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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Loss of a Great Man

Robert McCullough was one of my college Professors back at Old Dominion University. He was a very intimidating man, that's for sure. I first had Robert when I started Graphic Design in summer school. I had changed my major 3 times at ODU before I finally decided what I was going to do. I loved art, always have, but didn't want to be the "typical starving artist." So when I got to ODU, I started majoring in Computer Science and minoring in art. Since there was never anything in the Course Catalogue for Graphic Design, then that's what I did...kind of made my own. That didn't work out so well for me, so then I switched over to a different program that allowed you to "design" your own degree. So I started designing a graphic-design type of degree. Well, you had to get approval from other teachers to be able to do this. As I went around getting signatures, one teacher told me that I should be doing a degree in Graphic Design. I was like, "what??!!...there is one??!" Why hadn't anyone told me? So that's how I ended up in design. Anywhoo, back to Robert.

Since I still wanted to finish college in 4 years, I decided to take a lot of summer school classes to catch myself up after all those wasted classes from the previous majors. That's when I met Robert. He saw my schedule, I had Graphic Design 2 & 3 that summer and I believe Typography too. He said I would be overwhelmed and asked if I was sure I wanted to do that. I think since then, that's when I was added to his trouble-students list. He wanted me to take each class during a normal semester, not the summer. But I questioned, why offer it in the summer then? Oh yeah, for kids like me, who want to cram it all in...that's right.
So I had a full summer with Robert. I had graphic design, then I got married that summer on a Saturday, then started that Monday with Robert in design again. Folks to this day still tell me I spent my honeymoon with Robert...haha.

Robert was always especially hard on me. I always struggled with typography. I dont know why, I just didn't think "type" was interesting to me. It's just "words and letters right?" is what I'd say to myself. But Robert showed me "the light", he taught me that there is more to a font than just reading it. It can be an art. I still struggled in that class, but Robert would occasionally look over my shoulder, and he literally took my mouse one class and increased the leading on a poster to like 100 for a 20 point font. I was wondering what the heck he was doing. And after I saw it, I realized, it looked awesome! All that space just worked! He winked, and walked away, never said a word. I remember some of my projects being ripped from the walls due to their lack of "quality design" and well, lack of spray mount on the corners. Sigh...i hated spray mount, still do. I picked that stuff out from under my nails for days.

I never really got A's in Roberts class until I started doing the multimedia stuff, that's where I think I found my niche, but didn't realize it then. Robert realized it, but I still didn't see it. I took my first multimedia class with him called Hypermedia (I think that's what it was called....wasn't it Leslie?). Anywhoo, I did awesome in that class. I remember designing a webpage for Harley Davidson, and Robert came over and said, "that is excellent, now how come you couldn't do that in print class (meaning one of those graphic design classes)." I think I said something along the lines of "I dont know, I guess I just like it more?". He smiled and walked away. Wow...2 smiles!!! I was surprised. I had a 3D class with him where I would stay practically overnight some nights to finish projects. I would multi-task between rendering and printing monster posters for Design class. A group of us practically spent the night over there multiple times.
3D class was definitly a treat. He didn't know the program all that well himself, and said that if we had a question, to read the book, and he had it in his office. He said to "figure it out", and that's what we did. We would assist eachother as classmates, but we were always told to "Figure it out". That's what I had to do in my job now. When I first started, I did't know Flash, I knew Director (that's what we learned at ODU). But I tought myself Flash, Dreamweaver, and several other programs. I had to "figure it out" since nobody else at my job knew how. It was my responsibility.

Anyway, I actually graduated, but still pursued print design, I mean, I was a Graphic Designer right? So I did that for years, started at a local paper...where my friend Leslie and I worked together for a bit. That was fun, but just wasn't what I was looking for. Ads, ads, and more ads. Then I got a multimedia job working for the government. Robert, was that a sign? Was that where I was supposed to be?? Now I head up the multimedia crew, developing Flash courses all day, and I do web-design on the side as well as logo and business card design ever now and then. So I still do the print stuff, the art stuff, but I focus a lot on the multimedia stuff, and I love it.

You see, Robert, pushed and pushed, and he pushed because deep down, he really cared. He really wanted us to succeed in whatever we did, he didn't care, but he wanted to make sure he made his mark in our design lives, if we went that way. He was harsh and mean, because that's how the real world is, harsh and mean. Everyone thinks they are a designer. You create something extraoridnary, and they tell you its all wrong. But we didn't care, because we built a thick skin from Roberts rants about how crappy some of our work was, and how we wouldn't succeed unless we did this and this and this. We didn't care what people had to say, our feelings would never get hurt again, because we knew design, we know what we are doing, and the folks that don't appreciate it, aren't real designers, they just think they are. We shrug, fill in all the white space with gook, customer smiles, and that's that (while secretly we save the better design for ourselves for later).

I saw Robert a few months ago when Ken Fitzgerald asked me to return to ODU to help review student portfolios. I saw him there. I asked him "do you remember me?" And he said, of course, you were the one with 2 last names. (Since I got married when I was at ODU, I kept my maiden name at ODU, but legally changed my last name to my married name. So my paperwork at ODU still said my maiden name, less paperwork to deal with). He asked what I was doing, how my life was going, and just chit-chatted. I told him about working multimedia, and he kind of smirked, like a "I knew it" kind of face. He told me "good luck", got the smile/wink face again, and wandered around the room to make his rounds.

Above is a screen cap of a couple objects I've been drawing if Flash for work this past week. I wanted to post something I was currently working on for work to show how far I've come. I wanted to show Robert that I can still draw, while doing multimedia. I'm happy with what I'm doing, and I'm glad I was able to have such a great inspiration in my life.

I will always remember Robert, and I am enjoying everyone's post they have said about him. He was one of the best Professors I ever had and I will miss him dearly. Thank you Robert for all of your teachings, your wisdom, and you eagerness to push us. I'll remember you always!


Leslie said...

You know, typography didn't take well with me at first either. I just remember cutting out all those "H's" while my room-mates stared at me as if I lost my mind. Then maybe a year or so later, I started seeing rivers and ragged rights and the like - and HAD TO FIX IT!

Hypermedia was it! That was a really fun class. I made a disco penguin! I remember the thing you did with the bubble gum - where it exploded all over your face. He was really disappointed with everyone else's on that assignment though..remember he made us try again?

I'll miss him.

cattina said...

haha....oh yeah...the bubble thing! I forgot about that project. I need to dig that one up, i've got is someplace on my Mac!

Shei said...

Awww...I didn't know about this story. It's like a foretelling--hypermedia / motion and what you're doing now.

I wished I've done the full circle thing that same (knowing) smirk. But too late now. Either way I'd always credit him for any feat in my career.

See you tomorrow?

the cat is back said...

Yep, I plan on going tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your story.

Harriet McCullough

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