Big Man — or at least Old Man — on Campus

Remembrances of a 63 year old sophomore.
I like living in college towns. And I’m comfortable hanging out on college campuses. I guess because my interests are primarily academic. I like to read and write, and study up on subjects that interest me. So I sort of blend in well on a college campus. I guess the weird thing is — considering how much time I spend on college campuses — is how little time I’ve spent actually going to college. I made it about halfway through my sophomore year and that was it.

In part I guess because my primary interests are writing and art. And I’m not sure how much these things can be taught. I suppose a good instructor could help you improve your craft and technique to some degree. And maybe impart some of the tricks of the trade. But that will only take you so far.

Still, I can’t help wondering if my life might have turned out differently if I had gotten my college degree. And maybe even continued on with my studies after that. But once I started getting paid for my art and writing it was a moot point. It didn’t make sense to pay somebody ELSE — to pay tuition — to do my art and writing.


I did take one college course when I was 25 that I did benefit from. This one-semester Graphic Art course. It was geared towards becoming a commercial artist. And I learned some valuable things about different tools, like rapidograph pens and X-acto knives and etc.

There was nothing arty-farty about the course. The structure of the class was meat-and-potatos. The professor — this no-nonsense guy — took the role of the client. And he was hiring us — the students — to do these various commercial art projects. For example one of the assignments was to pick a popular rock album and re-design the cover (that was the fun one). Another assignment was to design the packaging label for a commercial product. 

For the label assignment he stipulated that you had to incorporate 5 different colors into your design — yellow, red, green, blue and orange. I aced that one. All the other students came up with their designs drawn on a piece of paper. One student designed a soup can. Another student designed a cereal box. And so forth. While I came up with this zany design for some imaginary product, which I xeroxed on bright yellow paper. And glued it onto an Oatmeal container.

When I submitted it to the professor he was not impressed. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to give you a failing grade,” he said. “You didn’t follow my instructions and incorporate 5 different colors into your design.”

“Look at the ingredients listed on the side of the package label” I said. It said: “Ingredients: RED, GREEN, BLUE, ORANGE”

“Open up the lid of the container,” I said. Inside the container I had cut out these pieces of cardboard into different shapes and colored them the requisite colors.

“Very clever,” he said with a smile. He ended up giving me an A-minus (he docked me a couple of points because I was two days late with handing in my assignment, as usual).

I fared less well on the album-cover-design project.

Some of the covers my classmates submitted were very original. One student re-designed Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album. They drew a copy of the album sitting on the railroad tracks, run over by the train. And there was blood from the train accident bleeding onto the tracks of the album. He got an A. . . Another student re-designed the Police album “Ghosts in the Machine.” And they made the faces of the three guys in the Police look like they were part of a computer print-out — these ghostly figures that had been trapped within a machine. She got an A.

I decided to re-design David Bowie’s “Changes One” greatest hits album. And I came up with a good concept. But. . . I drew 5 different versions of Bowie’s face during 5 different periods of Bowie’s career. Ziggy Stardust. The Thin White Duke. And so forth. And then I xeroxed the faces onto this transparent cellophane. And cut out each face. And put them on the album cover. And the concept was that you could move the faces around, and they over-lapped with each other. And one face would morph into the next face and so forth.

But I couldn’t figure out how to attach the faces onto the album cover. And of course my presentation was terrible when I got up in front of the class and tried to give my sales-pitch to the professor, my client (I’m terrible in front of an audience).

“Good concept. Bad presentation,” said the professor. “C-minus.”

And then the semester came to an end. That was our final project. And I dropped out after that. And that was the end of my college career.


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