Would you believe me if I told you that an issue of Popular Mechanics magazine was what got me going in the design world? Would you believe me if I told you I still have that exact magazine?.
In January of 1952, I read an article on ArtCenter’s design program in that month’s issue of Popular Mechanics. A car nut who loved to draw, I was very much in the College’s demographic. Obviously, I would need an entrance portfolio to gain admittance. Believe it or not, I still have my original portfolio, too.
I wrote to Ford Styling for advice. Before long, I received an excellent hand-written letter from A. Gill Spear, one of their designers, who recommended ArtCenter, Pratt Institute and The Cleveland Institute of Art. California seemed more interesting than Ohio or New York. My portfolio was accepted, and I was set on my path.
I graduated from high school in 1954 and headed West via a 54-hour Greyhound trip from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles. At the time, ArtCenter was located on West Third Street, in a building that once housed a private girls’ academy. The place had since been occupied by a mix of Marines and art students. At the time, it was called the Los Angeles Art Center School.
In the rear was a large student parking lot. It had a diverse collection of cars ranging from future collector cars to junkers. There were two 300 SL’s, a gaggle of Austin Healy’s, Triumphs, MG TC’s and TD’s, an Alpha, a Porsche and others that came and went. It also included my roommate’s ‘47 Plymouth.
Every ArtCenter class has its “stars,” but I have always believed that ArtCenter’s greatest asset is ultimately in its “rank-and-file” students. In my experience, education comes just as much from your classroom peers as it does from your instructors.
We learned the technical side of design, like clay modeling, "surface development", and hand lettering, among other skills. I never became a star student, but that didn’t stop me from landing positions at major players like Peter Muller-Munk Associates.
ArtCenter prepared me for that type of environment. The skills I had been taught at the College were directly translating to the professional work I was being asked to do. My time at ArtCenter also prepared me for starting my own business, which I did in 1976. After five bosses in five years, I wanted to be in charge of my own life.
So much of what we do as designers is networking. There were times, after several successful projects, where I would find out that my contact had left a particular client’s firm. Months later, I would receive a call that he had a project lined up for me at a new company. It is also as a result of a specific client project that I have been designing and manufacturing the Lewellen Design Ballistic Pendulum for over 32 years.
ArtCenter made this all possible. Education not only prepares you for new and demanding work environments, but even the seemingly straightforward task of simply looking for work. It forces you to operate at a higher level.
Plenty of my clients have become friends. And in this world, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. These are two of the basics of any business.
After all these years, I still love what I do. So, thank you to Popular Mechanics, and most of all, thank you to ArtCenter. It truly has been the ride of a lifetime.
BS 58 Product Design
Lewellen Design Inc.