Sharing thoughts and ideas about art, be it my own art or in general -- Sharing my own work and experiences as a professional artist/illustrator/graphic designer, as well as answering any questions of same.... Is the general purpose here. Whether you are a fellow artist, an art appreciator, or a friend -- All are welcome.

My Gallery Website is --- http://www.wonderments.com/

About Me

College: * The prestigious Art Center College of Design'73 * BFA, Towards work in Art Direction, Illustration, Graphic Design, Fine Art. I pursued free-lance illustration for many years in the SF Bay Area, where my work was used by publishers and in advertising. During that time, I was asked to teach illustration at the SF Academy of Art, which I did part-time for five years. I was a member of the SF Society of Illustrators, participated on the board of directors, was a show juror, and a contributor to The US Air Force Art program where three of my resulting paintings were inducted into the Air Force Art Collection in Washington D.C. Throughout my years as an illustrator, I pursued my fine art painting as well, and in the late 80's began my switch fairly completely over into that field. I made my living exclusively as an artist for many years in both the commercial and fine art ends of it. Art, design, and the creative fields have been my passion in life with regards to work and study. My paintings have been sold to individuals both in the USA and some overseas.

*Note -- A busy-busy world, and where many people hesitate in reading much anymore. Yes… in order to offer more than just short generalizations on some of the topics, I’ve taken the time to delve into things more deeply than just doing “sound bites”.

Whether you are a pro, beginning artist, one who does it as a hobby, or simply a person who likes art even if you are just starting to learn about it -- Feel free to comment and/or ask questions.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My College Years -‘The Agony and The Ecstasy’!

You do what you need to do
in the passion for the work, and to make a go of it.

While it had not been my original choice and dream of what to do after high school (another story completely, about that) I had excelled in art, and at 19, I had been accepted into the Art Center College of Design, a world-renowned art and design college, where getting accepted into it was notable in and of itself, not to mention at the age of 19.

Art Center was a totally no-nonsense private college, offering four-year degrees as well as master’s degrees in product design, automotive design, graphic design, advertising design, all the disciplines of illustration, and the fine arts. Study there was intensive and with little to no ‘play time’ outside of classes.  Homework assignments were constant, and most all nights were spent into the early morning hours getting it all done, if not all night many times.  Unlike most all other colleges/universities, there was no partying, or any other such activities, or even sports, at this school.  100% time devoted to learning what we were there for, my chosen major actually being a ‘split major’ where I would come out with not one, but two portfolios of work towards starting a career -- Advertising Design, towards being an art director/graphic designer, and, Illustration, where I would be a free-lance illustrator.  The double major meant almost twice the load of work for four years, but it would not cost much more at all, and, I wanted to make sure I could have the most opportunities available for myself later, and as a result of my work/expenses put into college.  The instructors themselves were all working professionals, some very well known, in their fields.

Unlike many others I knew back then and since then, who have gone to college, in order to afford the schooling, I had to go without many things, and basically lived life extremely frugally and the absolute cheapest I could make do with, at the poverty level to be sure.  While my Mom did what she could in sending a little money from time to time for a while, 25 to 75 dollars, from her job as a cook at a Marie Calandar’s restaurant back in the Bay Area, I had to work my own way through by getting any jobs I could during semester and summer breaks.  And I mean any jobs, including pizza maker, fruit field worker, janitor, part-time apartment manager etc. etc.  Along with that, I was able to get student loans back at home in the Bay Area, which were government insured student loans.  Which, by the way, after college I paid back in full and on time, unlike many thousands of others who I heard never bothered, being too cheap and/or unethical to do so.

I lived in ‘apartments’, most of which really should not even be called apartments.  I had to switch to a different one each new semester, caused from going back home to work during breaks, as well as to save rent money when I could.  Most of them during the four years were only one room and a bathroom.  No kitchen, no nothing.  My furniture consisted of a single bed mattress, my drawing board (which at first was only a used door set onto boxes), and a stool. Later I was able to build a shelving unit, which allowed me to store and organize my art supplies beside my work area table, and an actual used drawing board which I bought from a friend graduating before me, for 5 dollars.  I had a hot plate and a few dishes that my Mom had sent with me.  When I did cook anything, I washed the dishes in the bathroom sink or bathtub.  But many times I ate only the simplest and cheapest of meals, out of the can or box, or sometimes the fast food joints, which were still very cheap back then.  I remember one time, seeing some goldfish in a store I had gone into, and after spending about an hour talking myself into it, I bought a small fish bowl, three goldfish, some vegetation, little oxygenating pump and box of fish food, all for about 10.00.  The thought was -- This would give me something different to take care of, have as pets, in the middle of all else going on in the seriousness of school.  Took it all back to my shanty room, set it up, looked at the fish for a while.  And…ended up feeling guilty and stupid about spending money on such a thing.  Took the fish out and back into the bag they had come in, emptied the fish bowl, cleaned everything up and took it back to the store. Luckily they refunded my money.  

I drove a 1959 Volvo 549, which I had bought for $100.00 several months before I left the Bay Area for Art Center in LA.  Several weeks before I left for school, coming home from work one day, the little car filled with smoke as well as trailing behind, clanking sputtering and running very badly.  All the piston rings were broken.  Old engine.  I had to rebuild it in my folk’s garage, using some of my college money set aside, and in a week and a half.  Did what I could in the rebuild, pretty much everything renewed except the SU carburetors, which were very expensive.  And aside from a few mishaps during the next four years, that little car got me all the way through college, not to mention driving back and forth from the Bay Area on semester breaks and summers, and also many miles on the LA freeways in later semesters when I was working at Disneyland doing portraits for my college tuition and expenses.  At one point about halfway through school, I realized that if I could tear out the steel bulkhead dividing the trunk from the rear seats, and remove those seats, I would have a little station wagon/truck.  With much more room to haul my stuff between apartment moving, and going back and forth to home during semester breaks.  I found some used commercial grade carpet in a large trash bin beside an office complex.  In perfectly good shape, no doubt some executive remodeling his office.  Took a large chunk of it back to the apartment, first off thinking I could use it on my shanty room floor.  Then I got the idea of remodeling my car.  Lucked out that a service station mechanic let me borrow his electric hammer chisel, which I used to cut out the steel bulkhead.  A few scraps of wood and a piece of plywood from the lumberyard and… I had a nice large flat area from the rear of the front seats all the way to the back trunk lid!  Wow!  Then I carpeted it.  I could even sleep back there if I ever needed.  And later on, I did need too.  During later semesters I had landed myself a job working at Disneyland doing watercolor portraits.  Compared to all the other odd jobs I had done in previous years, this was great.  I earned $1.57 per portrait, no hourly wage.  Slow times, little money.  Busy times, more money, and as much as you could possibly do in eight-hour shifts, as long as you were producing saleable portraits.  And this was Disneyland, where there were standards for such things, and strict on other workplace rules as well.  During busy times, I got up to one portrait every 15 minutes.  At the time, this was great money for me, and was a real help towards my college expenses.  But I was still living very poor to make it all work.  One time my car battery finally gave up.  Car would not start one night in the Disneyland employee parking lot, at about 1:30 in the morning.  And I was needing to get home, driving from there in Anaheim, all the way back to my apartment, at that time in a crappy area of Hollywood.  Luckily, the Disneyland parking lot crew (in a wrecking tow truck) who do this as their job (thousands of employees getting off work all the time, going to thousands of cars in the lots) saw me as I waved them down.  They push started me, and I was on my way home.  When getting back home, I found a place to park where I was on a hill pointed downwards.  The problem was, I did not have enough money to replace the battery till next payday, and I had to get to school, and back to work a few times before then.  Well, it worked out ok for a while.  Next time I went to work, and getting off at the same late time early in the morning, I flagged the tow truck boys down again, and they again push started me.  Still had to wait for a new battery.  Went to work the next time, got off the same time, flagged the ‘boys’ down again…. And they drove right by me.  OK… I guess they’d had enough of poor boy with the old Volvo.  So, I could not do anything else but sleep in the car in the parking lot overnight.  Luckily, I was to work again the next day, and starting in the morning shift this time, and would receive my paycheck at the end of that shift, early enough to have a friend drive me to a branch of my bank to cash my paycheck, and then take me to get a battery.  Got up in the morning, walked out of the lot and down a few streets to a drug store, picked up a cheap toothbrush and shaver.  Went to a gas station bathroom, shaved, and ‘freshened up a bit’.

Most of the ‘apartments’ I lived in during my four years at college, cost between $65.00 and $85.00 per month.  And when I said ‘one room’, I should have also said… it was usually a very tiny room.  One place I stayed in for one semester was an old brick apartment building quite a ways from school, down in the old and dirty part of LA.  A very low end and dismal area, at least at the time back then.  But I had to find something fast, and this was the only place I could locate.  The building was probably built in the 20’s or 30’s, was eight stories high, and was on a block next to other buildings of the same sort, all within several feet of one another.  Sort of what one would expect in parts of New York.  Drunks literally laying in the street gutter in front of the place, dirty streets etc.  But hey…it was $85.00 a month, and had a large room this time, furnished, all-be-it with 50 year old furniture, had a kitchen with table and two chairs, and…. Its very own Murphy fold down bed!  Wow!  So I took it and moved in.  Shortly thereafter to realize that my one window looked into a narrow man-made brick canyon, about three feet from the next towering brick building, and all the windows from it opening to the same ugly, and noisy, chasm.  And then, there were the cockroaches. Oh man.  And then, there was the earthquake that hit the LA area in 70 or 71.  I was on semester break at the time, in the Bay Area working a job.  Drove back to LA and my apartment, getting there very late at night, parked the car, and saw signs on a few of the neighboring brick buildings -- ‘Condemned -- Do Not Enter’.  But I did not see such a sign on my building, so I proceeded in, up the elevator to my 6th floor apartment, and went down the hall, past cracks in the walls and ceiling, to my door.  Unlocked with my key, turned the old handle, pushed the door.. and it would not open. Pushed again, and much harder, and got it to slowly budge open enough for me to get in and turn the light switch on.  The building and these apartments were all finished inside with lath and plaster, and had high ceilings -- All real luxury appointments when they were built and new.  The large cabinet in the living room had walked itself to blocking the door, which had been the problem.  Plaster all over the floors, ceiling cracks, wall cracks.  Kitchen cabinet doors flung open and some dishes crashed onto the floor, refrigerator walked outwards into the floor.  Oh well…. It was still livable, and I could clean it all up.  But… with the aftershocks still going on, and being in that building, and on the sixth floor, I went to bed with my clothes on for the next several nights.  On the way out of the building the next morning, the apartment manager asked if I wanted to make some money.  I said, “Sure, but doing what?”.  “I need someone to get on a ladder and go into each hallway, from the 1st floor to the 8th floor, and patch up cracks in the ceilings and walls, for $1.00 an hour”.  “Oh, ok yes I will do that, you bet”.  As I was doing that work one day, on one of the upper floors, one of the earthquake aftershocks happened.  Hanging hall lights all the way down the long hall swinging back and forth, and here I am on a ladder, and in this rickety old brick building.  Well, I survived that semester, although it was rough also because the gal I had fallen naively in love with had mailed her ring back to me in a brown box, and with no note, during that semester. The upset detracted me from my work at school.  But I had to re-focus and get with the program.  This was my future, my goal, my pursuit of the ‘opportunities’ to a good life that awaited me, from all the hard work and sacrifice.  So I went forward with it. 

Most all of the people I knew at Art Center, fellow students, were not in the same sort of living circumstances as I was.  All with reasonably nice to very nice apartments, nicer to much nicer vehicles, etc. etc.  Many already married and with wives or husbands who had jobs supporting them and the college expenses, and some using their military GI. Bill education benefits.  I never complained, or wasted time comparing though.  I was on my own mission, was going to do it one-way or the other, and in the end it would all be worth it.  When I was a boy, I was raised being told -- “You can do anything you want to do in this country, and be successful at it.  “As long as you work hard, be responsible, are honest, obey the law, treat others fairly, get a good education, and strive to become the very best you can be in what you choose to do, whatever it may be.  If you work hard and are willing to sacrifice when you have to, you will do well.”  Looking back, while the teachings were well intended, and may have related (better) to things in the USA during my folks generation, and/or to other professions, I discovered many years later, such things are not at all necessarily true by any means. 

I graduated from Art Center in 1973 with my BFA degree, and was so ready to get going with my career.  I was of the all-so-typical belief of a new graduate, that now, having the skills I had from four years of college, I knew everything I needed to know to make a way for myself and to be successful.  How incredibly wrong I was!  Perhaps I will do another topic sometime, taking up where I am leaving off here, with experiences after Art Center.  In short, after Art Center, the hard work and major sacrificing went on for many years, sticking with the passion, never quitting.  And while now, for some years I have had to put much of it on the proverbial ‘back burner’, from crossroads coming up in life and a down and dirty need to put food on the table -- I retain all of my desires and passions with the hope to get back to my work completely. 

Those years at school were hard and required a full commitment, but they were wonderful. A great school, where all the instructors were among the best of the best, the students all committed to the reason they were there. The only thing I regret is that Art Center did not teach anything at all about business, and more specifically doing the business side of art. There were a fair amount of people who started Art Center who never graduated, either because they could not handle the rigor of it, or decided they did not have enough commitment to following through.  The actual number of people who have graduated from AC with a degree, is from what I hear a fairly exclusive ‘club’ of sorts.  Even though it remains as one of the top art and design colleges in the world, and has many alumni having attained great notoriety for themselves in their chosen field of art or design.  People in general, even including many artists, have never heard of the school, probably because on the scale of other colleges it is quite small, and also is a private college. Those that do happen to know of it, and telling them you have your degree from the school, usually exclaim - “ You went to Art Center, and got your degree there - wow!”.  I have to say that of the things I have been able to accomplish in life thus far, having successfully obtained my degree from that school is something that I am very proud of.
I guess a few of the points in sharing this part of my life and experience is that -- 1.) I’ve learned over many years that many people (particularly those who are not artists) can tend to think that artists do not work hard, including in any time/effort spent to get educated (In all time spent in learning/developing your skills, which goes on after college, but also for those who did endeavor to getting a degree).  I am among many whose own experiences would seriously challenge those kinds of notions.  In the same vein, there are many in society who do not view an artist’s/creative persons work as a real “job”, and, can even have the audacity to say… “Go get a real job”.  That is nonsense, and as I used to tell my students -- “Develop a thick skin to such things, because you are likely to hear it from people, including possibly your neighbors and even family… they just do not understand, and many of them don’t want too, as they go about degrading you downwards, to raise themselves up, using what they do/have done as the benchmark to what work is and a ‘real job is - or is not.”
2.) I’ve also learned that there are many professional artists, as well as ‘hobbyists’ (those who do art for fun and part-time, not as a living), who have no idea how some other professionals such as myself have had to sacrifice so much and work so hard in order to get to wherever it is that we have come to, both in the quality level of our art, and/or to whatever economic level we have been able to achieve… or not achieve.  I’m glad for anyone who has developed his or her art well, and has had success economically with it in life.  There are some who have done both of these extremely well, and even if they have been lucky and fortunate enough to have circumstances in life making that road comparatively much easier -- even so, accomplishing such goals are very hard and serious-discipline oriented things to do.
                                                 Wayne S.  -- 2010

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