Back in the dinosaur age (i.e. “pre-computer”), I went to Boston University for two years and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. The degree program was for me a bit of a “finishing school” in the profession I had been working in for the four years after college. Prodding from family members convinced me that achieving this additional degree would be a feather in my cap and perhaps lead to a better-paying job. It also enabled me to teach at the college level. What it really did for me was to give me the focus on graphic design that I had not gained at the undergraduate level, having taken only one class in graphic design my last semester at the University of Kansas. I moved to Boston after graduation, interned at a magazine and the rest is history.During those two years at BU, I and my fellow graduate graphic designers designed a variety of projects from building signage to wine labels. We did not use computers—we used tracing paper or Letraset transfer letters to comp type, we drew detailed layouts with markers and pencil, we used stat cameras to create mechanicals from which we created finished products—very old school! My thesis consisted of a gallery showing of my chosen subject at a group exhibition. My subject was based on a lifelong love—color. My general focus was the emotional and physical effects of color—how we perceive it, how it affects us, and how we use it and why.
My instructor indicated to me that this was perhaps a little too broad a subject. He came to me the spring of the thesis exhibition to tell me he wasn’t convinced I could complete a presentation on time, and if I didn’t get started, I might not graduate. That was chilling, and the kick in the pants I needed. I sprang into action and spent the two weeks before the show in my cubicle frantically cutting out pieces of colored paper and getting lightheaded from the fumes of the rubber cement I used to adhere them to Fomecore board.In addition to displaying text panels and examples describing color theory, I used all that information to create a series of posters that combined things dear to my heart—photography and graphic design…and Boston.
I trudged all over Boston with my camera (remember, this is pre-digital) and took photos of all the things I loved about my adopted city. Tall buildings with a bit of blue sky peaking between them. Blurry green and yellow shots of the subway. The North End with colorful store fronts, and Christmas lights and flags decorating old brick buildings. The New England Aquarium. Fanueil Hall Marketplace. With inspiration from these photographs and others I created semi-abstract posters to show how color could evoke feelings of different areas of a city. I completed my work in time for the thesis exhibition, where I displayed both the posters and their inspirational photos.
There was another project during that time—I needed to create a slide presentation that told a story. I asked a fellow student to let me take photos of him as if he were running in the Boston Marathon and lifting his arms in elation as he “crossed” the finish line. I loved the marathon. I would often hang out with friends on Beacon Street the day of the marathon, cheering on every sweaty runner who went puffing by. I thought marathoners were rock stars, especially the ones that took five hours to finish.Those slower but hardy runners and their friends and families are the ones who were the victims of the horrific bombings this week on April 15 at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The bombings are an unbelievably evil act that is hard to comprehend—people out for a fun day experience the kind of trauma found in war casualties. Three young people are killed just as their lives are beginning.
Those of us who love Boston—but now live far away—feel a bit helpless as to how to help the city that will always be a part of us. These sad events have made me think again of the place I called home for 23 years. I think back to a time when I used this wonderful city as a subject for the biggest personal creative project I ever had. I could have chosen any subject to demonstrate how one can use color, but in choosing Boston itself, I believe now that I was simply showing my love for the city without being aware of it. Sometimes we are not always aware of how much we love someone (or someplace) until something unexpectedly awful happens to them.Boston, I love you. I am thinking of your people who are injured or dead because of this unthinkable act of violence, and wish you and them peace and healing. I don’t know what to say or do, except to tell you that you are under my skin. Your colors, sights, and sounds live with me and bring me warm memories.
I truly believe that once you draw or photograph something that it becomes familiar to you and part of you. You have taken the time to notice it and be with it in the moment. You will always carry with you the intensity of the time you spent with your subject. You own it. It owns you. Boston owns me. And I like that.
I’m sorry that lightning did indeed have to strike for me to feel I had something to write about after four months of blogging silence. I do have another project hanging fire, but somehow sending a love note to Boston during its toughest week ever seems more important. We all have our own creative process and maybe it doesn’t matter how a project gets done. We do what we have to do and maybe find unexpected muses along the way—as Boston was for me.
Boston, you got me to the finish line so many years ago. Thanks for the time you spent with me to make me your own. You have colored who I am.