I remember researching University and College programs during my senior year of high school. I remember thinking that graphic design was too much computer art for my liking. It seemed boring and ‘corporate’. The only thing I wanted to do was draw things on paper. It was a simple beginning. I remember being inspired by Marvel comic books, SLAM magazine and wildlife paintings by Robert Bateman.
It was an incredibly solitary venture. If I was working on a piece of artwork, then I was alone with the door shut and music off. Cut off from the real world. From start to finish, it was an exploration of self-reliance and technical mastery. It was meditation. No thoughts could provoke my flow when I was immersed deep into a drawing. It took me years to understand why I enjoyed the solitude so much. It wasn’t because I wanted to create a masterpiece. I wasn’t trying to build a portfolio. All I ever wanted to do was to draw better. The byproduct of this was hundreds upon hundreds of hours of uninterrupted, unfiltered and unrelenting internal dialogue with myself. I heard Milton Glaser once say, “it is only through drawing that I look at things carefully.” It’s true. It’s therapy.
When I was 19 I went to art school. I had no other goals or objectives in mind but to learn how to draw and paint better. It seemed like a good place for an outlier like me. Art school is a place where solitude is scarce and terms like cooperation and collaboration are embraced. It’s a place that provided me something very precious that I’ve never experienced before—an artistic community.
Art school sparked an interesting time in my life because over night I stopped being an outlier artsy kid and became part of the majority. I was no longer unique. And it felt great.
During my senior year I strayed away from painting and drawing, and began experimenting with film, photography and graphic design. I remember being in a weird emotional place because I wanted somebody to provide me with some sort of new direction or perspective. Often times I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff, looking over into the unknown which would become my next creative endeavor. I was waiting for something to push me so I wouldn’t have to take the leap myself. It turned out not to be something, but someone who would eventually hurl me into the unknown. Her name was Jill.
Jill had a sassy vibe to her that made students either love her or hate her. I loved her. She was a tall lady, with short, messy black hair and dark thick-rimmed glasses. She wore tight jeans, high heels, band shirts and tonnes of jewellery. She was my first graphic design teacher.
It was the second last class of the year. We were gathered together facing our work which was propped up against the whiteboard towards the front of the classroom. I was one of the last to present my work. Jill made her way down the line to my project. For all the the talking she did about my piece, I only remember five words she said. In a class full of illustrators, she said something to me that made me feel like an outlier again. She looked at my work, paused, then looked me in the eye and said, “you should be a graphic designer.” It was the final push I needed to set me over the edge into my next great adventure. My flirtation with graphic design ended. As of that moment, as far as I was concerned, I was in a fully committed relationship with graphic design.
It’s been eight years since that day with Jill. I’m still a graphic designer today, but I’m starting to think about what my next jump will be. It’s been incredibly satisfying to look back at where my path began and where I am right now. My optimism for the future shines bright.
Because it worked out for Dan Barber. Dan Barber works as a chef in Manhattan. When he was being interviewed about his own path and where he started as a chef, he said that he didn’t enter the profession having any goals. He just wanted to, “learn how to cook better.” Sound familiar?
I’m no chef or have achieved anywhere near the level of success that Dan has achieved, but I do see similarities between our attitudes. Dan is now a Michelin star chef, the leading figure behind the farm-to-table culinary movement in North America and his restaurant Blue Hills at Stone Barns is rated the 48th best restaurant in the world . He just wanted to learn how to cook better. And now look at all he’s done.
I wanted to be better too. And now we’re here. No more paint. No more drawings. Just a graphic designer writing stories.