Growing up, I was constantly scolded by my mother for sitting too close to the television set. I’m sure we were all told the same thing sometime during our young lives. “It will ruin your eyes,” she would yell at me from the other room. Today, as I type this, I sit with a 20-inch monitor positioned less than a foot from my face. It is a key component of the primary tool used by today’s commercial artists and it allows me the opportunity to be both creative and put food on the table each day. My monitor is basically as big as the TV set I used to watch. Only now Mom’s proud. She doesn’t yell anymore. Her son makes ads and designs things and is getting paid well for it. However this was never my intention. I never believed that I would be sitting so close to a radiation-spewing box anytime in my career. I’m sure in the back of my mind that mom was right and man, do I have a love/hate relationship with the beast in front of me.
Why? Because after 4 years of art school studying typography, colour, life-drawing, layout and the like to get into this industry, what do I do everyday? I punch keys. Now don’t get me wrong, I still love what I do and wouldn’t change my choice of career for the world but the computer is definitely not my first choice of tools.
Looking around my office, one would notice that it is divided into two sides. On one side sits my desk with my hard-drive, monitor, scanner, keyboard, etc. All the electronic toys one could want. This is where I spend around 12 hours of my day working on my projects – one hand on the mouse, the other on the keyboard. There is definite skill involved and many are convinced they have it, as we observe by the numbers currently roaming the streets looking for work. It seems that anyone with design programs on their computer and a basic working knowledge of them considers themselves a professional.
On the other side of my office is the real reason I got into this industry. My drafting table sits ready and waiting. Its companion, an extremely cool, rolling studio cabinet loaded with shelves and drawers containing hundreds of Design markers, circle and ellipse templates, Rapidographs, brushes, drawing cleaning powders, inks, coloured pencils and everything else that can be found at an artist supply store, all collecting dust since their former days of glory. I remember those days like they were only yesterday - because they were - and it’s amazing to me how this industry has changed in only a decade.
I went to the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art and Design) in the late eighties and considered myself an artist. We all did. We were accepted into school based on our portfolios. Not our finances. We were then hired in the industry because we had skills others didn’t. Skills that could not be learned by taking a weekend crash course at a “design institute”. I was judged on the street not only on my book but on how tight my illustrated layouts were. I was a “wrist” and could produce an ad to present to the client with a handful of markers that looked like the future finished piece. Many crumpled up sheets of paper lay on the floor of my office because I didn’t feel I had nailed a pose just right. Luckily, 8 years of life drawing classes (4 in high school, 4 in art school) paid off. I would leave the office at the end of each day high on magic marker fumes with my palms a rainbow of colours from brushing the layouts. I had rubber cement and wax on my arms (remember the hot wax machine?), and nicks and paper cuts on my fingers from the various blades and mounting boards. I have to admit that those were the days when I was the happiest in this profession. The industry magazines were full of want ads for creatives with these skills. But this is not the case anymore.
Thanks to the computer, courses are offered to the masses and schools are pumping out “art directors” and “designers” on what seems to be a production line. Where my graduating class spoke of Ems and Picas, todays speak Adobe. The new breed have clean, slick books, not because they can handle a colourless blender but because Kinkos has a new high-tech colour laser. They will never experience an all-nighter laying type with Letraset, or brushing eraser bits from their layouts and I will forever feel somewhat sorry for them.
I don’t really know what possesses me to keep all of my art supplies. Besides creating the odd illustration now and then, I don’t really have much use for them. I guess I keep all of it out of a hope that one day, the medium might change and we’ll go back to basics. I know that this is only a pipe dream. Perhaps the real reason is that it represents a sense of pride in my background and showcases the skills upon which this industry was founded.
In front of me I also have a small arrangement of metal letters that are joined together to spell out my name. The letters are from an original Gutenberg printing press and they were a gift from a mentor at an advertising agency where I used to work. My guess is that he gave them to me because he shared the same appreciation of which I speak. They sit on top of my monitor. All of my art supplies may one day be put on the curb but the letters will always remain with me as my reminder and tribute to yesteryear.