Each quarter, the Department of Art & Art History invites one alum to share about their work and unique career trajectory in the arts.
Studio Art BA, 1993
Designer for stage & screen
What has your career path been like since graduating?
One of my professors encouraged me to apply to an artists’ retreat after graduating and it was there that I first had the experience of being immersed in a community completely dedicated to creativity, surrounded by aspiring and professional artists from all walks of life. That helped me understand that the next steps toward my intended career in the arts would also require the same kind of immersion and focus – for me, Grad school – which was followed by moving to London to where I worked as an assistant designer on various productions in theatre and film for a few years. This in turn set me up to work in both fields, and to be able to do so in quite an international sort of way, something I feel very fortunate to have managed early on in my career and that has deeply influenced my work choices and process ever since.
What does your day-to-day look like?
CONVERSATION is a key initial step into the collaborations; Reaction, in the form of visual research and design exploration, can only move forward in the kinds of projects I’m involved in once certain conversations have been initiated; it is at this stage that I get to ask questions, steep in and react to the early story-telling or world-building ideas of a director or other collaborators. I need this stage so that I can go forth with following my visual instincts; this sets up guidelines for me to engage in the next steps: the research process, and then the drawing and ideation that inevitably follows next.
RESEARCH – delving into a broad range of fields as they relate to whatever project I’m working on. This means digging into imagery, articles and analysis of contemporary art, art history, material culture and related cultural histories, literature, current events. It also requires honing in on very specific research topics when the project requires a specificity in terms of time period, region or world or profession– a mix of hunting and gathering, from near and far, physical first-hand information when possible, or visual references while scouring online digital archives, libraries, museum collections and exhibitions or other image sources.
CONCEPTING/DRAWING – I draw by hand, which is an essential part of my process – the ideas are forming and I am chewing over things while drawing – I do incorporate a digital layer when I am past a certain point, not always, but if I need to come up with a variety of options, quickly, I’ll start from my hand-drawing and adjust digitally for speedy iterations.
DESIGN EXECUTION & ESTABLISHING – Shepherding the execution of design ideas I would define as a methodically organized but simultaneously very organic, rolling process from the workroom/atelier onto the set or stage. In film and TV, a myriad of factors can change on every level imaginable, so the design isn’t yet complete until it is ‘established’ on film. Because things do often change on a dime, due to environmental, temporal, emotional, or visual factors, one must be ready to respond with expert instincts - ideas that still serve the overall story and character arcs while being precise for the moment being shot. You’re constantly operating with big picture and fine cellular detail all at once. This rubik’s cube of creating a visual story from seemingly disparate, out-of-sequence elements, is constantly being worked along the path of completing a project.
How did your time at Stanford help prepare you for your current career?
Being a student in fine arts within a university that also offered strong courses and experiences in other arts, humanities and sciences taught me to value and really embrace the process of synthesis. At Stanford I was able to integrate working in other fields, such as VTSS and Drama, together with my major in studio art. I was, in effect, laying the foundation for my current design process. I have never worked on a single project that didn’t require me to dive into a myriad of attending other subjects in the quest for inspiration, or for shoring up a niche visual argument.
What do you enjoy about your current profession?
Constant learning, constant discovery (in a personal sense). Every project starts from scratch, new stories, new worlds, new challenges, and therefore new/untested methods of achieving these new goals.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
Early on in my career as an assistant designer, my natural state of workaholism was in full-effect - I never felt I could leave the studio at the end of the regular workday until I reached a natural stopping point to the task at hand; I couldn’t and wouldn’t leave things to the next day. While working in the studio of a renowned and influential British designer, one time he had left for the evening and once again asked me to lock up the studio – only to return a little later to order me to stop for the day, saying “No children’s lives are at stake”. It’s an obvious idea – but coming from him, one of my heroes and someone who was at the top of the field, and to run the studio in such a humane way with that reminder – that kindness and balance were just as important as the work – this was a major lesson learned and emulated.
So far, what has been a career highlight?
London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies – being part of a skeletal creative team to create the story and design the ceremony, and to get to apply myself in designing for both screen and live performance simultaneously in this massive way, with some of the best minds in the design ecosystem all working together to figure out how to execute dream-like ideas and make them happen – including one of my favorite designs of my career: the official protocol moment in which there is an a release of doves of peace, which I had interpreted in the language of cycling and cyclists.
What project(s) are you currently working on?
I can’t really say much more than that I’m currently working on a new TV Series and will be consulting on character designs for an upcoming video game.