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Graphics crew tells stories through powerful imagery

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

The 6th Communication Squadron graphics department designs posters, shirts and many other products. The above design is a sample of some of the many projects they have produced.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Valerie Duran

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the worth of specialized graphics that utilize pictures, type and other graphics may be too great to calculate. It's likewise for the rewards of creating those graphics for the crew members at the MacDill graphics department in the 6th Communications Squadron.

"I love it; it's the best job I can think of," said Senior. Airman Cheray Bentley, who has been working in graphics for more than three years at MacDill.

The feeling is shared by Staff Sgt. Valerie Duran, non-commissioned officer in charge of graphics. Working there for four years, she's been involved in numerous projects from designing banners, posters and ads to graphics for Channel 19.

"It's the best job ever," she said. "We have a lot of talented people here and it is very rewarding to take someone's ideas and add your capabilities and instincts to turn it into something that works."

From the first crude cave drawings of ashes and berry juice to the high impact electronic imagery of the MTV age, graphics have played an important role in communication between humans. At MacDill, the work of the graphics department is everywhere, although some may not realize it. Many of the posters and banners around MacDill were generated in graphics. Sergeant Duran worked on posters for the marriage seminar at the Base Chapel. Posters at the Fitness Center are examples of her handiwork. She worked on the t-shirts for the All Saints Day Run event as well.

Airman Bentley used the power of her computer and software, along with her own creative streak honed over the years to design unit coins, as well as the CORONA coin. She also did the banners that hang along Florida Keys Avenue, among many other artworks on base.

"There is a lot of personal reward," said Airman Bentley. "If it is good enough to hang up in public, it's pretty good and seeing it there is a good feeling."

The graphics crew is made up of four staffers and two maintenance people. It often works closely with the MacDill Photo Lab on projects and less often, the videographers. The shop often has a hefty workload, tasked with projects large and small that keep it busy. In a state of flux at the moment, one team member was deployed this week. A new NCO is coming in along with another new artist. Some come to the job with a little knowledge and others pick it up as they work, said Sergeant Duran.

"I had some tech school training when I got here," she recalls. "I learned the new programs at MacDill and have picked up on a lot since I've been here."

She said Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Corel Draw are the main programs used. Like others in the graphics department, they see their future in the field. Sergeant Duran said she loves the Air Force but if she does get out before retirement, she would like to get into graphics design in the advertising field.

"Marketing and advertising are both interests and I am getting together a pretty good portfolio if I get out," she said. "The Air Force is my stepping stone if I do decide to get into that area."

The commitment to graphic arts is shared by Airman Bentley, who said her job is more than just something to do while in the Air Force.

"It's creative work and that's what I like," she said. "I think I would like to stay with it, because it is so rewarding."

Graphics also gets involved in multimedia presentations, setting up and running slide shows and PowerPoint presentations. During CORONA and other events, the whole crew stays very busy, but their work always is recognized when things wind down and the event is declared a success, in part due to the work of graphics.

But the job does have its challenges. Airman Bentley said some people looking for graphics or a new design have to learn to put faith in the designers. While their ideas may be a good starting point, often times they are not the end-all.

"We're pretty good at what we do," she said. "We are the professionals and what we do well is help people realize what is in their mind."

Sergeant Duran notes it sometimes is a balancing act to give the customer what they are looking for while adding and subtracting elements to achieve the ideal of composition, content, color or tone. A lot of times the final piece is considerably different from what the customer had in mind, but it isn't often they are disappointed."

"It's just the opposite," she said. "Most of the time they are very surprised at how well we got their idea across."

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