Storyboard: Gary Meyer

Frightening Blankness, Failure and the Larger Tapestry of History

Nothing is more daunting to a designer than a blank canvas.

Why does this image fill creatives with such dread? Because it represents the beginning. What’s more is that the blank canvas represents questions: questions that are integral to the inception of any worthwhile artistic endeavor.

Of course, the early stages of any creative journey can feel fairly… loose. Initially, there’s a lot of grasping for straws. The intimidating, wide-open margins of an empty canvas are capable of instilling dread in any creative person. What this sense of wide-openness should really do, however, is restore the artist’s sense of wonderment and possibility. Once the canvas starts to become occupied by images or text, something structural and secure has begun to take the place of that frightening blankness.

My own journey began early. I was offered what was more or less a free ride to ArtCenter College of Design right out of high school. At the time, my father wasn’t crazy about the idea. Instead, he preferred that I get a stable, traditional “job” – art school was clearly for the birds.

My dad wanted me to work? “Fine,” I said. So I joined the Marines.

I spent three years in the Corps, much of which was spent in Korea. Some days I would simply clock in at my day gig (I was an aviation electronics technician), while other days afforded me the luxury to grab a malt, go for a walk and explore my new surroundings. All the while, I never lost sight of my desire to attend ArtCenter.

Back then, the G.I. Bill® ended up paying for more than just tuition – the students actually had money to live on. Imagine that! This didn’t mean ArtCenter was in any way easy – far from it. In fact, I burned myself out not once, but twice, over the course of my time there. The workload was so intense that I ended up having to take two terms off.

What transpired was a pivot in my own artistic trajectory: one where I transitioned from advertising into illustration. My goal was to get out of lettering class and master the fundamentals of drawing and painting.

One thing that has kept me going through the years is sticking to the basics, in terms of my process. It all goes back to that image of the blank canvas, waiting to be written on by the world.

I consider myself a foundation-oriented illustrator. I’m interested in straightforward work that has a naturalistic aspect to it. Oftentimes the things that appear to be the most simple end up being the most deceptively complex.

Another crucial aspect when it comes to keeping one’s peace of mind intact is to remember that any artist – no matter how innovative they may fancy themselves or their work – is always in service of the larger tapestry of history.

As a younger man, I was afforded the privilege of working on George Lucas’ “Star Wars: A New Hope” in a freelance consultant capacity (I helped storyboard the Star Destroyer battle that kicks off the film). Even though my contribution was mostly minimal at the end of the day, I was still adding to the fabric of this grand, magical thing we were all getting to experience. What's more is that the experience was reciprocal: George got his iconic opening sequence and I got to say that I was a part of movie history.

I graduated ArtCenter in 1959. Until about 1990 or so, my head was buried in the work. I found myself missing the school – so much so that I would literally visit the campus just to have lunch in the cafeteria. Spending time at ArtCenter after all those years, I couldn’t help but feel like a little bit of an outsider. Teaching, though, made me feel like I belonged again.

I try to tell my students that failure is a good thing. Weathering the many setbacks of one’s creative journey can take the wind out of your sails. When we get tired or burnt out, it’s important to remember what the blank canvas represents: possibility and all the good that comes with it.

Gary Meyer
BFA 59 Illustration
Gary Meyer Illustration

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

It all goes back to that image of the blank canvas, waiting to be written on by the world.

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