My Road to Creativity, 9: Graduate School

There were only three of us in the master’s program so our studio classes consisted of  independent study assignments which required me to do research into both present day and historical design styles, most which were based on the Swiss Design, a rigid but elegant system dating back from pre-world war two. 

After the first world war, Europe changed, cultural norms and politics were shattered from previous centuries of monarchial rule to democratic societies. New art forms emerged challenging the rigid rules of the elite, new poetry and prose from new writers emerged, all changing forever how one would see and understand the world. Russian designers like el Lizzitsky and Rodchenko, influenced by the Marxists created a new hard edged design dynamic.

The Swiss in their neutral, structured society, took all this and formulated it into what was known as Swiss Design which was hard edge, moving away from the more artistic posters such as Frenchman, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

I found all this exciting and absorbed anything I could find on this time period, all of which was limited at that time. There was no internet or scholarly tomes on history of graphic design. What information existed took digging through what journals and books I could find in the library. I loved the research but when it came to doing actual design, I clutched. It grabbed me in the chest like a huge clamp to where I could hardly breath. 

The pressure was too much for me. I worked day and night sketching ideas I found sad and banal. Eventually, suffering through creative agony, I would shamefully show and discuss my work with my major professor who encouraged me and directed me towards solutions that turned out to be rather good. I started to grow and gain some confidence.

On the other hand, my two other graduate school colleagues seemed to come up with great solutions with ease. I felt intimidated but forged ahead, feeding off of them and all my research.

Spring quarter came to an end and I presented my work with the others. I felt like a failure compared to what they had done, but I received good grades and moved on. I continued my studies through the summer doing more independent studies and attending a design conference in Chicago, hoping some great enlightenment might rub off on me. 

I bought new Nikon FM camera and began photographing everything I could find that I saw as good design. I hung those photos in my workspace, trying to understand what it was that I saw in them as good design. I waded through what periodicals I could find. While I started to see and understand good design, when it came to doing it, I still froze and creating my own design solutions was like pulling teeth.

In construction work, I knew how to put a building together. There was a logical method to all the aspects of understanding the foundation, the structure, scheduling, and so on. It was formulaic in many ways. I was looking for a formula for design and there was none. There were basic principles and understanding, but there was no cut and dried formula. It took creativity in thinking and in action. I was struggling now as I did as an undergraduate.

Running and meditation had become spotty and after a while, totally disappeared from my schedule. All I did was immerse myself in work, work, and more work. I rarely got home to see my family. There was singular goal for me, become a designer, a good designer. However with everything else slipping away, I still managed to still keep up with writing in my journal. But I had read nary a novel or anything. nothing other than design tomes, 

Fall quarter came and I was given a teaching assistantship along with a shared office in the Design Center which held the departments of Architecture, Landscape Design, Urban Design, and Art and Design which was the umbrella for Graphic Design, Art and Crafts, and Interior Design. Along with an office, I would receive a small monthly stipend. 

The stipend was a blessing as my savings were being eaten away. The last few years in my construction job had been bountiful in terms of earning money, I earned a lot of money. My wife was still working and I was living a meager existence, but still, outgo was greater than income and any money I could earn was a blessing.

The young woman in the program and I were tapped to develop and teach a foundations course for freshmen. She was a brilliant artist while I had had the basic understanding of the gritty foundations and together we created what we thought was a good syllabus for the quarter. It was a great experience. We each had a section of twenty students. We sat in on each other’s studios and shared our thoughts and ideas. We had a successful quarter. I found that I loved teaching and the experience fueled my design juices. 

I was loving academia. The University was a giant bastion of knowledge, engineering, agriculture, science, and, of course, design. It was like I was absorbing knowledge by osmosis, just by being here. There was a dynamic energy I felt deep down in my very being.

But now with a teaching schedule taking up a goodly part of my time, I had to work even longer hours. I never made it home anymore. It was hard, but I was more determined than ever to succeed.

But by the end of fall quarter, I was run down exhausted, and a mess after spending so many nights trying to get all my work finished. I hadn’t had a decent nights sleep in forever. I got a bad cold and cough, but I completed my work and went to bed for a week. Not very welcome at home anymore, I was alone and miserable.

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