this and that

I was asked a few questions regarding my "reinvention" and liked where my notes were going . I figured I would post this just as a reminder to myself and maybe it might be of some interest to you. Here goes.

I had a bucket list when I graduated from college. We didn’t call it a bucket list…and it was something I did not talk about…it was just a series of milestones to stretch for. I wanted a range of experiences and a broad range of project types before I settled down. By the time I was 28, I had pretty much completed the list and couldn’t figure out the next steps. I got great projects and great jobs after the bucket list was done— work that I never, ever had anticipated—so in a stretch for me, I decided to stop planning my future and to see what would happen. I figured if I could put effort into it, I could figure out the work and do it.

My business, Luckystone Partners, has been in business since 1997.  We are a small business but have had some pretty significant projects and opportunities. One was with a national client. We changed their brand, their packaging, their entire look and feel in 24 direct mail catalogs a year using an ancient collection of product photography with remote art direction of new products (photographer in NYC, us in the Finger Lakes). We were a solid vendor for this client and they pushed the limits of our 3 man team—with the traditional unreasonable deadlines, adding to projects that they would not pay for etc. Reverse auction pricing. A headache, but a good headache as it paid the bills. They got a fancy PR person from NYC who said she could not promote the look/feel that we were using because it was not done by a significant design team. The client decided that they would be nice and have me bid on the work I had been doing for the past 3 years against this significant leviathan design group. Versus going through the process of presentations and quotations on work I was performing (and frankly, knowing too much about the organization), I met with management and bowed out of the work saying that I understood their needs but also understood their desire to change. It was no hard feelings and that I was down the road if they needed me. It was very nice and frankly, for me, extremely liberating as every spare minute of my time was working for this account (on a retail schedule —read Christmas/Holiday was done in the summer) and burning out due to the other clients we had. There was no let up. So when I got that time back….I found I was feeling very stale, very blunted and not excited about my work. 

So, I started trolling the internet for a class, something to mix things up a bit. I didn’t know what, but I needed a change I had been at the graphic design game for well on 20 years and was not giving back to myself. I was the composer of other people’s symphonies. I was the arranger of other people’s messages. I was not in my work….


I found that Syracuse University had a limited residency program to get a MA in either advertising or illustration. This program was unique as it was 2 weeks in Syracuse in the summer, a week in the spring, a week in the fall (in other locations) that focused on mid-career people (many were educators). It was a question of advertising or illustration.  Advertising was already in my wheelhouse, so I opted for illustration as it was a scary stretch and something a professor at college had warned me to never advance (why is beyond me, but I listened). So, I sent in my money and waited. The first two weeks were paralyzing. The Syracuse Illustration MA was the Harvard MBA of the illustration world and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. There were gold and silver medal winners of the Society of Illustrators in every year. There were celebrated educators, painters, illustrators who could “do” Norman Rockwell. There were illustrators and cartoonists from MAD magazine to Boys Life. There were illustrators who did the work for Celestial Seasonings Tea. There were character illustrators who did Mr. Clean. The Con celebrities (Magic the game) were shoulder to shoulder with me.  The bar was plenty high. So, I grew….and struggled and grew. I discovered that I could compete and found a spot with this new community of people. I developed a vector illustration style—which resonated with me, and became a distinct look. I learned that the distance between illustration and graphic design was a hairs breadth, and that both solved visual problems except that the illustrator could have more of a voice and a point of view that as a designer (at least my generation) held back to allow the message to take center stage. I started entering shows with my classmates to find that the work got the recognition my graphic work did not. This was crazy—I was having fun, having a lot of self discovery and really pushing my work.


I wanted to continue this process so enrolled in the Hartford Art School (University of Hartford). They would take my SU credits and in a year, I could have a MFA in illustration. I wanted to continue to work with my mentor, Murray Tinkelman, founder of the Syracuse program who had migrated to HAS. I wanted to see if I could work in a new technique (hand drawing supplemented with digital) and build a body of decorative illustration. Hartford was a different and far more broadening experience—that gave me the space to evolve and develop a personal voice integrating illustration and picture-making into something  I use to speak to myself. I was able to wrap my head around what I was finally doing, I was re-inventing myself for an encore career (a new idea), where I could continue to do my work as a graphic designer (to keep my head in the game and candidly, to pay the bills) but to begin to migrate to new markets, new opportunities, new projects that might not come my way as a designer. I am now doing illustration work too—and find my graphic work is bending to being more decorative and integrating more illustration into it.

I do not know if I have reinvented myself because I did not know the end point (nor do I now) I know that this may be an evolution, but it was not planned—and it was a difficult birth. I think in order for me to change, I needed to get bored and see the person I was evolving to—and know that this was not the place I wanted to go. Self awareness was key—but also getting to the place where life experiences had trained me to take measured risks that others might not take. My thinking (and preaching) is that the bigger the risk, the greater the reward (measured and researched risks, but risk none the less). That first step into thin air is terrifying.  Going back to school albeit after the fact is one of the best things I have done for myself, at the time—was horrifying as I had to lay everything at the door, take down the walls and  be open to change. I was very nervous and fearful—and really could not articulate why I was doing this work, but knew I had to….committed the time and focus to move the needle focusing on my education the way I focused on work for other clients….only for myself. And now I am a changed creative. I can do more, and have the confidence to do so— My work and focus have changed along with my thinking of my next chapter of illustrator/designer. I haven’t left anything behind, but am building my future on a solid past with me, in the center of the equation.