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COTM: John Ferry Illustration Class at Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, Missouri

Students at the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) in Kansas City, Missouri are once again creating inspired illustrated Six-Word Memoirs in what has now become a staple of John Ferry’s illustration class.

Associate Professor Ferry first discovered Six-Word while listening to a story on the project on NPR. He was inspired by the idea and in 2016 introduced the six-word form to his “Image and Form” class.

Art by Tressa Humbird

Ferry begins the assignment by educating his students on the six-word origin story and the creation of SMITH Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir project. Ferry recounts the legendary Ernest Hemingway six-word novel (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”), reads aloud some of the more creative stories and displays illustrations from It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure.

Art by Maia Fischer Walter

“It’s the first project I give to my sophomore class where they have to both write and illustrate their concept,” says Ferry. “They share their memoirs and they usually surprise themselves with what they come up with. It’s always a fun day when they share their examples. Some are dark, some are funny all are heartfelt.”

Delivering a clear message in a brief moment—in words or images or both—inspires the assignment. Ferry wanted his students to realize that there are no boundaries to the types of art they can create. Each student begins by drafting a number of Six-Word Memoirs and eventually choosing one to focus on for an illustration. The students will be dealing with text, stories, articles, and more in a professional career as an illustrator. This project, says Ferry, helps develop their conceptual problem-solving skills.

“The student’s really get engaged in this project—I love that. It’s the last project I give because I know I’m going to get great results. Having their work recognized—outside the classroom—on a national scale by Larry Smith and Six-Word Memoir project is huge too,” continues Ferry. “When the students believe their illustration could be published it helps with the dedication factor.”

Some of the memoirs deal with sass and humor (“No thanks, I’d rather bike there!”). Others touch upon heartfelt moments with loved ones (“A sibling’s bond beats the distance”). Many are endearing (“I’m as sweet as a peach”). As a whole, the work is unique, creative, and personal.

Art by Tyler Pickert

“This assignment has helped me learn more about my students,” says Ferry. “This makes me a better professor; the more I know about them personally, the better I can help them figure out what they want to do with their work.”

Want more from these illustrious students? Read about last year’s “Image & Form” class here. And Six-Word Memoirs will showcase the work of the class at KCAI as the “Daily Illustration” on each day during the month of October 2019.

Teachers! Since we first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, educators across the spectrum have found Six Words to be a terrific classroom assignment and catalyst for self-expression. At our Six in Schools section we celebrate students’ work from classrooms around the world. Download one or all of our free teacher’s guides here.

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