Fabian Fernandez Columbus Humane Final

At Columbus College of Art & Design, students have the opportunity to work with real clients to develop real solutions. And some of them are really cute.

Such is the case of a recent partnership between Columbus Humane and students in CCAD’s Illustration and Comics & Narrative Practice programs. The partnership was initiated by CCAD’s Creative Careers & Collaboration department, also known as C3, which connects companies and community organizations with CCAD students to create real-world products and solutions through classroom work.

Columbus Humane, a private, nonprofit animal shelter, opened up its Columbus Humane Essential Care Center in 2023. The center provides high-quality, low-cost veterinary care to individuals and families who struggle to afford services at traditional veterinary clinics—and soon, thanks to the contributions of CCAD students, it will provide visitors with emotional touchpoints via one of a-kind-art created by student illustrators, too.

“The center is a beautiful facility—but we were missing the storytelling pieces,” says Rachel D.K. Finney, former CEO of Columbus Humane.“We wanted to be able to incorporate some of the human element … to really celebrate that bond between people and pets. We knew that if we were able to capture that, it would kind of complete the experience for our clients and our patients.”

Columbus Humane turns to students in Illustration Markets class for expertise

Finney knew CCAD could provide just what Columbus Humane needed, so she reached out to the college for support. Nicole Monahan, CCAD’s Associate Vice President for Creative Careers & Collaboration (C3), connected Finney with Illustration Professor and Associate Dean of Entertainment Design Rebecca Zomchek on the project, which, like so many C3 projects, enabled participating students to change the world from inside the classroom, creating real solutions to real problems.

I’ve been really impressed by some of the innovative programming and experiences that I’ve had at CCAD, so as we were considering what was a meaningful way to capture that storytelling, that human-animal bond, I didn’t Google ‘artwork,’ I wanted to leverage local artists.” 

Rachel D.K. Finney Former CEO of Columbus Humane
RF Headshots Grey

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING, FROM CLASSROOM TO COMMUNITY

In Zomchek’s Illustration Markets class, juniors and seniors—upperclass students who have developed their personal style and creative voice—take the next step in their professional development by taking a more considered approach to considering who they want to work with, and what kind of projects they want to take on in their careers. Zomechek says she was pleased to bring the project to her students.

For the Columbus Humane project, students toured Columbus Humane’s Essential Care Center, learning about its clients and their needs and challenges. Finney, as well as Columbus Humane’s marketing director, its chief medical officer, and development director provided the students with client feedback as part of the creative process, encouraging them to follow technical guidelines while also creating work that “really honors that bond between people and pets,” says Finney.

One of CCAD’s major values is to incorporate these experiential projects and courses so that every student has the opportunity before they graduate to work in this capacity, either by doing an internship or by working with a client in a classroom or on any collaborative project.” 

Rebecca Zomchek Professor and Associate Dean of Entertainment Design
Rebecca Zomchek 2024

The students took different approaches to the assignments, including photorealistic sketches in pencil, collages, cartoons, retro-style digital paintings, and beyond. “The students had a real place and purpose that they knew their work was going to be used for. … There’s very little amount of imaginary work that can create this type of real connection,” Zomchek says.

This was the first time that I’ve gotten to work with a client and to make sure that what I’m making is what they want to see and meets their expectations,” says transfer student Kelsey Spade (Illustration, 2025). “I definitely appreciated the experience of that.”

Spade, who worked primarily using Photoshop, adjusted her color palette to reflect the Humane Society’s brand colors—blue and orange. Her final illustration depicts a young girl hoisting up a puppy (modeled after Spade’s own pup, Hiro) “in just the most loving way,” she says.

“It shows this is the relationship between the owner and the pet, and also shows what the center is all about, which is about healing and taking care of your pet and making sure that your best friend is OK,” Spade says.

See below Kelsey Spade’s (Illustration, 2025) work evolve from early concepts to a final illustration for Columbus Humane.

Fellow transfer student Sarah Schmitz (Illustration, 2025) says they originally approached the assignment with a concept that wasn’t directly related to Columbus Humane’s veterinary practice.

Columbus Humane Color Comps

“But through the feedback from the client, I was able to figure out that really what they wanted more of was stuff that connected to what they do in their practice, the connection between patient and caregiver,” says Schmitz. “So that was really really valuable to go back and be able to fix my concept to meet what they actually wanted.”

Their original concept focused on two characters, a cat and dog, with the cat bandaging the dog’s knee after a sports injury.

I was going all in on this one concept. I had done a bunch of thumbnails, but I really liked that concept—but the client wasn't into it for what they needed. … I think the best thing to learn from that kind of situation is that it's okay. It's not a failing on you or your work. It's really, really important to learn that from a real client situation,” says Schmitz.

After receiving feedback from Columbus Humane, Schmitz shifted their vintage-look digital painting to a scene in which a cat-veterinarian uses a stethoscope to listen to the dog-patient’s heartbeat in a clinic where the walls feature images of past pet-patients.

Zomchek says Spade and Schmitz’s experiences working with Columbus Humane reflect the value of this type of real-world assignment.

“Feedback can be surprising and scary, and you may not know what’s going to happen,” she says. “But I think they’re both excellent examples of how work will turn out better for you if you take the feedback and work it in a really positive way.”

SUCCESSFUL COLLABORATION WITH CCAD LEAVES “JOYFUL” MARK ON COLUMBUS HUMANE

Ultimately, Columbus Humane selected six of the illustrations to be printed as large posters installed in the Essential Care Center’s lobby. The students with work selected are: Grace Campbell (Illustration, 2025), Fabian Fernandez (Illustration, 2024), Lizzy Gardner (Illustration, 2025), Teo Nefliu (Illustration, 2025), Mal O'Brien (Illustration, 2025), and Nana Srisongkham (Illustration, 2025). Other Illustration Markets student works will be displayed on digital screens in the center.

Finney says she was struck by the number and quality of the illustrations created by the students. “I was like, ‘My goodness, you were really paying attention and you really understood the work that we do,’ ” she says.

“I enjoyed seeing the thinking of the students all the way through the process to the final artwork. It was really easy to work with Rebecca and Nicole. … And it was just really joyful. Everyone on the team at CCAD was really easy to work with,” she says.

Zomchek echoed the sentiment. “I was so pleased with how it worked out. I couldn’t be more happy with it,” she says.

See final Columbus Humane artworks below by some of the Illustration Markets students.

Click here to learn more about Creative Careers & Collaboration at Columbus College of Art & Design. Head here to learn more about the Illustration program at CCAD, or apply here.

Header image: Visitors to to the Columbus Humane Essential Care Center will see this work by Fabian Fernandez (Illustration, 2024) and other CCAD student illustrations.