I've always thought that design was magical... it begins with a blank page, and ends up as something new under the sun. Design, successful or not, results from knowledge and experience filtering through perception and manifesting itself with dexterity and skill. But wait, there’s more... Design is also about taking chances, putting yourself out there, and trusting your gut.
My career has involved taking chances, making ambitious business deals, navigating a dynamic workplace, victories and setbacks, crazy day-to-day situations and solutions. Starting a business with three months of savings and somehow rolling it into a decade of branding and package design. Then, transitioning to being a true independent, and then, another transition, to joining a global communication marketing firm.
The years subtly add up without you even realizing. I started in computer graphics way back in the 80's. Reagan was president, there was smoking in bars, and institutions like CBGBs and the Palladium were in full force. Computer graphics was a brand new industry - even Apple was still two guys in a garage.
I grew up in the Bronx and was intent on not attending my local high school, Evander Childs. I auditioned and was accepted to Laguardia High School of Music & Art. If you've seen the movie, Fame!, you'll have an idea of the eclectic, frenetic energy that buzzed through the school. The design curriculum consisted of 20 hours a week of studio & theory (in addition to standard courses like History and English Lit). The professors at Music & Art were professional designers first, and then, teachers. Not the other way around.
But, after sophomore year, my family moved up to Mamaroneck, NY. That’s a dramatic swing; from a dynamic, multi-cultural high school on 135th Street, (Harlem in the mid-1970’s) to Mamaroneck High School. I tried to continue at Music & Art, but the commute from Mamaroneck was too much - especially with my new high school now directly across the street.
The art teacher I was assigned to, Patty B., was a perfect example of “Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach, those who can’t teach, teach art”. The exact opposite of the Music & Art professors. Patty took it as a personal affront that I would be considered for advanced art classes, and passover her's. So I was stuck in her class. She was famous for saying that “you can’t create anything new. It’s all been done before”. What a joke.
I was fortunate to have a great sculpture teacher at MHS, Milo Dalbi, and his studio became a daily refuge... mostly because of the acetylene torch. I loved welding armatures and building in 3D. I continued to sketch and constantly storyboarded things going on in my life.
I wasn’t exactly sure how a career in the arts would work. When I was about 18, my best friend’s father pulled me aside and told me that if I wanted to have a family, there were only three professions I could realistically go into: law, finance, or medicine.
With that advice in mind, I wasn’t looking to be an Art major in college and decided to not to apply to Rhode Island School of Design or Parsons. After getting a bachelors at Ithaca College - majoring in Politics - I really had no idea what to do next. I enjoyed studying politics because it encompassed so many other disciplines like history, literature, and civics. Most of my classmates who were Politics majors began prepping for the LSATs. I wasn’t so sure a career in law was for me. I checked out internship opportunities at the United Nations (I minored in Slavic Studies), but nothing was available.
During college, I had a Summer job as a freight elevator operator at the Newsweek Building (444 Madison Avenue). My mom knew the building manager and they got me in there as vacation relief for the union workers. It might sound like a nothing job, but it was decent money and I was in the center of NYC. I ran a classic old freight elevator with a manual stick handle. There was some skill involved as you had to hit the floor perfectly. Sometimes, I’d give rides to people looking to avoid the jammed passenger elevators (of course, against the rules). One of them, Josh, was the son of the patriarch of a law firm on the 12th floor. So, before sinking money into law school, I called him and asked about a position as a law clerk.
My career in law lasted about nine months. Aside from free paper and pens, for me, being a law clerk was pretty much like watching paint dry. One day, a court appointed client called in - I still remember her name, Mrs. Carter, and asked to speak with a certain lawyer. She was crying and terribly upset and pleaded with me to put him on the phone. I called over to the attorney, Mr. K., he was literally buffing his nails, “Tell her I’m not here”. Having to lie for him, and hang up on Mrs. Carter, never sat right with me.
A few months of xeroxing and pointlessly sitting in crowded Manhattan courtrooms later, the elder statesman of the firm, Mr. C., called me into his office. Here comes his wisdom: “Son, I went to grab a legal pad for an important meeting, and it was covered with your doodles. I think if you really want a career in law, it should be as a courtroom artist, otherwise...” and he just shook his head. I thanked him and left. It was Spring 1983.
Hello computer graphics.