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Frank Brown, FSU Art Alum Update

Published November 30, 2011

Frank’s art school bio,  ’Accidental Artist’:


Beginning in grade school, I was a terrible student.  I found classes
boring, typically finishing the textbook in the first few days and
spending the rest of the years class time daydreaming.  I was a shy
quiet boy with poor social skills.  I was undisciplined and didn’t
always do homework.


My entire school ‘career’ was in public schools.  Later in life I was

diagnosed with ‘mild Asperger syndrome’, however I attended school

prior to this being a generally known clinical term.  I failed many

classes in high school, skipping school frequently, and barely

graduated.  [I skipped my high school graduation ceremony as well].


During all this time I was not an artist per se, I never drew or
painted, although in high school I learned the basics of photography
and showed some talent as a photographer, working on our high school
annual and occasional gigs for the high school newspaper.  I was
interested in filmmaking.  And last but not least, I was a musician.

I’m still a musician after all these years, but that’s another story.

So I ended up at Florida State without a clue about what I wanted to
major in.  I did the liberal arts curriculum for the first few years,
foundering about without a plan, distracted by hormones and
extracurricular activities.

I wasn’t stupid however, so eventually I had to make some decisions
about a major.  I didn’t want to be a perpetual student.  While I
liked science, my grades were horrible enough in the math and science
classes I’d taken, so that avenue was closed.

I always lived off campus, and I shared a house for a few years with
some cool kids from Jacksonville.  Not only were they musicians [and
we had some epic jams in our living room] but they made art too!  It
was cool, and fun.  So when the rubber hit the road and I had to
choose a major, I went out on a limb and picked art.  This was
consistent with my personality of going in unexpected directions with
no preparation.

A small digression: shortly before leaving high school I had a
midnight epiphany in which, considering my future, I realized that
while I had no clue how I would end up, whatever I did end up doing I
felt confident that I would be a force to be reckoned with.  [The
actual word in my brain at the time was ‘devastating’.]  In other
words, while I was generally unskilled and a screwup, I had great
confidence in my generic abilities as a person to succeed in what I
set my mind to.

So, that kind of confidence helped me make the decision to become an
art major, with no prior background or experience in art, and having
taken no art classes to that time.

As an art student I took the required courses; e.g. drawing 101,
painting 101, color theory, art history, etc.  An amazing thing
happened — I discovered that after drawing every day, diligently
doing the assignments, my drawing skill improved!  It was like
learning to play a musical instrument, or speak a foreign language, or
perhaps any new skill — practice leads to improvement.  The more
practice, the more improvement.  The first lesson art school taught

The four art instructors who had the biggest impact on me were: Victor
Nunez, Tyler Turkle, Janice Hartwell, and Mark Witten.  I owe all of
them kudos galore for teaching me valuable lessons and practical
skills.  I doubt that any of them are still associated with your

Victor taught filmmaking.  He was an adherent and proponent of the
independent filmmaker school which stressed making films in and about
your local community, but he did not insist his students follow that
path.  Well-versed in the basics of camerawork, editing, and even
sound recording, he exuded friendly integrity.  In those days the film
school’s equipment library consisted of 16mm Bolex cameras, a Nagra
reel-to-reel field recorder, and a movieola editor.  I mastered them
all under Nunez’s tutelage, as well as the importance of writing a
script prior to beginning shooting.

Nunez left to pursue filmmaking full-time, and his spot was eventually
filled by Tyler Turkle.  Turkle’s personality couldn’t have been more
different from Nunez.  He was a crazy character, who enjoyed mixing
with the other crazies in the school of fine art.  He introduced us to
the works of John Waters and was highly complimentary of one of my
short animations.  I didn’t fully understand his enthusiasm for this
piece until years later.  But Turkle’s most valuable lesson to me came
after hearing me on the telephone attempting to solicit actors for a
film.  ”You don’t just start asking them to work on your project,” he
said, “first you establish rapport by saying hey, how’s it going? and
making small talk.”  For me, the socially challenged personality, this
was genuinely useful knowledge which no one had bothered to instruct me
in before.  [Most people know this via intuition.]

Janice Hartwell taught a class in photo-silkscreen.  Back in those
days she taught us how to mix our own photo-sensitive emulsion masking
fluid [using potassium dichromate] — which you had to prepare in
total darkness and then coat your screen with.  There were giant light
tables in the basement studio which we used to expose our
photo-sensitive screens.  The mask would harden where light from our
image passed through, and the other parts were soft and washed away
with hot water.  Voila!  An awesome technique which I fell in love
with.  Once we’d mastered the basics she took us to the next level by
teaching how to do exposure-density-based color separations.  During
one class a student asked Hartwell how she got along with the school
administration and she said it was a bit rough due to politics.  When
the student asked “because they want you to be more involved?” she
laughed and replied “no, because I’m TOO involved.”

Eventually I had to decide what to focus on in the art world.  This
decision turned out to be way easier than I expected after I enrolled
in a class in typography offered by Mark Witten.  This young hotshot
from California opened my eyes to the world of graphic design, a.k.a.
commercial art.  Considered prostitution by many fine artists at the
time, Mark won me over immediately by his articulate presentation of
graphic design as problem-solving.  Problem solving!  I loved problem
solving.  This was a way to combine intelligence with art.  Perfect
match.  From that point on I took every class Witten offered.  The two
biggest lessons I learned from him were: 1. how not to take criticism
personally, but the value of inviting and incorporating criticism
during the design process; and 2. the value of working with others,
getting the synergy of shared ideas and suggestions.

During my college years I was also playing music and writing
occasional tunes.  I wanted to enroll in a music composition class at
the school of music, in order to help me transcribe the tunes I was
writing.  Alas, the school of music wouldn’t let one take a
composition class without first passing prerequisite classes in music
theory.  So I figured, OK why not, and enrolled in music theory.
Without knowing it at the time, this turned out to be very useful
knowledge indeed!  While studying music theory, I realized it was a
lot like a foreign language — it had written symbols, and plenty of
rules similar to grammar — so I asked the college administrators if
they would credit my two years of music theory classes as fulfilling
the foreign language requirement for my degree.  I was not persuasive

I finally did graduate [1977] with a BFA in Visual Communications
[emphasis in graphic design], and my very first job was working for
the state department of Archives, drawing ‘artifacts’ for the
historical record, prior to restoration work being performed.  Lots of
these artifacts were retrieved from sunken Spanish sailing ships off
the Florida coast.  At my job interview, they set an office stapler in
front of me, handed me a pencil and said, “Draw this.”  Apparently I
passed the stapler test.

Well I ended up working in the art field for about 4-5 years, and even
attained the title of ‘art director’ for a small design firm, but I
had my heart set on staying in Tallahassee, and when that firm went
under I ended up changing careers.  In fact as the years passed I
changed careers twice, and the time came when I was motivated to leave
Tallahassee too.

So today I have a room full of art supplies, and I get them out
rarely, but still am handy with an x-acto knife.  My day job for the
past 17 years is doing computer system administration with the Seattle
Fire Department.  My wife was attracted to me partly due to my art
skills.  I created a 7-minute documentary and posted it on YouTube a
few years ago.  Etc.

Probably lots of art school graduates end up in other fields.  Be that
as it may, I still remember and appreciate the lessons I learned
studying art in the FSU School of Art, and all those late nights
working on projects in the studio space.

-Frank Brown 23-nov-2011