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Art + Design Student’s Work Gets into the Public Eye

Riley Helal, a self-described introvert, is using her artwork to encourage breakthroughs — and she’s learned a lot along the way.

Riley Helal’s most recent artwork — a string of stylized wooden swallows, painted in multiple tones of blue with curved lines to reflect a mountain landscape — is meant to inspire breakthroughs.

The 20-year-old junior from Coeur d’Alene, who’s getting her Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art and design from the University of Idaho’s College of Art and Architecture in 2020, created them for her first major client, allowing her to get out of the world of mockup and into the public eye at a relatively young age.

Helal’s birds will serve as the stage design and foyer artwork for this year’s TEDxBoise — an independently organized series of TED Talks — where a dozen speakers share their unique insights and ideas with the community about taking flight, the theme of the 2019 happening. The event typically garners millions of online views.

“It’s not terrifying or anything,” said a tongue-in-cheek Helal, noting the high-profile nature of the occasion.

The project has been a test for the young designer — a self-described introvert who said she doesn’t have the best “stress-coping skills” — as she worked with several people to produce client-approved artwork on a tight deadline.

“I’ve learned my coping skills aren’t as strong as they need to be, which this project made clear,” Helal said. “I deal with things by planning really far in advance and I wasn’t able to do that with this. I had two weeks to get everything done — while completing work for all my other classes.”

“I’ve gotten off my computer and out of the world of mock up to actually produce something, and it’s been a really good experience.” Riley Helal

When Helal’s plans for the semester went awry, she struggled. But she eventually recognized the weight of the opportunity.

“I’ve gotten off my computer and out of the world of mock up to actually produce something,” she said. “It’s been a really good experience doing this in school, when I have people to help me figure out how to work with a client.”

About TEDxBoise

TEDxBoise was started by Laura Hampikian and Thomas Lansing in 2015. TEDxBoise is an all-volunteer staffed, nonprofit organization. The event relies on the sponsorship of partners and general admission sales. For 2019, the University of Idaho is a platinum-level sponsor of the event.

A design by Riley Helal depicting a design in the shape of flying wings with the TEDxBoise logo above it.
One of Riley’s designs for TEDxBoise 2019 serves as the backdrop for photography in the venue’s foyer.

Helal’s end product is two pieces of artwork. The first is a string of swallows she designed in Adobe Illustrator and passed along to Jay Pengilly — director of the college’s Technical Design Studio — so he could manufacture the birds, using a computer-driven tool, into engineered wood cutouts that Helal would later sand and paint. The second is an 8-by-10-foot digital illustration of a bird’s wings, printed on canvas, to hang in the venue’s foyer.

“I want to showcase how when people take flight, they take flight with everything they have experienced and endured in their lives.” Riley Helal

Helal created the large-scale print using software that allows artists to print oversize images without pixilation or distortion. This piece serves as a backdrop for photography, allowing people in photos to have the illusion of wings.

“With the integration of the landscape within the birds, I want to showcase how when people take flight, they take flight with everything they have experienced and endured in their lives,” Helal said. “I feel that artwork can help give a visual presence to the emotions and concepts speakers are describing, which helps engage more senses and form a more immersive experience.”

“This will be a great venue for Riley to get eyes on her work,” said Delphine Keim, professor of art and design and Helal’s faculty advisor. “She’s making the leap earlier than most to manage work that’s different than typical school work. With a client, you have to listen to what they’re literally saying, but also to the spirit of what they need. And when you’re developing your own creative point of view as a young designer, it’s challenging to reconcile that with a client’s point of view.”

As part of her senior studio class in fall 2019, Helal will focus her efforts on her career ambitions — writing and illustrating children’s books. She’s confident her experience working with a major client and having her work prominently displayed has set the stage for this future endeavor.

Article by Kate Keenan, College of Art and Architecture
Published April 2019.

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