Who I Am... And How I Got That Way - The Impressive Career of Graphic Designer and Illustrator Ron Rae - Part II

A New Lesson in Old Dogs and Pixel Tricks
When I was 55 years old, I had to learn the Mac computer and Adobe programs or fold up my tent. It was one of the hardest things ever for an old brain, but I stuck to it. Luckily I really wanted to be able to do all the cool things I was seeing in print. I had been doing elaborate collage, montage illustrations for years combining my art with photos and old prints, etcetera. I had even done transparent effects by overlapping Xerox images on tracing papers. I was really ready for Photoshop... and Illustrator was ready-made for my graphic icon styles. Being able to set my own type and do the comps without those awful type rubdowns was just too good to be true. One more really good thing about computer art... as a drawing board artist I had regularly had black india ink bottles land in my lap, but I have never spilled any pixels. Being able to make changes to things without redoing the whole hand rendered comp was a revolution in itself. If only we had unlimited “Command Zs” for everything in our lives.

New Start for an Old Whippersnapper
A whole new area opened for me by 1994-1998. I joined the Detroit area’s best interior and environmental design group, Peterhans Rea Design as they merged with James P. Ryan Architects. The two groups had merged to add an interior and environmental design group to their capabilities. We did total projects... buildings, interiors, and major high-end shopping complexes, restaurants/bars, music venues and zoo projects. Some of the work was for projects in London, England, Brazil in South America and Sydney Australia as well as all over the United States. My part of this was an amazing number of logos (mostly illustrative), art murals and dimensional decorative graphics and signage. Environmental design has been described as "just like regular graphic design... only thicker!" This period allowed me to design with some of the most creative and skillful artists I had ever worked with, David Peterhans, Ron Rea (pronounced just like my name, talk about confusion), Greg Tysowski (architect), Eileen Devine and Jim Ryan founder of JPRA Architects. This was one of my favorite periods of my career.

The Last in a Long Line... At Last
My last real job was 1999-2005 with friends I had worked with at Pelikan Pictures and Skidmore, Chuck White and Dean Armstrong. Chuck is a great art rep and Dean is the best computer artist I’ve seen yet. They had just started a new computer graphics studio called Armstrong-White. I did all their initial corporate identity work and helped with the design of their new studio space based on my interior design awareness from the stint with the Peterhans Rea group. A basic rule was... "develop a theme". Armstrong-White started out doing high-end computer photo retouching for all the major auto companies. The theme for the new studio was an attempt to make a studio space and image that was fun and entertaining for a business that mostly did pretty mundane photo retouching work. Since we were very high tech with our equipment and advanced retouching techniques we decided to do a visual spoof of "high tech". All our print promotion and our studio spaces featured old science fiction images and objects. The studio was full of rocket ships and robots. Many were vintage toys or reproductions.

Now I’ve Seen Everything and then Some
By 2006 Armstrong-White had evolved into one of the nation‘s top CGI companies, doing 3-D cars for automotive ads, catalogs and TV commercials. I have now seen the art business in Detroit evolve from 1960, when the highest paid people were all artists who painted cars and 1965 when car photographers made the big money. Now, of course very few photographs of cars are used. CGI Rules! I wonder what or who will dominate next.

You’re Only Old Once
Since 65 years of age, I’ve been semi-retired, and working as a freelancer out of a small office, kindly provided for me at Armstrong-White. Most of my graphics work now consists of logo/identities. Take a look at ronraegraphics.com, my website that was done for me by my friend Bill Morgan, an excellent designer and art director, who was one of my best students when I taught at the CCS School in the 1970s.

The Creation - detail 

The Creation (24' x 80")

50 years of my "Other Art"
I have always experimented with fine arts in my extra time. In the 1960s and 1970s I did some easel painting, assemblages, woodcuts and silk screen prints. I showed at a few galleries over the years. My wife and I collected old stained glass, including some antique stained glass lamps (now all replaced with my own lamps). Collecting led to my design and creation of many stained glass commissions, and to showing my contemporary glass works at the renowned Habatat Galleries International Glass Show from1979-1984. My last major glass commission was finished in December of 2009. It is the largest and most important work of my life as an artist. The project is a seven panel (24’ wide by 80” high) contemporary style glass mural... the Genesis account of "The Creation". It is in Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, a beautiful modern building in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (where my wife and I worship). I have also done stained glass for several other churches and a synagogue, all in a more illustrative style. I regularly do graphic work for various Christian Churches and causes at no charge. It is part of that "Who I Am and How I Got That Way" thing.

If I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, Any Road Will Take Me There.
My days in the big studios, working with the best in the Detroit art field on so many great projects, will always be memorable for me. The bad deadlines, bad hours, lost evenings, the many all-nighters, the many weekends, the crushing stress, these I am grateful to have left behind. I am also grateful to have maintained a modicum of my sanity (a point upon which some would disagree). Describing 50 years of working in art... maybe 100,000 hours in total time, resulting in virtually truckloads of illustrations and sketches, printed samples, and glass projects, I should be feeling pretty tired now at 73 years old, but... who knows, there may yet be one more road (before the obvious one).

Awards and Publications
My work has appeared and won awards in many shows and publications. Among these: The Art Director’s Club shows of New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Minneapolis. My illustrations have appeared in the Society of Illustrators Annual (New York) a number of times. Magazine shows include Print, How, Communication Arts, Idea Magazine (Tokyo) and the Graphis Annual (Switzerland). Local shows and awards include many Caddy Awards (Detroit Art Directors Club) and Detroit Scarab Club Show medals.

Education and Teaching
1955-56 attended Graceland College, Lamoni, Iowa, 1957 attended Wayne State University, 1958 attended The Society of Arts and Crafts School that became The Center for Creative Studies... Taught graphic design at the Center for Creative Studies, 1974-1976.

My Glass Art Work
I am a stained glass artist of national reputation. I showed work for a number of years in the prestigious Habitat Galleries "International Glass Show". I’ve won many awards in the glass art field. I have produced a number of large commissions. My glass work was featured in several national glass art publications, 1976-2003.

Tomorrow Ron Rae will walk us through how the big Detroit art studios operated and their eventual collapse brought about by the advent of the computer era.


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