courtney rutledge

Courtney Rutledge poses for a portrait. (Photo/Courtesy)

After hearing of the University of Georgia’s decision to transition to virtual instruction for her last semester, senior graphic design major Courtney Rutledge has used her creative outlet as a way to accept the unexpected conclusion of her college experience.

While social distancing, Rutledge has continued designing for her internships at Hinge Creative Co. and the UGA Alumni Association. One work of hers that has grabbed the UGA community’s attention has been her Athens-themed quarantine coloring page.

The Red & Black spoke with Rutledge to learn more about her inspiration for the quarantine coloring page, and to hear about the ways in which she has grown as a designer throughout her time at UGA.

The Red & Black: How did you first become interested and involved in graphic design?

Courtney Rutledge: Well, I actually started out my freshman year of college as a biology major. In high school, I was very indecisive about what I wanted to do with my life. I had always been interested in art, but I kind of lost touch with it when I started high school. Then I started working at a local bakery called Sugar Hill Bakery and Cafe, and while working there I had a boss who was a big artist. However, she was more into painting and hands-on art and didn’t really know how to do graphic design or social media. So, I decided to step in because she needed help with the bakery’s website. I started off using a basic website template from Wix and then I just started going crazy with it. That was kind of my first experience with graphic design, but at the time I didn’t think that I would be able to turn it into a career. I went into college writing off graphic design because I didn’t know if it could lead me to a secure job, and so I decided to pursue a career as a physician's assistant. But about five weeks into school, I found myself in my dorm room making art, and I just realized that design was my calling.

R&B: What was your inspiration for your UGA quarantine coloring page?

CR: I work as a graphic design intern for the UGA Alumni Association, and I’m very thankful that it has allowed me to continue to work throughout this quarantine. At first I was scared because I was not sure how working remotely was going to look, and I didn't know what kind of projects would be dropped since many events that I had been designing for had now been canceled. So their team started brainstorming ideas on what we could make for people to use during this time. And so they came up with the idea of a coloring page and then brought it to me because they knew I enjoyed illustration. When they first brought it to my attention I was super excited but also kind of nervous because I've never actually made a coloring page before.

I feel like I kind of haphazardly made it, and the entire time I was so self conscious because I had never made something like this before. But then [the UGA Alumni Association] posted the page, and it kind of blew up. So it’s been really fun to see everyone find their own little joys from coloring while in quarantine.

R&B: Your coloring page contains many of Athens’ most noteworthy spots such as the Arch, the Georgia Theatre and Sanford Stadium. As a graduating senior did you feel a bit sentimental when designing these cherished landmarks that you would soon have to say goodbye to?

CR: This has definitely been a rough time for me and all the other seniors. When I first found out that classes were going to be online and that graduation was cancelled, I think I spent about three or four days literally just in a dark hole. I would drive around my favorite spots in Athens and take walks in North Campus just to fully soak up my last few weeks here. So, when making the coloring page I definitely was reflecting on all the memories I had with those certain places. It's been very bittersweet this whole time but I’m thankful for Athens and the four years I’ve spent here.

R&B: Adult coloring books have become very popular over the years, and I think during this quarantine people have gotten back into coloring as a therapeutic practice. With many of the unforseen circumstances of COVID-19, has graphic design become an outlet of serenity for you during this time?

CR: At first I didn't know how this [quarantine] would affect my field. I didn’t know if people would still need graphic design at a time like this. But at this point, our culture has been forced to move everything online for the most part, so I’ve actually felt that in a way it has become more important during this time. People still have ideas and things they’d like to share, and graphic design can make those ideas come to life on these online platforms. Personally, I definitely feel like it has brought me some peace during this time. My internships and capstone class have kept me pretty busy, but I feel like I have had more time to fully appreciate the process of creating more than I usually would.

R&B: What are your long term aspirations as a graphic designer? Is there a specific project you want to complete in the future such as a coloring book of your own?

CR: My long term goal isn't really defined by the specific things that I make. My favorite part about being a designer is seeing the little sweet spot where design meets people, and I think that's what I'm always working toward. I’ve been really interested in brand identity design which involves designing for people or businesses that want to create a vision for their brand or company. So I’m very interested in that because it’s more of a direct form of design where you get to bring someone’s vision and personality to life, whether that be through their business cards, website or any other elements of a business or brand. So a goal of mine would definitely be to get more into that realm of design.

R&B: After graduation, you plan to work as a graphic design intern for Marketwake. What are you most excited about for this new chapter of your life? And what are you most nervous/scared for?

CR: I’m definitely most nervous about not knowing when the virus will end and when I will actually be able to move my life to Atlanta. That kind of makes me nervous because I'll be living at home in Suwanee this summer and commuting whenever we’re allowed to go back into the office. So having that fear of not being planted somewhere and not knowing where I will be at what time is a little scary. But I'm also very excited because Marketwake is one of my dream companies since they do really really cool things as a team. Last year, the employees took a work trip to Iceland together as a company, and I remember seeing that and thinking to myself “Man, I want to be a part of that.” So I'm honestly just really excited to get to know the team and get to know what kind of work they do.

R&B: Reflecting back at your time at UGA, in what ways do you think you have grown as a designer? What takeaways will you bring with you into your next chapter of life?

CR: Looking back to where I was when I first started is kind of funny to me because my style and my motives behind everything were so different. When I entered into this major, I didn’t know what I was doing, which isn’t a bad place to be in at all because you obviously have to start somewhere. I think as a designer I've grown a lot, particularly in the ways in which I observe the world since now I see it more so through a lens of design. After reflecting on my last four years, I’ve learned to avoid putting expectations on things. I used to have so many expectations for literally everything in my life and then if something didn’t live up to what I had envisioned I would get really bummed and kind of give up. I also think it’s important to take chances and to get inspired by others’ ideas and visions within your community.

This Q&A has been edited for length.