From Civil Servant to Viking: Taking stock of the art made in four formative years.

When my life was falling apart 4 years ago and it was clear that I was getting a divorce, just about everything I thought I understood about myself was laying in a pile and looking very out-of-focus and vague. But there was one clear idea which was like a piece of driftwood floating by a drowning man; something that I could latch on to.

I didn't want to be a self-employed artist any more.

So grabbing this life-preserver, I made a list of things that I would want to do with the rest of my life and (maybe sadly) it was awful short. Only two things were on it; One, I loved being a teacher. And two, I was happy when I was spending time where I had been teaching off and on for over ten years; the El Segundo Recreation and Parks Department.

You see, I never finished school. I jumped into working alongside my wife as an artist for most of the time we were married. So, 15 self-employed years and 3 kids later, my ideas about being a full-time teacher were pretty hopeless. I had done years of kid's classes and private instruction. I had experience but I had no degree, no credentials, and no money or time to acquire them. So teaching seemed out. Instead I called the Rec Park and told them that I wanted to work there. They hired me part time and I began to carve out a job for myself in design and marketing. So when I sat down last week to tell our director that I would be leaving in August, she told me plainly that this was one of my biggest achievements- seeing a need and creating a job which hadn't existed, then making it a vital part of the process. And also showing all of the other city departments the value in having a reliable source for visually engaging and useful communication with the citizens of our town.

So, being in the position of leaving in a few months, I've been thinking about my last 4 years at the park and what I've learned.

If there was a nice thing about being the only artist, it was that no one really told me what to do when it came to making art and flyers. Sometimes they seemed timid with feedback, as if I was going to tear up my work in the middle of a meeting, tighten my ascot and storm out of the room with my easel tucked under my arm. This editorial freedom afforded me the opportunity to be bold, but like one of my new heroes Batiste Madalena, I worked hard to be my own critic and not to be precious.

And I didn't have much time to be precious. On average I made a flyer a week (somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 I'd guess) for all kinds of applications. And I generated new art all the time: icons, logos and headers, as well as print material; tri-folds table stands, vinyl banners, a-frames, yard signs etc. I was responsible for our quarterly activity brochure so I made ads for our department as well as public works, the water department, the city clerk's office and more.

When I started I knew very little about vector design. But I pretty quickly fell in love with it, and used Illustrator and InDesign almost exclusively. You just need one person to change their mind from 8.5x11 to 11x17 (and then want a street banner made a week later) to quickly realize how incredibly useful vector artwork can be. 

So I thought- on the eve of leaving one of the best jobs I've ever had- that I would show you a little bit of the art I made at the park.

With that much material to make (and an overactive imagination) I couldn't help but sneak things into flyers. This crop is from the Farmers Market logo above, and buried in the right side of the drawing is my coworker Yasmine at the city booth talking to someone that she is clearly bored with. 

Most of them were good-humored ways to entertain my meandering attention, or skimp on production time. I invested considerable time drawing a vector version of the town water tower and used it as filler so much that it became a game for some of the other employees to hunt it out in other flyers I'd make.

Some of these games would have got me talked to had they been overt enough. I was asked to make a flyer for the employee service luncheon, and I made the overall composition into a headstone, listing each honoree alongside the number of years they've been languishing in a cubicle. And when the Drama Department was doing Peter Pan, I took advantage and referenced a story I had heard about JM Barie's Psychogenic Dwarfism by laying the silhouette of Big Ben right next the airborne Peter Pan's junk.

I also made the Dodgers flying baseball logo into Vin Scully's penis, but I have no shame when I comes to sports.

This next group is some of the icons and badges made for things like event sponsorship forms and wastewater conservation pamphlets. I tried to not spend more than 30 mins on any single one.

I'm sometimes floored that after years of collaborating and being self-employed, I found a secure job which allowed me the ability to be in service to my community, and to create something that was all my own. And I hate that I'm leaving, but as to where I'm headed next, I'm very happy to say that I'll be crossing off that first thing on my list of job ideas- In August I'll be teaching 3D Art and Digital Media at Vistamar School.

Vistamar School is a college-prep private high school (and because of that, they can hire based on experience as opposed to formal education.) I spent 4 months working at Vistamar last winter and I saw the most dedicated and interesting group of teachers that I could imagine. And students that are enthusiastic, engaged, and passionate. I absolutely feel like a little fish in a big pond there, and I'm over the moon with the potential for learning (more for me than the students.)

But part of me is also very heartbroken to be leaving the park, a job which helped me put my life together after some dark times. It's been a job that I'll always be indebted to, filled with wonderful people who gave me purpose and self respect at a time that I had very little of both.


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