Commencement spotlight: James Tooker '21

An awe-inspiring glimpse of nature led James to create "Interspectral," a CVPA senior capstone project in which audiences of all ages can interactively explore the color spectrum.

James Tooker, graphic design student at UMassD
James Tooker working on his "Interspectral" research project. (Photo courtesy of J. Tooker; photographer Silvia Tooker)

Throughout his life, James Tooker has been fascinated with aspects of color, including their natural manipulation through reflection, rotation, and refraction. As a graphic design student, he has captured a way to share his inspiration more broadly. His research project titled “Interspectral: An Interactive Exhibit observing the Color Spectrum,” allows audiences of all ages to explore color and light through interactivity, bringing a nostalgic feeling of childlike wonder.

“Each piece explores different aspects of the way light and color interact with surfaces and media, while also providing unique ways for the audience to interact,” says the Cape Cod native who currently resides in Harwich and will graduate from UMass Dartmouth with his BFA in graphic design next month. He says the inspiration for his exhibit came while looking at raindrops falling down a window lit by a streetlight, watching leaves appear to glow in the sunlight, and noticing bright reflections bouncing off his glass during dinner. “These colorful shapes created by light, along with their inability of exact replication is what inspired each piece. I am striving to achieve a similar sense of wonder and curiosity for the audience to interact with through my work.”

As James worked through the process, Janet Fairbairn, a visiting lecturer at the College of Visual & Performing Arts mentored him every step. “Her guidance and feedback allowed me to enhance my ideas beyond what I had originally imagined. She raised questions and offered feedback that helped me develop work that I felt perfectly encapsulated my curiosity for the things around me, as I attempted to instill this same sense of excitement and nostalgic child-like wonder through my work,” he says.

His research project has helped him flourish as a creative thinker. “It allowed me to bring an idea from conception to reality through the development of three-dimensional artworks for an audience-driven experience,” he says. “My research and exhibit development allow me to show employers who I am a little better, giving them a more direct and personal “in” into the way my mind works and what drives my motivation to create: the world around me.”

James has also garnered recognition for his creative vision. During the UMassD Honors Convocation on April 28, 2021, James’ poster video was selected as “Best in the College of Visual & Performing Arts.”

A strong network of mentors & peers

His student experience has been enriched due to his network of mentors and peers at UMassD. “While working for University Marketing and Photographics, I formed special connections with people who became my mentors in how to work in a professional design environment,” he says. “During my employment, I designed a large three-dimensional mural for the Grove building on campus, created promotional material for the school, branding for fundraisers, and much more.”

Student life and athletics have also played a major role in his experience. “Because I played football, I was greeted with a family away from home the instant I stepped foot on campus. This allowed me to easily transition into the new life I would experience for the next four years. I experienced exciting wins and heartbreaking losses with my teammates, which allowed us to share an incredible bond I otherwise, would not have experienced and grown from,” he says.

“Being social in my classes and sports also led to friendships with classmates outside of class, helping me form lifelong friendships and create some very special experiences and memories.” Prior to the pandemic, James recalls dinner nights in which he and his friends cooked at each other’s on-campus apartments and shared meals in large groups. “We’d take spontaneous excursions to Boston, Rhode Island, beaches, museums, and movies,” he said. The quality time he spent with his peers on campus (playing disc golf, basketball, studying, completing assignments, and videogames) created a balance between work and play.

When asked about his favorite student experience, James said, “My best experience as a college student was just that: being a college student. My curiosity and passion for different subjects and areas of life are what allowed me to live my college life to the fullest. The amazing faculty in the Graphic Design program taught me how to produce high-quality results by learning from my mistakes. Observing my professors and taking in all their feedback has helped me appreciate my educational and professional journey as it unfolds, noticing how far I have come and will go in life.”  



College of Visual and Performing Arts, CVPA - Home, Date: Year 2021, Degree Type BFA, Departments Athletics, Features, Features Commencement, Features Student Research, UMassD - Home