School and work is consuming most of my free time. Oddly enough, I have more time than before to read books or study for class thanks to the 40 minutes a day I spend riding the bus. I’ve read a few books for school and work I want to write about, and even though we have a few days off for Thanksgiving, I’m not sure how much book reviewing I’ll actually accomplish.
A bit of rambling about school while I finish my tea…
The freshman design program at Carnegie Mellon is challenging at best, totally demoralizing at worst. I don’t get the feeling there’s any sort of planned attrition or that any of my classes are “cut” classes but the standards are high and the workload is constant.
I’m one of the few people who really had no drawing skills at the start of the semester, however being able to correctly draw abstract objects is a core skill for industrial design. This is one reason why I’m working on a BFA ID instead of an MFA — I have no core art skills. (I guess I could probably get a MPD if I wanted to focus on a management track.) I spend a lot of time drawing things, showing them to others for feedback, giving feedback to others then going back and drawing things over.
Here’s a test for those of you who think you know how to draw. As quickly as you can, draw some 2″ cubes in 2 point perspective. Freehand. With a pen. Now some ellipses. Now some cylinders. Now draw a coffee percolator, a dump truck and a lighthouse. How do they look? Are they all in 2 point perspective? How’s the line weight, are the lines in front darker/wider than the lines in back? If you showed these drawings to someone else, would they be instantly recognizable as the objects you meant to draw?
I probably spend an hour a day drawing abstract objects with a pen. It’s what I do while I’m on a conference call, waiting on a build, listening to someone go on about their social life, etc. One of my professors talks about becoming “unconsciously competent”, that is, being able to do things correctly without thinking about it. One of the skills I’m working on is being able to quickly sketch or render an object, process or abstract concept without having to stop and think “are my lines converging properly on the horizon line?”
Because we’re being taught to work using an iterative, communal process, school work can easily soak up all of our time. I might think I need 3 hours to do a project, and that’s what I’d need if I were doing it by myself in isolation. But working in studio means constant interruptions to check someone else’s work and taking your work around to have it checked by others. There are days I pack up and leave, just because I don’t have the wall clock hours to participate the way I should and still get more than 6 or 7 hours a sleep each night.
This sort of communal work is not something I (nor many other) students are used to. In my previous art classes, it’d probably considered disruptive to walk over to someone while they were working and start giving feedback. In my comp sci classes, it’d probably be considered a violation of the academic honesty guidelines.
Another important skill — be able to declare something finished, walk away, and not look back. If you can’t do this you might have a hard time at Carnegie Mellon. I botched a project awhile back, got the grade I “earned”, but I can’t fret over it or spend time trying to figure out how I would redo it. I need my energy to focus on my current projects so that I don’t botch them as well. Some of my classmates spend hours and hours redoing the same drawing or model with little change on each iteration. If I can’t improve the quality a significant bit with another iteration, I stop. My grades will probably reflect this, but as long as I’m passing I’ll be happy.
Grades. Another area where a lot of students are getting blindsided. A core set of skills are needed to practice design. Either you have these skills at the end of the semester or you don’t. This isn’t like a fine arts program where you get an “A” for improvement or a “B” because you expressed your creativity in an appropriate manner. If you can’t draw, you don’t pass. On top of that, the grades themselves are based on what is expected for the average Carnegie Mellon student, not the average person in a design program. My goal is to get a “C” in Drawing. It’s not that I’m setting my expectations low so I can coast, I am having to work my ass off to get my skills to the point where I can earn a “C”. (By the way, a “B” is “wow, that’s pretty good, not many people do that well” while an “A” is “you’re fucking amazing, we rarely see work of this quality!”)
In the midst of all this, I’m trying to hold down a job. My boss is understanding and lets me work flex time, but there are only so many hours in a day. I’ll work most of the Thanksgiving holiday trying to catch up on all the tasks I’m behind on.
A couple more weeks of school, then winter break, then we start all over again.