MSU senior Maddison Chaffer will graduate this May with a BFA in Graphic Design and already has a lot of professional experience working as a freelancer on various graphic design and illustration projects. Chaffer also has won multiple ADDY Awards and recently completed a mentorship with the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) of West Michigan.
Having worked as a freelancer for a couple of years with clients such as Eater Magazine, Young Heavy Souls Records, and Dark Horse Comics, much of Chaffer’s work is research-driven and inspired by evolutionary-science and technology themes. Chaffer also runs a small print business as well as an initiative that supports Michigan artists and has experience working as a student graphic designer for the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
“As I prepare to graduate this spring, I know that I’m leaving with a fully different skill-set than I held as a freelancer. I’ve learned to root my art-making in the needs of the modern world and commit to long-term involvement,” Chaffer said. “I’ve married my lighthearted illustrations with research methodology and social intention. I’ve been challenged to think large scale — in social, ecological, and philosophical systems — rather than as an individual just trying to make it in the big city. At the end of the day, the degree is just a bonus.”
Currently, Chaffer is running an initiative called, Clean Hands Collective, a resource for local Michigan artists who have been hit hard financially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Clean Hands Collective features the work of Michigan artists on its Instagram, cleanhands.co, where all the work that is pictured is for sale and can be bought directly from the artists. This initiative is essentially an online pop-up shop run by and for Michigan artists.
“Clean Hands Collective is a platform for local artists to be seen during these wild times. My friend Amy Smith (@ghoulworks on Instagram) and I felt paralyzed by the feeling of helplessness at the beginning of the shutdowns, and Clean Hands is an attempt to support our friends and colleagues in at least a small way,” Chaffer said. “Though the exterior goal is to help people generate some much-needed extra income, it’s also proven to be a strong support system.”
Chaffer also runs a small print business with a partner, called NoFunBadTime, that is based in Grand Rapids and Lansing. All the proceeds right now are being donated to West Michigan’s United Way virus relief effort.
As I prepare to graduate this spring, I know that I’m leaving with a fully different skill-set than I held as a freelancer. I’ve learned to root my art-making in the needs of the modern world and commit to long-term involvement.
“NoFunBadTime is an ongoing collaboration project in which my partner, Elvis, and I draw, paint, write, and make prints and books together,” Chaffer said. “The whole thing began as an exercise in collaboration. It’s been a huge challenge to learn how to work with someone on the same page, but at this point, we’ve got a pretty good system going. Though we’re unable to make new work at this time because of limited access to facilities and materials, we find ourselves super lucky in the midst of this pandemic. We are both still able to work, we have no kids or pets to take care of, and Lansing rent isn’t too steep. Because of our fortunate position, we’re donating all our NoFunBadTime proceeds to the United Way’s Heart of West Michigan.”
At this year’s local Mid-Michigan American Advertising (ADDY) Awards, Chaffer’s Roald Dahl Cover Series, which consists of alternate book art for several of Dahl’s titles, received a Judge’s Choice Award, Best of Category Award, and a Gold ADDY Award. Having received a Gold ADDY at the local level, Chaffer’s Roald Dahl Cover Series entry was eligible to compete at the District 6 ADDY Awards, where it received a Silver Award, the second-highest award a project can earn at the district competition. The District 6 competition represents American Advertising Federation (AAF) clubs in Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois.
“I feel very weird about awards. I’m extremely grateful that people appreciate my goofy drawings,“ Chaffer said. “I’m very thankful for my professor, Chris Corneal, who encouraged me to enter the contest in the first place.”
At the beginning of the year, Chaffer was selected for an AIGA of West Michigan mentorship, where AIGA West Michigan connects professionals and students with a common interest in design. This four-month experience pairs professional designers with students to learn together, energize each other, and make the West Michigan design community more inclusive and supportive.
Chaffer heard about this opportunity from Kelly Salchow MacArthur, Associate Professor of Graphic Design. Applicants to the program were asked to specify their area of interest and what they hope to learn through the mentorship program so they could be paired with mentors according to their interests.
At school, I pivoted from the role of a passive freelancer to an active and interested designer. Instead of waiting for jobs to present themselves, I learned to identify needs and offer carefully researched solutions.
“I’m really interested in street art, public art, and illustration,” said Chaffer, who was paired with Elliot Chaltry, an illustrator and graphic designer who works as the Creative Manager at Barfly Ventures in Grand Rapids.
When the Chaffer and Chaltry first met, they found a connection right away.
“It was cool because I didn’t say that I was into murals and neither did he,” Chaffer said, “but once we started talking, we just realized we had both recently finished murals.”
Chaffer’s mural is located on Fulton Street in Grand Rapids near where Chaffer grew up.
“I completed the mural in early January for the UICA’s ongoing Exit Space Project. It’s a city-wide project that provides artists with locations for their installations (my mural is actually pretty small, 8 x 16 ft, compared to some of the amazing 50 ft Exit Space projects),” Chaffer said. “I’ve become really obsessed with evolutionary science over the past few years, largely because of my religious upbringing in Grand Rapids. My mural, Afterlife, allowed me to explore the tension and cohesion between those two themes: evolution and belief.”
Now as Chaffer prepares to graduate and looks back at the time spent at Michigan State University, Chaffer reflects on how MSU has connected art to the things that Chaffer values.
“At school, I pivoted from the role of a passive freelancer to an active and interested designer. Instead of waiting for jobs to present themselves, I learned to identify needs and offer carefully researched solutions,” Chaffer said. “Simultaneously, my moral angst over the pretentiousness of fine art and the nefariousness of advertising design began to subside. I found myself surrounded by professors operating with social good at the forefront of their practice. For the first time, I had the opportunity to not only exercise my talents but to apply them to my value system.”