School of Illustration Student Wins SURTEX International Student Design Competition

Mirta Rotondo will head to New York in May to showcase her portfolio

Mirta Rotondo is excited. As one of four winners of the SURTEX International Student Design Competition, the Academy of Art University School of Illustration student will go to New York in May to present her portfolio at SURTEX—the leading trade show for art and design sourcing.

“To have her design showcased at a professional trade show is a great opportunity, it could be a launching pad for her career,” said School of Illustration instructor Shari Warren, who introduced Rotondo to SURTEX in her Illustration for Consumer Products class last semester. “It’s very competitive out there for any type of art and design. That she won this award is an honor—it speaks to the professional quality of her work and her talent.”

In response to SURTEX’s challenge to create six original surface designs inspired by the theme “Tribal in Art Deco,” Rotondo designed a sophisticated patio collection inspired by the Norman-Arab style she was exposed to during summer visits to Sicily as a child. Shades of saffron and gold merge with turquoise and black in flowing plumes that sweep across outdoor rugs and geometric patterns that splash across throw pillows, conveying a vibrant sense of glamour.

Warren says she was impressed by Rotondo’s motivation to learn more about SURTEX after she had introduced the company in class. “She should be an inspiration to other students to put themselves out there. She was really dedicated and said ‘I’m going to do this’ and she just went for it. It took a lot of guts and determination on her part and I hope that she will be an inspiration for other students to reach for their dreams.”

Warren’s class provided Rotondo’s first foray into the realm of surface design, but the illustration major, who started her own branding and advertising company at age 18, has never been one to shy away from new opportunities. In fact, she thrives on it. 


Mirta Rotondo. Courtesy of Mirta Rotondo.

“The thing I love most is experimenting with new techniques and new materials,” she explained. “I really enjoy having a new challenge every time I do something—that’s the most artistic part to me—the creative process.”

Rotondo enrolled as an online student at the Academy in 2012, before relocating from Rome to San Francisco two years later. She says one of her most eye-opening experiences as a student at the Academy was in Jeff Nishinaka’s paper sculpture class. As an illustration student who often draws and paints digitally, Rotondo found it refreshing to make art in a more tactile way, touching and shaping the paper with her hands. She also enjoyed Carol Nunnelly’s mural painting class where she created a colorful tableau on a wall at Epiphany Center of San Francisco, and was so inspired that she has made plans to paint a mural in Rome.

“It was a completely new way of experiencing painting,” she said, explaining that her work is usually confined to smaller spaces. “It was a new thing and that’s why it was such a beautiful experience for me.”

When it comes to art and design, Rotondo has a diverse skill set. While she continues to work on advertising, web design and branding for her clients in Italy, she satisfies her desire to create art by experimenting with new materials like metal sheets and making graphic prints, illustrations and photographs based on themes ranging from science to erotica.

When she graduates from the Academy next spring she hopes to land a job at a company in San Francisco. But if you ask Rotondo where she sees herself in 10 years, she’ll say at her country house outside Rome making art, wine, and hopefully designing for an international array of clients, because, as she says, “You can keep working on art licensing even from Italy.”

School of Illustration Director Chuck Pyle has no doubts about her success in that realm. “The connections Mirta makes at SURTEX will put her in a very good position to get a career launched,” he said. “Industry recognition and validation is so important to students transitioning into the profession. I am very proud of her accomplishment and know that there will be more.”

For more information about the Surtex Designext Competition go to: and visit to see more of Rotondo’s art and design work.