Product design

Best of RISD ~ Drawings


I went through all my drawings that I saved from my years at RISD yesterday.  Most of them went in the recycling.  I saved a few good ones and photographed others.  I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, it just took a day of no kid and the energy.


I was fortunate enough to have Victor Lara for my first two semesters.  He was the right teacher for me.  He really pushed you to see and record the essence of things, and his teaching style was laid back but dead serious.  We drew for 8 hours a day and every night.  It was tiring work but by the time the year was over I could really draw.


I liked these two drawings because the studios at school really looked like this, chaotic, cluttered and not so clean.  I remember coming back from exercising and having to stay up till 10 doing self portraits.  I looked tired in most of them.  Hard to believe I was 18 once.  StudioSpaceAlis

My favorite project at RISD was my tree drawing series.  I drew the Beech tree in the president’s office garden every day for a month.   I went every morning before breakfast, no matter the weather and drew this tree.  I have spent my adult life living in and loving trees.  It is interesting to think that my core interests have not changed, I’ve simply gotten older.


Karim Rashid’s production furniture studio was the toughest semester at RISD.  As an adult and a manager I realize now he must have been an administrative headache, but he was a great teacher.  Of all the teachers I had, he spent the most time with us.  He really loved design and espoused the value of it in every aspect of life.  He continuously sat down with each of us to help refine our designs.  He was always candid and genuine with a good sense of humor.  He was also the most rigorous teacher.  He was really adamant that we design for a specific agenda on all fronts, aesthetics, materials, ease of manufacturing.  He set limitations, but you never felt limited.  He had a way of guiding you through misjudgments such that you genuinely wanted to do a better job the next time.  Inspirational might be too strong of a word, but it was something like that.

As I flipped through the drawings I noticed that many had lines drawn on the back.  Karim was really into practicing drawing a straight line.  He had us practice all the time.  It is one of the useful tricks from my RISD days that I use all the time.

I am not sure that anyone from this studio except Peter Mann continued on to build furniture, but it certainly was an influential experience for me.


I really liked Seth Stem too.  He was a very conscientious and gracious teacher.  I remember that for my final crit he had someone come in especially for me, and as I recall her insights were great.  I remember I got a serious talking to by Seth when he found out I was not going anywhere for spring break.  He felt students should get away to clear their heads, and he made no bones about telling me to get out of town.  I used to live vicariously through this man who drove in every day with a windsurfer strapped on the roof of his car.  It was comforting to know that someone in Rhode Island was getting enough exercise and enjoying the great outdoors while the rest of us were stuck in gloomy Providence.


The drawings that struck me as most interesting upon re earthing were sketches of shoes.  Perhaps it was because prior to this I had only seen compressed charcoal and pencil drawings, but whatever the reason I saved lots of them.  These were from Bob Oneal’s shoe class.  Bob was the teacher that I think I had the most in common with from a sensibility perspective.  However, I don’t think we got along very well personally.  I was then and am now head strong.  I have learned overtime to channel my opinions but I’m sure I was a handful back then.


Bob had us do lots of interesting conceptual projects.  I found a whole folder of drawings of this little piece of plastic.  I think we were supposed to animate it in some way.  Below are paintings of the landscape we created out of found objects.  My landscape was a forest made of rusty nails with all sorts of other items in it (I don’t remember what) in among them.




There were some landscape architecture  drawings and universal kitchen sketches mixed in.  I definitely was not cut out to do either of these things.  Come to think of it I really am not cut out to do any of the things I learned in ID.  By the time I graduated I’d given my college try and knew that none of the physical skills I had learned would be used again, but that the conceptual and organizational skills were invaluable.  I was unequivocally sure that I was going to design information as my career.  So far I have not veered from that path…again head strong.


The other thing that struck me about the drawings I found was that many of them were sort of about inner peace, and finding order in chaos.  This is part an parcel how I make my living.  I make complex data and concepts easy to understand.  It is nice to look back and see continuity in your life.  At least in your drawings.  I have 4 tubs of sketch books to tackle next, curious to see what those reveal.