Under The Influence

Julie/Mothergoosemouse tagged me for this meme a few weeks ago, where she discusses people who had a huge impact on her, and seeing as she is coming for dinner tomorrow night – I better get on it. My first instinct was to talk about one of my college professors, and even though he wasn’t all warm and fuzzy like Julie’s example, I figured gut instincts are usually correct.

Don was my main graphic design professor throughout college and since I went to a teensy school, we ended up on a first name basis. Not that I ever really felt we were friends, we certainly became colleagues – and I definitely learned a hellofalot from him.

Our first assignment in our first graphic design class was to cut out black paper squares, circles and triangles and arrange them for presentation in various design relations. All touching, all not touching, overlapping, etc. There were 10 variations in all, if I remember correctly. During the class when they were due, he made us present them all in front of the class – as we would then do forevermore in any of our classes in college, but the first time is always the hardest. Don slowly walked past all the black shapes on the board, inspecting them carefully, did a couple laps, and then began to remove many of them, one after another.

When he was finished, he said, “the ones I took down are not even good enough to discuss.”

That was one of the nicest things he said that day.

Cruel? Yes. But, when you are going after a profession where every day – EVERY DAY – people will make stupid ass comments about your work, judge it on factors they don’t even comprehend… there comes the time to get a thick skin. And also to not do ANYTHING half-ass.

Sure, I still get my feelings hurt, but nowhere near what it would have been without Don. Not to mention all the design principles I learned, things obviously many other people in the biz did NOT learn – based on what I see out there in the world today.

And eventually the praise came too. Which only made it more sweet.

Once semester, he grudgingly told my friend Caroline and I that we both would be receiving A’s in his Illustration class… something usually only reserved the THE top student (apparently we tied). I’ll never forget the incredulous look Caroline and I gave each other as he walked away.

So, there it is. Sometimes you learn the most – about yourself and about your profession – from the biggest asshole in the room.


I have trouble tagging people for memes, so I tag anyone and everyone who would like to write about this subject! Tell us who had a big impact on you!

This article has 11 comments

  1. Sarah

    I had teachers like that too. Tough but fair. Great post.

  2. caroline

    how can this flood me with sooo many memories (mostly bad? kidding). malt ball city!!!!

  3. mothergoosemouse

    It’s true, isn’t it? The people who are your toughest critics are often your best teachers as well.

  4. zipper

    my major influence was a hard ass too..

  5. Jules

    Truer words have never been said. You are be describing one of my design professors to a T!!! That first crit was always horrifying to sit through. So much discomfort throughout the entire class. Makes me shudder, just looking back!
    House of Jules

  6. lauren

    Interesting projects that you describe.

  7. carrie

    So true.

    I’ll bet he’d be honored to read this now!

  8. Anonymous

    very cool post, thanks.

  9. soccer mom in denial

    Terrific post. I may just play along (I’ll let you know if I do).

  10. Melissa

    Sounds like my fav Design teacher as well, John Swindell. I had fake nails and the first day of class he walked right up to me, held up my hands for everyone in the class to see and said, “if you want to be serious about your craft, these will NEVER do!” I got rid of them that night. He pushed and pushed and pushed and taught me to always look at taking things one step further. I was a bit timid when I started his class but I left proud and confident in my abilities. It didn’t hurt that I worked my ass off and loved every second of it. I respected him immensely because he saw through all of the bullshit posers and those that thought art would be an *easy* major to coast through. Ha!

  11. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Thanks all! And Caroline, NOT BAD! We rocked! 😉

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