What You Were Born to Do

“I am not afraid – I was born to do this!” - Joan of Arc 

When I was very young, I found great joy in drawing on everything. I got in trouble for drawing mustaches on Richard Nixon in my dad’s Newsweek magazine or putting fish on the model’s heads in my mom’s Sear’s catalogs. 

But, my parents nurtured my interest. My mom got me cheap markers, while my dad gave me discarded exam papers too blurry or faded from the Mimeograph to use for his classes. But, despite the low quality of the tools, I drew movie monsters, Star Trek characters, superheroes, and my own made-up creations, as well. 

My 1976 drawing of Spiderman

My dad gave me discarded exams to draw on.

In 1976, about age 8 or 9, I gathered my collection of drawings and bound them into a book I called, “Weirdo,” unaware it would be my first attempt at a children’s book. 

In middle school, sitting at lunch with friends, students would bring their textbooks, freshly wrapped in a homemade paperbag book jacket, and say, “Rolling Stones,” “Van Halen,” “AC/DC” or “Garfield.” Some of these kids didn’t even know me, or worse, didn’t like me. Yet, before they’d walk away, they’d leave behind a large chocolate chip cookie, brownie, or molasses raisin-square on my tray. That was my payment for drawing on their book jackets. If I liked the person, I’d go beyond and draw some really far out scene on the back, too. Tons of kids walked around carrying my drawings to their classes. I’ll just say my friends and I enjoyed a lot of desserts! 

In high school, the administrators and faculty began calling upon my artistic skills, except they offered no desserts. “We need a cover for the Winter Concert” or “Can you do a fundraising poster for us?” I’d always comply, accepting the challenge. The reward was the freedom to paint free-style murals around the school and help with larger, mascot projects. I’m told one of my fundraising flyers is still being used, today.

One request came from our yearbook advisor to design the cover for my class’ yearbook. I struggled, feeling a lot of pressure of what people might think, but alas, I did it and was proud of the result.

That’s where the story changed. Despite my skills and passion for creativity, I had no idea what to do with it! My parents wanted me to go to college, directing me toward a generic path of computer science. I hated computer science. I was terrified that I was never going to get a real job. 

Then, my high school art teacher, Mr. Colley, suggested to my parents that we consider sending me to art school. He said I had a real aptitude for art and I begged them to let me go to art school. He knew I’d be miserable with computer science, and finally, my parents agreed to let me go. 

While Mr. Colley was helping me put together a portfolio to get into the Massachusetts College of Art, he told me something I’ve never forgotten, “Some people are born to play music, some people count numbers, and some even teach. But, some of us are born to make art – I think you’re one of them.” 

My high school art teacher, Mr. Colley, and I

I cherished art school, but I still had no idea what I was supposed to do to earn a living. So, while I went to school, I worked in restaurants, on a garbage truck, in a steel shop, and as a custodian in a glue factory. I felt like I was just wasting my talent away. I decided to make a drastic change. 

After my restaurant shift, I’d go over to the 24-hour Kinko’s Copy Center in Harvard Square, Cambridge, at about 1AM where I’d rent an Apple Computer for $16 per hour, and teach myself Photoshop, Illustrator, and at the time, QuarkXPress – all the software being used in the design industry.

After several months of intense self-teaching, I gathered a collection of printed designs and bound them into a cheap portfolio, unaware that it would be a ticket to an entire career path ahead of me.

So, yes, I ended up working at some really horrible jobs doing design - in a disgusting basement room of a print shop in Boston’s North End with two grotesque, obese, filthy smokers, where we would grind out jobs all day. Another was in a broom closet where I churned out package designs for $16,500 per year, while the owner drove a new Mercedes and ate like a pig with his mouth open and food spitting out. 

But, one day, I went into a blind interview at The Gillette Company, where I was interviewed by an art director named Linda, who would become the most inspiring, influential person in my entire career. Despite my weak portfolio, she saw potential and hired me on the spot. I worked under her mentorship for several years, going on to other large companies, to becoming an art director, myself. 

Mach 3 POP I designed at Gillette

Though my career has been as a graphic designer, I’ve never stopped drawing with the same ferocity and fascination as I did when I was just a child. My teacher was right when he told me what some people are born to do – that I was born to be an artist, about going to art school. I am, perhaps, one of the most fortunate and blessed human beings to have had someone recognize, in me, what I was born to do. I’m not sure I’d have seen it in myself. 

It’s been a thrill ride for me, as an artist, designer, teacher, and as a custodian, a steel worker, and a fry cook, to share the notion that if you ever wondered, “What I was born to do?” to recognize that, perhaps, you’re already doing it

When you love to do something, so much, that it occupies your thoughts every moment of every day, then that’s “passion.” And passion is a fire that burns on the fuel of doing what we were born to do. Thinking about doing it is simply just not enough. Action is required. 

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and may all your creative endeavors be bold and full of color!