Chris Michel teaches a variety of classes at PSU. In the past he has taught 320, 254 and 224 just to name a few. Thank you Chris for taking the time to tell us a little bit about yourself!
I grew up in the barrancas and lemon groves of Ventura, California. I had an English teacher in high school, Elisabeth Cain, that rode a red motor scooter to school and took us to see Lawrence of Arabia at the movie theatre. We read Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge for an entire semester. She had everyone, football jocks, prom queen, even the class cut-up, enthusiastically picking out metaphors and symbols as we read aloud in class. She was fired after her first year of teaching.
Two years of studio art classes at Ventura College influenced me to investigate a career in design. An accomplished serigrapher, Robert A. Smith, taught basic design (theme, repetition and variety) and printmaking (he was a master of touché resist and instilled in me a love of texture). I moved to Huntington Beach and finished off three years majoring in graphic design at University of California at Long Beach. Walt Fosque was my teaching assistant in George Turnbull’s graphic design and lettering classes. No white paint to correct mistakes, you start over. Turnbull said the solution to the problem comes from the problem itself. I struggled to unwind meaning from that statement. I also had a loose yet exacting intaglio printmaking instructor, Dick Swift. My last semester I hid in the library researching Zen koans and emerged only to bury myself in a three-minute stop-motion animation short about the senses.
I loved the diversity of Vancouver. One summer I lived in a little Italian neighborhood where my landlord made wine in the backyard. I rented an old farmhouse across the street from the Fraser River where I biked to my package design job – twenty minutes upriver on a quiet cottonwood-lined road that followed the dike. I was in heaven. Everything I planted grew in the loamy river delta soil of my garden. I worked with recent immigrants from Holland, London, India, Uganda, Scotland, and Czechoslovakia. I loved walking down Robson Street and hearing five or six different languages float past. I came from the burbs of Ventura where it felt like everyone had the same ancestral ties.
Wanting to plant an orchard and build a house, I crossed the border again to homestead in the foothills of Oregon’s coast range. I worked for McCann Erickson advertising agency in Portland for one year. Contry and city. The creative director who hired me, Paul Kamman, was canned after my first year as junior art director, his thirteenth year as creative director. He walked into his office one day and sitting in his chair was a replacement from the McCann Hong Kong office! I decided that day to go out on my own. Portland had a good freelance design community and I thrived working for myself.
I have always done illustration and design. I love typography but didn’t know much of the formal aspects until I started teaching it. The rewards in teaching come with the variations I see in design solutions, springing from the richness of human experience. I encourage students to explore and to investigate their own experiences. I see design as play, but play that takes work. It's the dynamic tension that fuses a life. Yin yang. Dark light. Positive negative. Figure ground. I like the hands-on immediacy, the excitement and thrill of creating something that feels new. New old. Expectant surprise. It’s like that magical moment in printmaking when you lift the paper from the plate and see what is revealed. I am using the choreographer Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit this term as reading material in 224. We’ll see how it resonates.
I always return to the natural world for inspiration. It has controlled structure and infinite variation. I find the same qualities in good design.
to see more of chris' work please visit http://chrismicheldesign.blogspot.com/