Sorting through decades of content for this blog I’ve come across a few things that don’t belong to any particular project and until recently I wondered what to do with them. A few months ago when I was asked how my background prepared me for a career in exhibit design I vocally fumbled through an answer while the idea for this post was forming in my head. I’m often asked exactly what it is I do, which is part of why I’m doing this blog, but the “how did you get into that” question usually follows shortly behind. That story evolves over some of the first few planned posts but could benefit from some background story, that is what this post is dedicated to.
I certainly didn’t leave for college thinking “I’m going to be an exhibit designer!” In fact I was going to art school wondering how in the world I was going to make a career out of my talent. I felt like I'd earned the title “professional artist” before I'd even graduated high school. I had sold drawings to friends and strangers, regularly traded my creative services to teachers for extra credit, and had sold several paintings. I'm not sure what happened to most of my early work, lost perhaps in one of several moves or just collecting dust somewhere. I have photo records of just a few, most of which were lost in a fire. These series of paintings below was meant to depict the a “farm to table” process These photos are circa 1995/96.
Around this time is when I was lugging my fine arts portfolio to various university portfolio days where I heard the same critiques several times. My work was “technical.” I was told repeatedly “lines don't exist in nature” - I sort of understood what they meant but didn't really grasp it until I took figure drawing in college and starting using charcoal as medium on a regular basis.
While shopping my portfolio around I heard a lot of comments that basically equated to “you’re talented but don’t have direction.” It’s rather obvious now. I was splitting my time between experimenting with fine arts mediums and techniques, learning drafting and mechanical drawing, and pursuing my passion at the time of comic book illustration… More than anything else this is what my early sketchbooks were dedicated to.
I started illustrating my comic book universe with with doodles depicting caricatures of my 7th grade teachers with ridiculous super powers… Those characters evolved into entire worlds of characters. I started early on illustrating each character in a variety of action poses and painstakingly hand wrote each of their origin stories, the penultimate comic book character narrative. It's very easy to see in my early sketches my comic book influences:
Over time my exposure to figure drawing and industrial design evolved my character studies, maps, landscapes, building and vehicle schematics into sketchbooks full of what looks a lot like production design sketches for some movie that was never made. Again It’s easy to see now my inspirations at the time - Star Trek the Next Generation television show, and George Lucas movies.
My dream was to create a graphic novel, or series of novels, with a story that crossed worlds (real and imagined) and eras. At some point I would like to document this collection of stories on its own but that's another project in itself.
Illustrating these worlds and characters occupied much of my spare time during various periods in my life where I was seriously considering becoming an architect; studying fine arts and sculpture; alternatively considering pursuing studying biochemistry; and then eventually settling on industrial design.
How I ended up studying industrial design will be the main thread of the next post. I want to end this first half of these “early years” posts with an actual mural project I worked on:
In 1997 I accepted a commission to paint a mural in a cartoonish style for Doggy Day Care Center lobby in Philadelphia, PA. It was easy enough for me to outline and hire a few friends to help paint, so I did a sketch, came up with an estimate and a schedule and we ran with it. The client was happy in the end. It took twice as long to paint as planned and I actually lost more on the project then I was paid in total so my first true professional gig was not a great business venture.
I was pleased to see many years later the client still had the mural on their wall, it’s no longer in business so I don't know if the mural is still there. Up until I started preparing research for this blog a year or so ago I'd all but forgotten about it myself, another reason I started this blog. For the projects that were but aren’t no more, the projects that never were, and the projects that may still be someday.
2 weeks from now, around the 4th of February, I'll post the second half of this Biography themed post. Then 2 weeks following i'll kick off the planned regular blog format with my first professional design project - a catalog design for industrial and medical shelving!