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Arts & Culture

Major Characters

Student Digitally Paints Engineering, History, Psychology and More Into Fantastical Figures

By Annie Krakower

Project Fearless Season 1, by Berkeley Poulsen: Drawings of characters representing UMD majors

Illustrations by Berkeley Poulsen ‘21

This semester, Berkeley Poulsen ‘21 started “Project Fearless,” a mission to digitally paint and personify UMD’s more than 90 offered undergraduate degrees.

Most students see a slew of credits, courses and capstones in the University of Maryland’s lengthy list of majors. Berkeley Poulsen ‘21 sees color, capes and characters.

This semester, the senior started “Project Fearless,” a mission to digitally paint and personify UMD’s more than 90 offered undergraduate degrees, from his own—information science and psychology—to STEM staples and humanities hallmarks. With 19 academic areas anthropomorphized so far, he’s sifting through requests for more, helping fellow Terps embrace the super-heroic qualities of their own favored fields.

“I don’t want to just paint someone with a hoodie with the (major’s) logo on it,” Poulsen said. “I want to integrate pieces that are fantastical and interesting, like Marvel characters.”

A scribbling specialist since he was 3, Poulsen delved more into art in middle school and shifted his focus to designing digitally in high school, mostly “painting” with a stylus on a touchscreen tablet equipped with Photoshop.

That artistic output amplified during the pandemic. With all of his classes online, Poulsen’s Anime-inspired doodling helped him stay focused while taking notes at home—“that’s just kind of how my brain works,” he said. His coursework sparked him to craft his first character, Infosci, complete with an armor-plated, diamondback shell-patterned arm and a “meme pouch” fanny pack. Next came Psych, adorned with an EEG-inspired crown and trident, and Compsci, sporting binary-coded clothing and a digital shield.

“This concept of taking something that belongs in categories and personifying it is not really new,” said Poulsen, who’d seen similar artwork on Instagram depicting zodiac signs or U.S. states. “But I hadn’t seen anyone do it for college majors, so I wanted to take a stab at it.”

He starts each illustration by browsing the major’s website and running through the core classes for ideas. Some subjects, like aerospace engineering, point to clear concepts—jetpacks, anyone?—but others, like international relations or languages, require a little more creativity, Poulsen said. 

His interpretations so far have gone over well with commenters on Reddit and Instagram, where he releases new characters every two to three weeks. Fellow Terps have lauded his style, variety and attention to detail, with many asking him to personify their own majors next.

“These are great and it’s awesome seeing diversity in these characters too,” one Reddit poster wrote. Others on the site concurred, thanking Poulsen for not just making the Biology character pre-med-themed and even suggesting he make a comic or series out of the cartoon crew.

The positive response prompted him to set up an online shop on Redbubble, where fans can purchase shirts, posters and stickers featuring their favorite figures. As he keeps creating—a government and politics character, the most requested after the recent presidential election, is in the works—he’s honing his skills while the paintings grow increasingly detailed, each now taking him around six hours to complete.

“I feel like in general I’ve gotten better as an artist, just because I’m painting so much.” Poulsen said. “I try to give them as much personality as possible.”

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