by Katie Milligan
Throughout her Cedarville career, graphic design major Shelby Ahlborg has found her niche within the artistic community and aspires to work in the film and television industry.
Ahlborg, a fifth-year senior, transferred to Cedarville after one year in a public community college near her hometown in Illinois. After completing her first two years as a Theatre major, she switched to Graphic Design with a minor in Motion Graphics.
She values the faith-based community that Cedarville offers.
“I really enjoy the Christian atmosphere,” she said. “I appreciate knowing that people agree with me on things, that we aren’t going to run into really controversial topics.”
As Ahlborg navigated the difficult decision to switch majors, her lifelong love of art played a pivotal role. Since childhood she has always enjoyed drawing and is mostly self-taught.
Ahlborg explains that the art field can go two directions: fine art and graphic design. Usually, graphic design focuses on creating art digitally. While Ahlborg is skilled in that area, she claims it isn’t her passion. Instead, she is a unique combination of both. Rather than favoring traditional routes like designing logos, stationery, or advertisements, Ahlborg is more interested in creating storyboards, animation, concept art and especially character designs.
Long-term, she hopes to get involved in the film and television industry. As graphic design provides helpful skills to market oneself for entry-level jobs, she plans to work at a graphic design company before moving to Florida to pursue her goals of working on the next big animated movie.
Ahlborg’s passion lies in creating her own characters and stories, bringing them to life for others to enjoy. She would love to be involved with any step of the animation and story-building process, whether it be creating original visions or implementing the visions of others.
“I do a lot of writing my own stories,” Ahlborg explains. “So I would love to be able to give my own stories to film companies and have those made.”
While she aspires to work with Disney or DreamWorks to make children’s movies, Ahlborg’s main goal is to work directly with the stories.
As Ahlborg progresses further into graphic design, she still draws connections to her theater background, which informs her character-creating process.
As the props master for the Cedarville theater department, she collects all physical props that appear in the productions. Through era-specific research, she pieces together the story of the setting to create an immersive viewer experience.
Ahlborg prefers to draw with pencil and paper, but she often digitizes her creations upon completion, creating an interesting combination of traditional and modern art forms. She also enjoys watercolors and is currently seeking to expand her artistic abilities by learning to paint with acrylics and sculpt with polymer clay. Though much of Ahlborg’s art is for personal enjoyment, she has had several pieces featured recently in Cedarville art exhibitions.
In her classes, Ahlborg has enjoyed learning how to use advanced technical programs to create characters and perform other animation techniques. Recent projects include a title sequence for a movie and various characters that involved extensive research.
Ahlborg has benefited greatly from her professors’ guidance. Professor Jeff Simon, assistant professor of communication, animator, and motion artist, has particularly impacted Ahlborg. Through independent studies and classes, she has learned how to use advanced programs like Adobe After Effects. Despite the relative lack of animation classes at Cedarville, Simon has gone the extra mile to give his students practical tools to succeed in their career fields.
Additionally, Ahlborg thrives in her classes by learning from other students. She met Carrie Bergan, fellow senior graphic design major, when both students switched majors to graphic design. Their friendship centers around sharpening each other’s art. Though they haven’t worked on any creative projects together, they have conducted research together and worked alongside one another.
Bergan admires Ahlborg for finding a balance between fine art and graphic design.
“Graphic design has a lot of rules and structure to it, but now that I’ve learned them, I’m able to go in and add my own flair to it, so it’s not super constrained,” Bergan said. “I appreciate that while [Shelby’s art] fits in today’s structure, she adds her own touch to it. The more I look at her art the more I see her own style in it.”
For her senior capstone project, Ahlborg integrates her artistic interests with a desire to solve a real-world problem. She is illustrating the adventure novel “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson. Every 20 pages will feature a full-page illustration done by hand in pencil and scanned digitally. Ahlborg hopes that her project can increase awareness about the decline of interest in reading and perhaps even contribute to a solution.
“Because so many young people are very visually stimulated, which is why they enjoy television and film so much, I feel like illustrating books is putting those interests back in,” Ahlborg said. “It will help them because they don’t have to do all of the imagining themselves. They’ll have pictures of the characters and the scenarios.”
Ahlborg plans to print the entire manuscript and had wanted to display it for the Senior Art Exhibition at the end of the semester.
As Ahlborg reflects back over her Cedarville career, she has learned to balance her faith and her art.
“You don’t have to make art of Christian things to be a Christian artist. It’s being moral and clean in your art,” Ahlborg said. “I focus on keeping my art clean, but also very well-done, because God says to do whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord.”
Throughout her education, Ahlborg has found her creative voice and stresses the importance of resilience and uniqueness as an artist.
“Don’t feel like you have to fit into the box of what people define art is,” Ahlborg says. “But if your definition of what your art is, what your style is, doesn’t fit with what professors or other professionals in the field say, don’t be discouraged. Just do your art the way your heart tells you to.”
She emphasizes that her goal is to positively impact the film and television industry for Christ.
“The whole film and television industry is becoming very worldly,” she said. “I’m just hoping to be a light.”