Susan Frances

Fashion Design

Adjunct Instructor, Apparel Design
The Art Institute of Portland

Susan Frances

It’s important to be patient with yourself as you develop expertise, but no matter what your life demands of you, just keep practicing your creative skills; a time will come when all the pieces fit together. Susan Frances , Adjunct Instructor, Apparel Design , The Art Institute of Portland
What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I’ll never forget picking up some of my mother’s cutting scraps and wrapping them around my grown-up doll to create a gown. I can still see its silhouette and contours, and feel my sense of awe that I had created something beautiful, at least to my 9-year-old eye. Little did I know I would still be doing the same thing decades later. In those days, girls could aspire to be nurses or teachers. When my fourth grade teacher asked everyone what they wanted to be, I chose teacher. My entire career has been about putting those pieces together. The creative path is a long, winding road.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?

I worked my way up in the field by starting as a production sewer in college, was trained as a tailor, and worked my way through retail tailor shops into management, then moved into teaching. I believe that having practical skills and a good understanding of garment construction are critical tools to have in the profession, ones that can open doors to a path toward achieving dreams.

Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?

I teach garment construction. There are many ways to do things, and varying degrees of quality. A sewist must make choices about how something will be put together. My classes include projects that teach a variety of details and techniques. I give my students choices about construction methods and design variations so that they can be creatively engaged in the project. When you are bringing your own vision to life, you care deeply about your creation and have high expectations for it. In this process, taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from the experience is far more important than achieving perfection.

What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?

We all need to learn to get along, share diverse points of view, and get work done together. School is a good place to start practicing these skills. The ability to work well with others might be the single most important key to success.

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career?

I am known for my patience. I believe that allowing time for learners to develop skill and knowledge supports success. Quality takes time, and time and practice are two key things required to develop skill and understanding. There are likely to be elements of a creative career that may not feel particularly creative. It’s important to be patient with yourself as you develop expertise, but no matter what your life demands of you, just keep practicing your creative skills; a time will come when all the pieces fit together.

Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you, your experience, or your role as a faculty member at The Art Institutes?

I’ve been with the Apparel Program for over 25 years, serving as Program Chair between 1992 and 2003. Of the many roles I have played at The Art Institute of Portland and in my previous career, teaching has been the most important, meaningful, and rewarding of all. The people I have worked with here—students, faculty, and staff—are phenomenally talented people. It is a great fortune to be part of such a creative community.

Please explain what we are seeing in your pieces.

In my wearable art design, I endeavor to use materials and create form in new ways. I am inspired by natural forms, radical ideas, and zero waste, and challenge myself to make beautiful garments that have something to say on multiple levels.