Reflections on a multimedia career…

All through my post-secondary education (four frantic, sleep-deprived, incredible years at art college), I seldom knew exactly what I wanted to do in art and design. I just knew what ideas excited me.

In the summer of 1985, once I learned that I was accepted the the Emily Carr College of Art and Design (after I peeled myself off the ceiling), I started to do a few things.

First I panicked, thinking “Gawd – can I do this?” I got over that phase.

Next, I began to imagine what it would be like to be an art student. Unfortunately, nothing but stereotypical images of painting and drawing came to my mind.

Finally, I realized that I needed to prepare myself in a few ways. I needed to assemble my portfolio and I needed to develop a little confidence, so I took a life drawing course at a small studio on Granville Island. I blushed self-consciously while trying to avoid the eyes of the nude model. I scribbled, muttered to myself, and produced a bunch of weak and tentative scribbles that I probably threw out later. As I was packing up to leave, I looked to the model as she was reaching for her robe, and she shot me a smile and a knowing look that both reassured me and told me that she knew just how green I was. I laughed on the inside, and walked home feeling some pride in having tried in my first life drawing class. I proudly announced to my Dad that I had done my first life drawing class. Once Dad realized that “life drawing” involved a nude model, he became very angry, growling “Why can’t you just draw fruit?!” Screw him, I thought. I was proud of myself. It wouldn’t be long before Dad felt proud too. That was pretty cool.

Fortunately, I passed my portfolio interview (and I still don’t know how I got through), and began Foundation (first year) studies at Emily Carr.

One of the first places where things really clicked for me was in Foundation Computer class. Even though it was 1985, and we were using Commodore 64s (and in one class, I swear to god I had a Vic-20 with a datasette), I became fascinated by those little machines that were capable of turning key-presses into little glowing blocks of colour and shape. I remember trying to memorize MS Basic character string functions like “Chr$(32)”, and trying to understand how BASIC worked. A year later, the college bought dozens of Macs, Amigas and Atari ST PCs, and we all began using mice and creating real computer-based graphics and animation.

I also began to consider the schism within myself: artistic and instinctual on the one side (my Mother), and structural and technical on the other side (my Father). Early on, I did not know how to reconcile these two aspects of my personality, but I knew that they would co-exist, and eventually, I developed the idea that they would interact or influence each other in some way.

In the following years, I developed a keen interest in multimedia, animation and video, and began to learn how these technologies were gradually converging (read Stewart Brand’s book “The Media Lab”). I absorbed as much media theory as my instructor Gary Lee Nova provided, got technical help designing simple electronic circuits from Dennis Vance, and studied on my own a lot (relationships between art, science and technology, cybernetics).

More than any other teacher I’ve had, Dr. Tom Hudson was a massive influence on me throughout my art student years. Under Tom’s tutelage and inspiration, I learned about visual literacy, and undertook experiments in colour and drawing in the Bauhaus and British post-war traditions. The main difference was that all my “vis-lit” research for Tom was executed on a microcomputer, using a commercial paint program. We were actually exploring and developing work in computer-based visual literacy. This extracurricular research work was used in Tom’s educational television series “Mark and Image”, and also published in two of his academic articles for the British Journal of Art and Design Education. These events remain my academic high-water marks, and form the springboard of my interest and development as a digital designer.

By a couple of years after graduation, I was developing icons, layouts and animations for the user interface of what was to become North America’s first home-based banking system. From there, my interest in GUI design and web design was born. Since that time, I’ve enjoyed working with software designers on GUI design projects for TV, game consoles, PC and web-based applications. The essentials of visual literacy, colour, design, perception, and user expectations have all been developed and refined through those practical, real-world design projects.

Now, 21 years after graduating from the ECCAD four year program and receiving my diploma in fine arts, I look at the preponderance of digital media and information systems in the world around me, and I’m amazed at how much that culture and technology have converged, and have even seemed to become practically inseparable.

I think that good digital design is more important than ever, and being able to work in multiple media, multiple formats and multiple modes of thought (artistic, technical, exploratory, practical) seems to me to be more important than ever.

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