Ezra Norris ‘21
Northampton High School, Northampton, Massachusetts

My desk looks straight out of Mad Men. Its black-lacquered finish and angled legs give it a 60’s feel amid the tan carpeting and orange walls of my living room. A protective mat, coated with Sharpie marks and X-acto knife gauges, lies on top. When I was little, surrounded by my father's paintings and stepmom’s detailed pencil drawings, I would sit for hours at the desk, feet dangling off the chair, and repeatedly listen to Harry Potter on tape while doodling with my dad’s markers or building houses from Legos. Just down the hall is the Christmas gift I gave my dad at age fourteen, a portrait of Wallace Stevens, an average-looking man. In hindsight, I find my choice to draw him funny, but he’s my dad’s favorite poet. “Another artist in the family,” my grandpa teased, as I presented this gift on Christmas morning. The comment threw me. I wondered, am I an artist?

I have been surrounded by art my whole life; my parents met in art school and still paint, in my dad’s words, as a “personal artistic investigation.” Growing up, every Tuesday night, my dad would give me art lessons. While he was patiently explaining how to shade an object or mix acrylics, I was slightly envious of the families watching NCIS or American Idol. Whether I was putting together outfits for my sister or designing a layout for my mom’s office, this art-filled environment has shaped me into a visual thinker. But it wasn’t until high school that I realized my love for visual problem-solving could become more than just making sleek posters and PowerPoints.

In my graphic design class last spring, I was assigned a home improvement company for the local newspaper’s create-an-advertisement competition. I knew the ad had to be eye-catching, but also had to relate to the company. After hours of sketches and hand cramps, I designed a house made of tools, with a hammer and wrench for walls and a ruler for a chimney. I ended up winning the grand prize, which felt like reassurance that this newfound interest was something I should continue. This past summer I had similar feelings while at a Cornell summer course called Design Immersion. It introduced me to many design disciplines, and I loved the challenge of creating a lamp out of only bristol paper. The final design, looking like a hibachi-onion-volcano, was both functional and visually pleasing. I felt I was glimpsing my future.

Reflecting on what brought me here, I see that my parents gave me the foundation of my artistic abilities. However, we are now different kinds of artists. My dad, for example, can’t help me in the same way he could during our art lessons years ago. Interning for a book designer, I now use InDesign to make decisions concerning font consistency and text formatting around their corresponding pictures, a little different from his abstract oil paintings. So, when my grandpa called me an artist on Christmas morning years ago, I now agree, but more specifically, I am a designer.

On my eighteenth birthday, I sat at my desk as my dad presented me with my gift: a toolbox of art supplies, which he called, “the essentials for every artist.” Until now, I’d always used his paintbrushes and pencils. Even though the toolbox contained only basics — charcoal, acrylics, paper, and pencils — it felt like a loving nudge out the door, showing he knows that I’m on a different artistic path, ready to become my own person.

When I’m in college, I’ll miss my dad’s reminders to start loosely and work towards more detail, my mom’s lessons on the way shadowing affects form, and that my dorm desk probably won’t look like it’s out of Mad Men. But I’m excited to grow as a designer when I leave home, valuing the gifts my parents gave me.