In 1989 I got sober, and moved to Minnesota.
I wound up finishing my degree at The Minneapolis College of Art and Design because I wanted to stay near my halfway house. In a lot of ways, MCAD was a problem for me and I was a problem for MCAD. I seemed to be the only New Yorker there, and I was unable to parse the passive-aggressive Minnesota Nice culture or the conceptual art school culture. I considered myself a craftsperson, a person being professionally trained for a commercial career as a comic artist, which was a form of commercial illustration.
But the commercial illustration track at MCAD had already switched to digital for the most part.
There were terrific resources for people who wanted to enter the nascent world of digital graphic design; I was not one of those people. So my track wound up being Fine Art, because that’s where the drawing classes were. The fact that I had to take Painting classes too was a bug, not a feature, for me. I was deeply uncomfortable doing anything new or different, anything that got in the way of my progress towards a job in comics (particularly using color!), and I was also volatile, rageful and doing deep therapy work about CSA.
I got in a lot of conflict with the MCAD faculty.
Luckily, I had a wonderful teacher who got past my resistance and fear around color, and I really had fun with his assignments.
I took the one series of Illustration classes that were focused on traditional drawing, and they were taught by a marvelous man named Tom Garrett. He was a tremendous teacher, one of those teachers that all students love. We did illustration assignments in the stages an agency would expect, roughs to comps to finals, and Tom always managed to make it fun and interesting.
Most importantly, I who almost never felt safe anywhere felt safe in Tom Garrett’s class.
It was a safe space, where someone like me, who could out-draw everyone in the room, was the same as all the “Why Can’t Johnny Draw” kids, as I called them. And they were the same as me, and I could see the value of their different skills and visions and understandings of the assignments. We worked hard, but I also felt playful, something I’d never felt before in art school. You can see me explore color, style and mark-making in these assignments.
They say that one supportive adult can make all the difference to a damaged child.
I know a lot of my resilience comes from the fact that throughout my life I have had many, many supportive adults and teachers and professional adults who saw past my rage, brittleness, inappropriateness and struggle to function. All those people cared for me, steered me and mentored me.
Tom Garrett was one of the most important mentors and supporters in my career.
Having a space to play with composition, color and mark-making was a huge factor in my being able to do progressively more intuitive work in my Fine Art classes. I was really deeply afraid of creative failure, judgement, and exposure (of my soul, I guess?) when I got to MCAD. Three of my teachers there changed things for me: Tom Garrett, painting teacher Elizabeth Erickson, and Fine Arts Dean Hazel Belvo. Teachers who make safe spaces do an incredible thing.
I think you can actually see how safe and supported I felt in the classroom assignments.
Traditional, agency-style illustration assignments involved a concept, roughs on the concept that are reviewed by the client, comps that approximate the final, and a final. Hence the many iterations on what may seem like odd themes!
Tom was the person who suggested I become a courtroom artist, which led to me having a professional art career before I even finished school!
He was convinced I’d be good at it, and I carried that conviction to my interviews at the tv stations, drawing samples, and going to work for local CBS affiliate WCCO. I made a good living and I was really good at it, and my drawings were on CNN when I was just 25.
I was so fond of Tom I made him a coconut cream pie (his favorite!) for the last day of our last class together!
It was the first time I made custard, and I was very nervous it wouldn’t work, but it did, and I brought the pie to class. Thank you always, Tom. A good teacher is beyond price.
These last two are the ones everyone liked best out of all the work I did in Tom’s classes!
Only two of these paintings have ever been photographed; no record of the others existed – if we had a fire or flood they would just be gone forever.
I am incredibly grateful to my Patreon Patrons, whose monthly financial support makes it possible for me to take time to document my art archives.
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