Illinois State University designer Brian Huonker said Art Professor John Walker was so influential that Huonker changed his major from computer science to art after just one class.
“The endless hours of working on hundreds and hundreds of thumbnails for each project, followed by rounds of refinement, more refinement and ending refinement gave
me my first strand of gray hair,” Huonker said. “Then we had a final critique where we had to explain what we were trying to accomplish and defend our decisions. All of us were exhausted by the process, but it didn’t end there.
After receiving our projects back from John, there were callouts describing the technical flaws in the work – flaws such as lines that were just a hair too long or items unnecessarily aligned. The process reminded me of the days I spent in Army basic training.”
Huonker said every criticism had a suggestion from Walker “nudging us in the right direction so we could achieve a solution of our own.” He said all comments came with positive reinforcement as well, causing him to look back over time and see the progress he had made.
“Back in the days before computer technology changed how graphic design is practiced, we worked in ink with mechanical drafting pens to create print-ready art,” Walker said. “One of my assignments required students to create a series of boxes filled with prescribed items. Each line, cut and paste had to be perfect. The purpose of the assignment was somewhat like visual boot camp. I wanted to get the students to pay attention to every detail, to see subtle variations in line and shape and to see flaws. The grading was tough. It really got the students to understand early on what the standards were, but more importantly was training them to see and pay attention to detail. I think it was a great assignment, and I believe the students felt ‘initiated’ into the design community and felt a sense of pride when done.”
Walker, who is also the associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, began teaching at Illinois State in 1985. He worked in a design firm in his hometown of Shreveport, La., prior to starting graduate school at East Tennessee State. He said he really enjoyed college and learning and believed he had as much to offer the design profession as a teacher. “I knew there was much more to know about design, and that a career in education would allow me to learn as I taught,” Walker said. “This has been true beyond what I ever anticipated.”
“I remember Brian in a summer corporate identity workshop that I taught in the ’80s,” Walker said. “He was a great student who wanted to be a designer and, in addition to his talent, he was very teachable.”
Walker said he and his graphic design colleagues keep in touch with their former students and love hearing from them. He said so many of the students are practicing design at a very high level, many own their own firms and many work for major design firms.
Huonker worked at a marketing company after graduating from the College of Fine Arts and will shortly be taking a position in University Marketing and Communications at Illinois State. “John’s endless rounds of thumbnails and attention to detail aided me in what I did every day,” he said. “Seventeen years later and a few design awards later, including a few Addys, I am still doing what I do best. The dreaded critiques gave me the ability to explain my design concept to photographers, illustrators and clients.”
Walker said he has worked with the best colleagues anyone could ask for, including Huonker who now teaches on a part-time basis as well as Pam Tannura, Julie Johnson, Peter Bushell and Jude Landry. “Brian and many others are products of the community we have built and the good relationships we have fostered both in and out of the program,” Walker said. “I have never regretted the decision to build a professional career in higher education or the decision to build that career at Illinois State.”