Storyboard: Mark Fennimore

Following in my dad's footsteps by not following in my dad's footsteps

When I was a kid, my dad worked for NASA. He started in the Apollo program and after the first man landed on the moon, he transitioned to Skylab and then the Shuttle Program. He was a very pragmatic, science-minded guy whose background was primarily in engineering.

My dad set the standard as far as work in our family. That said, he always fully supported whatever I wanted to do, even when it became clear that I wasn’t born with the engineer’s mindset. His philosophy seemed to be that making an earnest effort was what counted most.

I remember being a twenty-something grade school teacher living on the outskirts of Oregon’s main commercial hub. I taught a little bit of everything: P.E., math, science, you name it. During this time, I felt compelled to seek out a counterpoint to my educational life – one that would act as a conduit through which I could flex my creative muscles.

And that’s how I fell in love with Graphic Design.

Graphic Design is a medium built for those who are drawn to exploration. Was I feeling exploratory at the time? Not necessarily. I just knew I couldn’t afford another false start in my life. And so I took the jump. I started building my portfolio. In a sense, I was building a new identity from the feet up.

Not long after I began to immerse myself in the Graphic Design field, I began to hear whispers about a mysterious, sought-after place. A mecca of design.

ArtCenter College of Design.

To go to school in Pasadena was a dream for me. I lived on the outer perimeters of Portland long before it was cool, when it was a small, funky rural area. In those days, Portland was about as small as a city could be without being demoted to township. The promise of ArtCenter called to me. I was pulled to its idyllic grounds, where I hoped to realize my dreams.

Nevertheless, Oregon and the Oregon vibe made me who I am. I came of age surrounded by loggers, farmers, and construction workers: the lifeblood of the working class.

My dad’s entire side of the family was very working class, so you can imagine that my compulsion to study design didn’t necessarily fall into the family way of doing things. If you’re born into a family of doctors, most of the time you’re expected to study the trade and fall into the family profession. So, what did I do?

I broke the cycle – ironically just like my dad had when he became an engineer in the space program.

My dad knew that I was never going to be an engineer and he supported me anyway. It meant a lot at the time, and it means even more now. I wanted to study Advertising Design. Maybe get a job at a prestigious design firm in New York. Build a real life for myself. This notion eased my father’s mind considerably.

A steadfast work ethic has been an integral part of my creative identity for sixty-plus years. Commitment to the work is how I define myself. I’ve always believed that one is what one does. In that regard, I try to let the work speak for itself. I wouldn’t recommend my life to everyone, but it’s worked just fine for me.

It’s important to set a high bar while nevertheless remaining grounded. Throughout the life of a creative, the bar continues to rise. It’s our job to reset our sights and aim for it. Creativity is like a living, breathing thing: if it isn’t growing, it’s dying. Complacency is the enemy of growth. And what is the journey of a creative person but a perpetual work in progress?

Mark Fennimore
BFA 86 Advertising
FullCircle Board Member

Throughout the life of a creative, the bar continues to rise. It’s our job to reset our sights and aim for it.

Mark Fennimore
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