A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (43) Design Ninjas!

After being read the riot act we new students looked askance at each other across our tables. From the collective raised eyebrow and expressions of ‘what the f…", the thought obviously was, who does this bloke think he is? It’s Art-College for God’s sake, not the Paratroop Regiment. ‘Art College’; it stood for something, freedom and no discipline, or at least self-discipline. Who is this guy, the villain from a Victorian workhouse?
Flushed with the liberty that our foundation courses had given us the previous year, it wasn’t time to go back to some special-school for first time offenders. We weren’t kids dammit!
But whatever indignation, not to mention surprise we all felt that first morning, Hardy had laid down the law and like it or not, if we wanted to stay, it would be his way, there’d be no arty-farty lazy-fair here; we were expected to perform and deliver. No messing! He meant what he’d said and to prove it, sacrificed one of our number who from the starting-block hadn’t bothered to take part in the race.
She wasn’t taking crap from this guy, so her fate was set when she turned up to our first briefing session fifteen minutes late and was booted right out straight away by Hardy, in front of us then and there. We couldn’t believe it. It woke us all up, it wasn’t a sham they meant it.

Actually of course, it was great, just what I needed, a right good kick up the backside. In fact it was what we all needed. Best thing that could have ever happened to me though, after all out there in the real world it was highly competitive, combative and tough. Hardy’s mission was to train us to be tougher; in fact we were going to become design ninjas!

Mr. Hardy, bless-his beard, never missed a thing and never missed a beat and never softened. For three years he stayed tough, humorless, and inscrutable. He kept us on our mettle and to the minute of the deadlines, training us for the real world, a world that we hadn’t any sense of. After a year or so, I began to realize he really cared.

Three years of hard and unrelenting work later, I emerged with a Diploma in Art and Designs with Honours, Dip.A.D. Hons. (The Hons. bit I was especially proud of). And then after getting my Diploma, spent another exhilarating year on a post-graduate course learning how to make films.

I never did fall for Birmingham as a City, but realized early on that it was better to become a designer somewhere real, where you were immersed in design problems every day, then in la la land, and how much better to train in a place where good design would make a tangible difference in people’s lives.

One thing that had a major effect on the way I was going to live my professional life beyond college occured at the end of my first year.
I’d decided at the outset of the course to stick to my guns when it came to the set design projects and not follow the herd. I’d noticed this was the tendency of my peers; safety in numbers.

But this often meant sticking my neck out and being heckled by the other students (which was allowed, almost encouraged). When it was my time to present at a crit. at the end of a project, I refused to be put off and expressed my own thing as I saw it, even if it was way outside the box the others seemed to be all standing in.

With my head down in work, I became Geordie Ken working my arse off. I had problems and made mistakes like everyone on the course, but I just kept on keeping on. Then one morning towards the end of the first year, I saw a note in my pigeonhole. It rang a disturbing note inside me. Ominously, there was no stamp on it, it was hand addressed and the envelope had the mark of the principles office.
Oh no, not again.
My guts dropped into my shoes. I was so sure it was notice I was once again for the chop, just like at Corsham, I almost didn’t pick it up. If it they did kick me out I thought I’d kill myself.
I couldn’t bring myself to open it with all the other students around, so I went outside onto the car-lined street and round the corner of the building.
There I took in a deep breath, made my mind a blank, thanked the Universe for all the good things I’d experienced that year, imagined myself up to my neck in toxic mud and tore it open scared to death of what I’d find. This is what the note said:

From the Principles’ office.
St. Margaret’s College.
Dear John,
Following the consensus of the tutorial staff for your year I am delighted to inform you that we are awarding you the Leverhulme Scholarship award in acknowledgement of your work, your attitude and college attendance over the last year.
The award is for two hundred and fifty pounds.
Congratulations,
Peter Hayworth
Principle

I stood there re-reading it in the side street not believing what I saw. As council bin men emptied bins into the back of the dustbin wagon advancing down the street I sank back against the college wall and sobbed my heart out. I was so overcome I turned my face to the dark stones.
Just then, a large Jamaican parking meter lady who’d been writing out parking tickets came over and asked if I was alright, put her hand on my shoulder and said,

“Don’t cry darlin, it’s only a small fine!”

It was in the moment of realising what the note menat that I became a freelance spirit. It was okay to follow your own ideas, to look for the heart of the problem your own way, stick your neck out and do your own thing, as long as it was considered well or sincerely inspired, or both.
When required, it was okay to search for unconventional angles and solutions and implement them, to skate lateral arabesques around a problem, rather than meeting it head on. ‘Design’ was for consumption, for the people passing me on the street, ordinary people; it didn’t have to be something apart set on a pedestal. Design was for life and there wasn’t just one way of finding a solution. Hardy had been right; we were problem solvers.
As it happened I was to win the same award the next two years running, but didn’t mention it to anyone at college and kept it to myself, while inside my spirit soared.

A VIKING IN MY DUSTBIN. (43) Design Ninjas!

John Sunderland

New York, United States

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Our new art college was more like boot camp and it came as a bit of a shock…..

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