DESIGN / always

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After high school I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I spent 1973 traveling around Europe on $5 a day, visiting all the major museums and art galleries, seeing work that I’d only seen in mimeographs or Xeroxes in my high school art classes, and discovering that the rest of the world was very different from Sydney, Australia. When I got back I enrolled in art school without having a clue what that entailed. The classes in the first year were fine arts classes: life drawing, sculpture and painting. I had no natural aptitude and did quite poorly. Then they overhauled the system and they split the school into a design school and a fine arts school. It was clear by now that fine arts was not my calling so I opted for the design school and chose graphic design in preference to industrial and interior design. I had no idea what graphic design was.

first animated filmI stumbled through the next three years favoring classes like screen-printing and animation, and tolerating the more commercial aspects of graphic design. I developed a drawing style that suited my abilities; and I got a good foundation in a wide range of skills. It also changed my focus as a visual artist. I now saw art as a way to express myself and communicate an idea or story visually, and not as something decorative. It was about concept. It had to have meaning.

I moved to New York shortly after I graduated and through a random connection got a job in a small company that did audio-visual productions. It was a new medium, and having an understanding of animation was very useful. There were huge banks of slide projectors that were programmed so that the slides would form the illusion of movement. They comprised photos, type and graphics. My first job was researching and designing a slide show for the Museum of the City of New York on the history of the city. Interesting work, but the company that hired me was on Long Island and the hours were long.

audio-visual slideshowEventually I got work in the city with design companies that had mainly corporate clients. This didn’t suit my sensibility so I opted for the less stressful side of the medium, which was the artwork. I enjoyed the precision of technical drawing with a rapidograph, cutting masks with an exacto knife, using tools like triangles, French curves and compasses. The work was reliable and it kept me afloat for years. It was on a per project basis so I could control my schedule enough to go to aikido each day, go to band rehearsal at night, and take time off to work on a film.

Very pregnant Ruth, 1989By 1989 PowerPoint was replacing hand done slides. When I was pregnant with Nell I made a shitload of money overseeing the people who had the skills to make PowerPoint slides but had no eye for design. This was good timing, as my belly was too big to be able to work at a drawing board. This money and a film grant kept me solvent in the years between the births of my children.

In the early 1990s computers took over the industry. After I had Eve in 1993, I went through the necessary but painful process of learning how to use a computer for my design work. As I had two little kids, I no longer wanted to go into design studios. I wanted the flexibility of working at home. I’d also had my fill of corporate clients. I slowly built a business working with various non-profit organizations, arts organizations and artists. Not as lucrative as I would have liked, but there was purpose to this work. My clients were making a positive contribution to our society.

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