Member Spotlight: Michelle Ollie of The Center for Cartoon Studies

For our first AIGA Vermont Member Spotlight, we are excited to feature long-time AIGA Vermont member, Michelle Ollie, who is the president and co-founder of The Center for Cartoon Studies ( in White River Junction. Ollie, along with graphic novelist James Sturm, founded the school in 2005 and has played a key role in the revitalization of White River’s downtown. Below is our interview with Michelle as well as samples of some other design work she does at CCS in all her spare time after running The Center. In one of her favorite projects, Michelle creates a heart-warming story of how comics helped her to learn to read as well as discover her love of writing and drawing. Read it online. Next time you are in White River Junction, take advantage of this amazing Vermont resource by expanding your writing, design, and storytelling skills with a workshop or perusing The Schulz Library (yes, Charles Schulz!).

What do you do for a living?
I am currently the president of The Center for Cartoon Studies, a small degree granting college and studio, based in Vermont.

How long have you been in the field?
My passion for design is lifelong. The only time I actually had design in a job title was in college! I was a graphic designer, created brochures and posters for the University of Wisconsin. I won a few awards as a graphic designer, it seemed I was good enough at it. In college I also started creating and selling greeting cards and other merchandise at the school store. I bring design into any job or project. I can’t help myself!

Why did you get involved with AIGA? Why should someone become a member?
I never worked in a traditional design studio or agency, so I found AIGA as a place to connect and learn. For students, AIGA can provide a conduit to the field, employment connections, exhibition opportunities, competitions, etc.

What advice would you give your past self?
Start ideas with pen and paper.

Describe your creative process. What are the major steps?
I struggle with jumping ahead on ideas, and moving swiftly into a final design. I’m drawn to technology and end up working on final stage process prematurely. This is an ongoing struggle for me.

What gets you through a rough day?
Drawing helps me relax. It’s a meditative experience. When I’m drawing, I find I listen better, am more engaged in conversation, and present. Drawing helps me to connect with people. I draw with my son, friends, partner, and occasionally assemble a group of friends to draw together. Lynda Barry tipped me off to this a few years ago when she was at The Center for Cartoon Studies.

Where can we find your work? 
I design and/or collaborate on much of the marketing and design work at The Center for Cartoon Studies. Not surprising,  we are a highly visually focused group, and everyone contributes to CCS image. I’m fortunate to work with incredible people who have a high level of design skills, they make everything look amazing! Lately, I have been posting some of my personal work on Instagram (michelleollie).

Any projects you want to highlight?
I created The Center for Cartoon Studies recent annual appeal comic, From The Desk of The President.

I produced a series of prints this past summer that I intend to build on, adding layers of image and text. When I think of design it is revolves around schedules and deadlines, this is true for much of my working life thus far. This current project is about letting go of that structure, exploring new tools and techniques, living with uncertainty of the final form. We’ll see how things look next time I put some ink on the page.
By AIGA Vermont
Published April 4, 2018
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