not determined by the talent you have before your degree. It’s the effort you put into it, what you experiment with. Most of the programs and skills you learn in this degree offer trials, and student licenses. If you can download a program, and start messing with it beforehand, you’ve already done the first step. My advice to you is if you believe you can do it, and can put the effort into it, then you will excel. All it takes is that first step.

Someone gives you $1M to pimp out your school. You use it to:

More space! Add another floor for the department, and get some new common spaces. We have the West side library in the main building, but I’d really like another space where we can also rest super cozy with some comfy chairs, maybe nap between classes. I’d also talk to Richard Hagen, see if we can get another MoCap room with the latest tech, maybe a VR space too...

What personal projects are you working on at the moment? How do you stay motivated?

As a Puerto Rican in the diaspora, I constantly make time for work that looks into my roots and origins of culture. I enjoy reading about history, and decolonizing my mind. Whenever I learn something new, I immediately make time to explore it in my art, and find ways to educate others as well. Knowing that my art has the potential of teaching one person something new about Puerto Rican culture, or about themselves, is enough motivation to make me finish a project.

I am also extremely fortunate to have a family that pushes me to work my best with love. I have friends that see my personal work and cheer me on! And I see their work and cheer them on, too. My motivation lives a lot in the bonds and relationships I’ve made thanks to art in general.

I like to think that if I make more art, I meet more people, and I meet different artists that let my art grow with myself as a person.  This just keeps me rolling and making more fun creations and projects whenever I get the chance.

Image courtesy of Brithney Rivera

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

I see myself being a storyteller and educator through my art practices. Whether it is at work in a company or at home with my own personal projects, I am eager to live a life constantly learning and teaching others of that acquired knowledge. I see myself collaborating with others, and making works of art that inspire someone out there, that pushes them to take that first step in embracing themselves as a person.

Brithney is a Puerto Rican CG Generalist Artist and Illustrator based in Brooklyn, New York. Brithney loves to write stories and see them come to life through drawings she makes and CG scenes she creates. She loves to incorporate her culture into her artwork as much as possible.

You can find more of Brithney's work on her website, Twitter and Instagram.