Emerging Artist

I've split my life among three cities, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. I loved living in San Francisco the best, enjoy working in New York the most, and was glad to leave Chicago.

When I was young, Chicago was a tough, bigoted city groaning under Richard Daly's iron fist, infamous for massive, systemic corruption, and reactionary policies. In spite of that culture, I have fond memories of riding my bike around the University, studying at the Art Institute, and even protesting the Viet Nam war with a fervent cast of thousands.

I also remember being beaten by neighborhood gangs, running from the police, attending the Chicago Seven trials and seeing Bobby Seale gagged and chained in open court. In my teens, I and my friends found only one place where whites and blacks could dance together. Chicago has changed for the better, of course, but remains noticeably less cosmopolitan than either New York or San Francisco.

I attended high school in New York, where I excelled in art and creative writing classes, and was invited to paint a large mural on the corridor wall. In less interesting classes, my textbooks became filled with sketches on the title pages and along the margins.


I studied art at Goddard College in Vermont, enduring long, lonely winters; at the Art Students League in New York with a wonderfully eclectic bunch of pros and amateurs; at SUNY Oneonta, where I learned inspirational printmaking techniques, thanks to department chair Ed Mullen; and at the Universita di Urbino, in Italy. Golden light, café mornings. I was floored by Botticelli's Annunciationin the Galleria degli Uffizi.

I received a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts from SUNY New Paltz, where I was graduated magna cum laude. This degree has served me not at all in my art career, but I had a wonderful time learning about working in different media and planning two- and three-dimensional art and design projects. My art history and critique classes have had a lasting impact (for better or worse) on my understanding of art-making and its function in society as a commodity in the marketplace.

For my advice on the struggle to become a fine artist, please read Fear of Falling, An Artist's Life.For my approach to making art, read my Artist's Statement and view the rest of my portfolio.

After college, I worked as a graphic designer at small agencies, marketing firms, and publications in New York and San Francisco, designing advertising layouts, managing print production, and creating traditional and digital illustrations.

On the first few jobs, I learned manual design and publication layout, photo-typesetting, paste-up techniques, and stat camera special effects. But when the first digital design application hit the market, I quickly mastered PageMaker (on the Apple SE), followed by Illustrator, Photoshop, QuarkXPress, and InDesign as each one debuted at MacWorld and other trade shows. Along the way, I acquired deep experience in prepress and commercial printing; an understanding of information architecture through working with databases; and, through building web sites, HTML and Dreamweaver. 


Teaching (always learning)

In 1993, I began teaching digital design in San Francisco, and discovered effective ways to share everything I had learned thus far and help others start creative careers. I taught and designed curriculums at many schools, including San Francisco State University and The Graduate School in Washington, DC. I eventually accepted a program chair position at the Center for Electronic Art, where I built the curriculum for Print Design.

During these years of expanding my role as an educator, I also joined numerous Bay Area arts organizations to further my career in the arts. I showed and sold my work in galleries, in group and curated shows, winning some awards, and eventually joined the boards of three arts organizations. I enjoyed the opportunity to steward their growth, but learned that at heart I'm an image-maker and storyteller, not an administrator.

As a designer, I have worked full-time, part-time and freelance, in a variety of roles, including art director and production manager, but visual storytelling and teaching are my passions. I became committed to connecting, educating and promoting artists who, like myself, are eternally struggling to balance life, work and creativity. I began to turn down freelance gigs, to devote more time to teaching design and illustration, making art, and developing an online artist community.

I founded the Artist Resource in 1997. This non-profit online art organization and information clearinghouse served almost a million artists, designers, writers, students and teachers every year, until 2005. We had a good long run on volunteer staff and donations, but it was a difficult time for an arts project to get consistent funding.

Building and Making

Returning to New York, I joined my husband and some friends in building a business from the ground up, in Manhattan's iconic Chrysler Building. We offered a variety of small-business services. My areas of expertise included document services, design, digital output, fulfillment, and reproduction. Over three years, we grew the business from to $500,000 in annual revenues, but the slumping economy made that momentum impossible to sustain. So we walked away with few regrets, having gained extensive experience in managing resources and people. 

In the spring of 2008, I was accepted to the FIT Master of Arts in Illustration program. I was one of 14 finalists among 200 applicants. This was the realization of a lifelong interest in visual storytelling, and a fantastic experience in honing my craft and experimenting with new ways to tell a story. I received my degree in 2010.

I am now a full-time senior designer at Hunter College, City University of New York, where I work on a terrific variety of creative projects, from layout and design to illustration; from writing to editing; from building email communications to managing web sites, and I also teach digital design and portfolio development. I'm working on a suite of illustrations for a trilogy of acclaimed allegorical novels, and am six chapters (and ten illustrations) deep in a novel of my own, Axumsit. I have come full circle and am making images of dreams, fables, and worlds that exist only in the author's imagination. Thank you for reading. 

May you walk always with beauty before you. 

Sincerely, Li Gardiner