Like most Saturday nights, I was sitting at home and contemplating if I should watch The Abyss. I decided not to (again) and opted to watch a documentary about the making of it while re-factoring and cleaning some files up on my iMac. One of the rituals is going through my Photos app to organize it. This time I decided to start from the beginning. One of the photos that came up was a photo of an old local newspaper where I grew up. It was an article about a mural I painted during my senior year in high school. The theme of it was “Pathways to the Future”. It triggered not just the memory of painting the mural, but what I call an unknown mentor.
I created a lot in high school. I admired the work of such people like Boris Vallejo and Brom. My goal in high school was to become an illustrator and make great work like them. I ended up studying visual arts in college, but my career definitely went a different direction in product design. I still draw a lot. However, it was one interaction that I will never forget in my life, and that is an artist by the name of Maria William. You may not be familiar with her as you might with Vallejo and Brom, but I admired her work so much. However, I must confess I cannot remember how I found her. This was a very long time ago…when you still had to call the internet. Whatever happened, I stumbled upon her website and was so inspired by her. When it was time for me to paint the mural, I remember a painting that I loved so much called “Who We Are”. I sent her an email (I tried to find the original message but it’s probably an old Hotmail (or Excite!) email. I asked her for permission to use the piece as an inspiration for mine (I hope she remembers).
Now, I must confess to you that I was not the most motivated person in high school. This was the first time I felt a drive and motivation to try to do something great. A lot of it was because I was doing something that I hoped to honor someone I really respected. I didn’t want to let William down, but for the first time, didn’t want to let myself down.
The mural is long gone now, but that one interaction was such an important part of my life. The internet felt so much smaller then than it does now. In the world of social media, cyberbullying, and trolling, I will always remember an act of kindness from a person who didn’t even know me. I don’t know if she knew at the time, responding to some random kid on the internet, but her response really sparked a drive in my life.
My passion and focus in digital product design is now still often focused on product vision and following the north star…finding the pathway to the future. I never stayed in touch with Maria, but if I met her, I would say “Thank you for your kindness and sparking something in my life so many years ago.”
“Between the worlds of men and make believe I can be found.” —Dan Fogelberg