Orange High School Goes Steampunk for Vans Custom Culture Competition

Who would’ve thought that Vans could be steampunk? The Anaheim-born, Cypress-based brand has managed to permeate into surf, skate, hip-hop and youth culture. But Debbie Jollineau, an art teacher at Orange High School, and four of her students, Izabella Simpson, junior, Thao Nguyen, junior, Jacob Ayala, junior, and, Jaime Flores, senior, used steampunk’s Victorian elegance and robotic grunge
for their official entry in the Vans Custom Culture competition, a national design contest for high schools.

“We decided on steampunk because it was way more unique than the rest,” says Flores, “I think it ended up being one of the most unique designs from California.” 

Since 2010, the Vans Custom Culture competition has given high schools across the nation the opportunity to customize blank Vans for a chance of winning $50,000 and the potential to see the winning shoe on the shelfs of Vans retail locations. The classic Vans sneakers given to art students to pimp out are the Sk8-Hi, Authentic, Canvas 106 and Slip On. Each pair of vans is designed according to a specific theme such as art, music, action sports and local flavor. Out of 2,400 nation-wide submissions, Orange High School’s steampunk awesomeness made it to the top 5. 

This is the farthest Jollineau and any of her students have advanced in the competition, after five years of trying. Jollineau says not only is the contest a fun challenge for her class, but the grand prize money would aid Orange High School’s art program significantly. 

According to Jollineau, her classroom’s dated projectors produce washed-out images which limit her student’s experiences with art. A ceramic slab roller is used instead of a real printing press. Crayola colors are shared among students when they should be using professional-grade supplies such as Prismacolors or BLICK. “Sometimes you end up sticking with the same projects because you already have materials for those.” says Jollineau. 

If Orange High School wins the Vans Custom Culture competition, Jollineau says investing in digital tablets, SLR cameras, art software, and pressure-sensitive digital pens would help students grow as tech savvy artists in a digital age. Jollineau points to her bulky, antique, T.V to show how outdated her classroom is; one of her students jokes, “Now that’s steampunk.”  

While the design and production process was stressful, it was still a lot of fun for students. When asked what was the most interesting aspect in creating the edgy shoes, Nguyen pointed to Jollineau and said, “She cooked my shoe.” Everyone laughed. Jollineau explained that the students experimented with 3D designs, metals, and even polymer clay, which had to be cured in an oven.  

“I think just painting on the shoes was a lot of fun because you just feel like a kid again,” says Ayala. “Your mom tells you not to do it, but you still do.” 

Public voting has ended and the final five designs are currently being judged by a panel. Jollineau and her students joke that perhaps the “Damn, Daniel” guys will decide the winners in Los Angeles on June 8th. 

While the young designers express their nervousness and excitement, they’re also feeling grateful, “Win or not win, it’s still a really fun opportunity.” says Simpson. 

Thanks to their art courses, all four of Jollineau’s students express ambition for careers in the arts. Ayala and Flores both want to work in graphic design, Simpson sees art education as her calling and Thoa Ngyen has found interest in either becoming an art teacher, an architect or interior designer. Since the competition began, all four of the talented students have taken commissions from fellow classmates and friends. 

“I tell them (students) to follow their heart and do what they love…sometimes that’s a hard sell for art…especially with parents.” Jollineau says. “I love that this validates that if you follow what you love anyway, good things will come your way.” 

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