Feature Stories 2023: Illustration major Emily Fontes '23 creates a pitch deck for children's TV show for Honors College APEX project

Student sitting on steps in Library
Feature Stories 2023: Illustration major Emily Fontes '23 creates a pitch deck for children's TV show for Honors College APEX project
Illustration major Emily Fontes '23 creates a pitch deck for children's TV show for Honors College APEX project

Also doubled minored in Business Administration and Art History

Influenced by diverse artists and animated children's TV shows, Emily Fontes is applying her artistic talent and creativity to teach children about internet safety. For her Honors College APEX Project and her illustration major capstone, she created a pitch deck for an animated children's public television show.

Why did you choose to attend UMass Dartmouth?

"I like how it's set in a walkable suburban community," Fontes said. "When I had my campus tour, the tour guide was in my major, so after the tour ended, she offered to take me to the (art) studio. Getting that one-on-one with a student in my future major really helped. And I'm far away enough to feel like I have some independence and close enough that I can easily get home when I want to."

How did you choose an illustration major?

Fontes, of Cranston, RI, said she became influenced by her class, "History of Animation and Experiential Film," and turn-of-the-century Realism artists such as sculptor and printmaker Alfonse Mucha and Post-Impressionist painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. "Mucha did super ornate detailed work with woodcut prints. Toulouse-Lautrec is the bridge between Impressionism and Art Nouveau. I love how everything is in motion, how he drew the poses his subjects are in," said Fontes.

After exploring other majors, Fontes decided on illustration. "I get to draw all the time. Art has been created for so long that there's nothing original. You might as well learn from the masters," she said. "Even if I'm working in my regular style, and I see something really cool, I'll combine different elements. You can pull stuff that inspires you and do it in your own hand so it becomes yours."

Pitch deck for children's TV show
For her Honors APEX project, Emily Fontes created a series for a children's TV show about internet safety.

Honors College APEX Project

Fontes said her experience in the Honors College has been interesting and offers her the freedom to develop her craft. "I enjoy being able to bring something different to the table. It's more relaxed, more personalized. I am getting more students interested in art and I enjoy learning from super-tech STEM majors."

All Honors College seniors must complete the APEX (Academic Project or Experience), which culminates their Honors education. The APEX is an original, independent project or experience that builds on everything students have learned and can consist of one of three tracks; traditional research, performance/expression, or applied/service. 

For her APEX Project, Fontes created a pitch deck for an animated show that can teach kids about internet safety. "I approached it as if I was coming up with a concept for a series. There are eight episode concepts, which would be one season," she said.

Fontes used an illustration style loosely based on "Arthur" and "Cyberchase," two PBS children's TV shows. "This is a big departure from my normal drawing style, but it shows that I can be adaptable. I thought about what lessons I could have learned about internet safety. This generation has more access. I see super young kids with iPhones. Everyone is connected to the internet. It's really important for kids connected to the internet to be safe around exploitative tactics like malware, personal information, downloading, social media images, and body dysmorphia."

To create her stills, Fontes used a display tablet as an extension of her computer screen with Clip Studio Paint to create her drawings. Her scenes depict people in the neighborhood, at school, and with their family. "I show how spending time online can isolate you from in-person relationships.

"They're kind of cartoony. I'm pulling inspiration from children's shows in the mid-2000s like PBS Kids, Noggin, and Nick, Jr. I'm also engineering them for my target audience."

Fontes' APEX Project will also serve as her illustration capstone. She would like to compete the project after graduation and is considering meeting with WGBH to present her work.

"That Emily Fontes is a hard-working, organized student mature for her age is likely apparent to her peers and other instructors," said Assistant Teaching Professor Jess Worby. "Her work in Illustration applies strong design and intelligent application towards an important issue."

Student drawing on computer tablet
Fontes uses a display tablet to create her drawings consisting of simple forms, shadows, and fine lines.

Fontes' adapted her artistic style to more simple forms

"A really good lesson I learned is to look at the big picture. Use simple form, shadows, and fine lines. Shading is my favorite thing to do. It helped me to dial back and not go super crazy, but to focus on tiny details. It needs to be simple to animate and it's much more practical. My professors Jess Worby and Bruce Maddocks (art & design) pushed me to keep getting better and never rush over stuff.

"I'm also taking a professional practice class on pitching my work. A lot of artists and illustrators are freelancers, and this class is about how to do that. It's nice to have that information ahead of time.”

Dr. Amy Shapiro, director of the Honors College, praised Fonte's APEX project. "A goal of the APEX is to give students the opportunity to advance their knowledge and skills, to better prepare themselves for the future they imagine. In Emily's case, she used her APEX to get a jump start on her career as a creative. She has something tangible to 'sell' to potential investors on her vision, or to demonstrate for employers that she has the chops for the creative marketplace. I love what she's done and can't wait to see where her path takes her.”

Student dressed up as male character in play
The president of 20 Cent Fiction, a campus production company, Fontes played "Mr. Green" in "Clue" this semester.

Involved in theater and as an admissions ambassador

Fontes is president of 20 Cent Fiction, described as a production company consisting of actors, technicians, musicians, artists, directors, stage managers, and everything in between. After serving as secretary, she was in the "Rocky Horror Picture Show," which she also stage managed in 2021 and directed in 2022. She was in the ensemble for "Sweeney Todd" and played Mr. Green in "Clue" this semester.  "It was such a fun production; I'm really glad I got cast," she said.

"I've grown up with theater," Fontes added. "20 Cent Fiction has changed me as a person. I found my group of people. We are so tight-knit it's comforting. Getting back on stage after Covid was so thrilling. We will stay in touch. I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for our 20 Cent Fiction alumni who keep in close contact. They've been a fabulous resource."

Fontes also serves as an admissions ambassador, working at events and giving campus tours. She was an orientation leader last year. "It's been really nice. I made a bunch of great friends and got to interact with a lot of people I wouldn't have interacted with. We're all from different majors—MLS, Nursing, and business. It's how I've learned about UMassD as a whole. We have athletes, RAs, and students in Greek life. This networking base has been really nice and we can call on each other."

Fontes also works off-campus as a face painter for the children's programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo. "‘I love their sense of wonder. They talk about everything and say what's on their minds," she said.

Reflections on UMassD

"I found my people who just accepted me into their fold, who are like my second family. It's nice to have a community," she said. During their remote year due to the pandemic, Fontes and her friends stayed in touch, and she got busy very quickly when she returned to campus. "I've made some fun choices and am doing what I want to do. It's been a real challenge to see how well I can stretch my time. It's going really well so far. I don't know what I'd give up if I had to.

"UMassD has definitely prepared me for my future career especially when the real world is staring you in the face. Professors have gone out of their way to teach me what I didn't expect to learn. They've taught me to be a functioning adult in society. Some local alumni have come back to talk to us. I've learned a lot about the Providence art scene and shared contact information with them. They're a great resource to have. UMassD illustration majors are doing very well for themselves, and they have opened themselves up to be a resource for us."

Most memorable experience

"Being back on campus after the pandemic. Directing the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.' Getting back on stage with ‘Clue' and ‘Sweeney Todd.' Watching all my classmates grow together. We are in different places now than freshman year. Watching that progression has been very fulfilling."

Favorite place on campus

"Auditorium 207. People do their homework there. We talk about shows. We have lots of memorabilia from previous shows. It's very nostalgic."

Advice for future Corsairs

"Get out of your comfort zone. Join at least one club. Do some stuff that scares you a little bit but really teaches you a lot. It can change your mindset or change you as a person. Keep your options open."

Many options in her future

Keeping her options open after graduation is what Fontes plans to do herself. "Character design has been my thing. I could be a pre-production artist on a show or a video game. I've done some advertising. I'm trying to pick up a little of everything. I'm kind of like a chameleon," she said. "I like to do a lot of different things