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Chris Busse Talks VAPA & Digital Design at Acalanes

Published April 28, 2022.

We recently sat down with Acalanes Design teacher Chris Busse, who gave us an overview of the VAPA Department, as well as his popular Digital Design class. Let’s hear what he had to say.

Thank you for speaking with us today! Tell us a little bit about yourself … your background, how did you come teach Digital Design, and how long have you been here?

I grew up in Southern California and graduated college with a graphic design degree with an emphasis in photography. After college, I worked for a small media company in LA County for about three and a half years. My wife and I decided to move up to the Bay Area, where she is originally from, and I figured I would just be a graphic designer either in the city or around the East Bay. After about a year adjusting to the Bay Area, I was struggling to find what I wanted to do as a career. I was hopping around doing side jobs here and there, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I told a friend about my dilemma and she suggested that I pursue education. I’ll be honest I was a little reluctant at first, but I gave it a chance and fell in love with teaching. I started at San Ramon Valley High School for my student teaching and then did a year of middle school at Windemere Ranch the following year. I was very fortunate to have a lot of friends that were in education which included Travis Bell, the former principal of Acalanes. I was finishing up my temporary art position at Windemere Ranch and got a text from Travis. He knew I was looking for a job and told me that their digital design teacher was retiring and that I should interview for the position. That was five years ago and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Give us an overview of the Visual & Performing Arts Dept. at Acalanes today. What classes are taught? What are the department’s goals?

Our Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) department includes theater, band, choir, photography and video production, digital design, and fine arts which includes painting, drawing, ceramics, and an array of other mediums. Our main goal is to produce well-rounded VAPA students. I believe that through curricular collaboration with my colleagues, we offer classes that develop a student’s ability to recognize, understand, and execute the processes of creative expression in whatever class they are enrolled in. Whether that is understanding the principles of design, elements of art, or distinguishing music theory, sight-reading, and appropriate performance styles, students will acquire a skill set from our classes that they can take with them wherever they go.

Tell us about Digital Design! What exactly do you learn in this class? Can you share some examples?

At the beginning of the school year I show TEDTalks and documentaries about professional graphic designers. I want my students to know that Digital Design doesn’t have to be an elective class where you fill an art credit and move on to graduate. I’d like to think my class can be the open door for students to explore the creative industry and encourage them to pursue graphic design as a career.

When you’re enrolled in digital design you learn how to be a visual communicator. I emphasize that in any profession, you will always need graphic design. Whether that’s through a logo, a letterhead, a business card, building a website, or simply just a flyer for the school dance, communication is incredibly important in our society. Bottom line: I teach students how to communicate using the tools of Adobe in a fun and creative way.

Some of my favorite projects range from learning about color theory by designing Air Jordan shoes, to studying propaganda posters and learning how to take an idea and convey it to an audience effectively. The best part of my job is that technology is always progressing. New projects pop up every year, which makes teaching fresh and consistent with the current design trends of the creative industry.

What is your favorite Adobe program? What tips or tricks do you have for someone who wants to learn the Adobe Creative Suite?

I’ve always been drawn to illustration, logo development, and branding and identity. Adobe Illustrator is the perfect program for all three! For anyone that is interested in learning Adobe programs, there are so many tutorials on YouTube as well as websites like, where you can pay for classes. They have every single program out there for you to learn. I always tell my students the best way to learn is by doing, so jumping head first into a tutorial will help you gain a better understanding of the applications and become a better designer.

From your perspective, why should students study Visual & Performing Arts?

I think students should study visual and performing arts because it’s important to always have a creative side and never let that passion die. I’ve had so many students approach me saying they would love to take my class but they don’t feel talented or feel that they have lost their creativity. I believe everyone is creative and they have it inside them to produce some amazing work! All they need is the patience and guidance to complete it successfully. School can be filled with anxiety and nonstop stress, especially as students get closer to AP testing and finals. I feel that our department is a nice break where students can dip into their creative sides and break away from whatever is stressing them out that day.

Please tell us what role LPIE plays in the Visual & Performing Arts Dept.?

I don’t think we would have the awesome program that we have today, without the help of LPIE. I am very grateful for all the support that they give to our department and cannot thank them enough. They fund my classroom and help me keep my program alive and well!

What would you tell your high school aged self today?

Stop comparing yourself to others. Nothing is going to happen to you if you just sit around and complain all day about someone being more successful than you. Embrace adversity because you are learning from it. It will take time, but you will find what you’re looking for. Work hard because you have what it takes to be successful.

Also myspace isn’t cool, invest in companies called Twitter and Instagram.

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