As a child of the 1960s and ’70s, Mike Stuttman knew Westport when it was filled with creative artist-types, and was a marketing mecca too.
He followed both paths. After Staples High School and the Cambridge School, Stuttman headed to the Rochester Institute of Technology for photography. “I loved it, but I couldn’t make ideas appear,” he says. Along the way, he was exposed to animation. So when he transferred to the University of Colorado, he majored in…
(Coleytown Junior High School teacher Otilia Malinowski had sparked that interest, years earlier.)
Stuttman embarked on a long career in direct marketing. He worked in New York and, locally, for the Ryan Partnership and Barry Blau. For the past 10 years, he’s consulted.
But around 2008 — when the recession hit — his phone stopped ringing. Stuttman — who’d never lost his passion for animation and computers — had an epiphany: Photoshop was just like cel animation.
He taught himself the software. Then in 2010, on a whim, he applied to New York’s School of Visual Arts, for an MFA in computer art.
It was a wonderful experience. Stuttman — newly energized — particularly enjoyed his technical classes, using software like After Effects. “I learned the craft of making digital art,” he says.
Next came a vision: replicating a space like SVA, to offer digital art classes locally. He could fill it with talented instructors, and students who want to make art with animation.
Westport — where his politically active mother Dora had run the Top Drawer store, and his father Burt owned a direct marketing firm — was the perfect spot. Stuttman — who loved the river — even had the perfect name: Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop.
He searched everywhere for the perfect location. He could not find one.
Finally, space became available in the old Fairfield Department Store building. It was within walking distance of the train station (he thought most instructors would commute from the city). There were great restaurants nearby.
“I’ve become that guy: a Westporter who’s a Fairfield convert,” Stuttman says.
He’ll offer software classes in computer art basics, digital darkroom, digital storytelling, digital sound for artists, computer sound, animation, editing and post-production, motion graphics, graphic design and small business marketing.
Classes typically run once a week for 2 hours, over the course of 6 weeks.
His potential audience includes “self-identified artists, and aspiring and working creative professionals” is vast: photographers, film and video makers, painters, graphic designers, musicians, sound designers, animators, editors, compositors, VFX artists, podcasters, DJs, makers and coders — and “the curious and creative.”
Students will use 8 “sexy, great and fully loaded 27” iMac workstations.
As it turns out, Stuttman has found a great pool of instructors right around here. They won’t need the train.
“And they’re excellent teachers — not just accomplished professionals,” Stuttman notes.
So when he opens right after Labor Day, why will Stuttman’s Fairfield space be called Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop?
“I love rivers. The Saugatuck is not only in Westport, you know. I would have loved a red-brick, individual space. But it’s tough to find an inexpensive, small place in Westport.”
Besides, he’s not the only Fairfield business with a Westport name.
Saugatuck Sweets is around the corner.
(To learn more about Saugatuck Digital Arts Workshop, click here.)
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