GRADUATE SEASON: Clinton Stringer – From Dancer to Graphic Designer

by Kate Andrews | August 9, 2010

When it came to deciding what he wanted to be when he grew up, Clinton Stringer had two choices in mind: Contemporary Dancer or Graphic Designer. The dice were cast and he was accepted to study dance at P.A.R.T.S. (Belgium) under the director Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker – also the choreographer of the internationally-acclaimed company Rosas. After school, Clinton worked as a dancer for Rosas for 9 years and then decided to find out what the other path had in store for him. He has spent the last three years studying Graphic Design at Kunsthogeschool Sint-Lukas Brussel, in Belgium and is about to start a 3 month internship with De Designpolitie in Amsterdam. His work is strongly concept-based with a passion for the handmade. We caught up with Clinton this week to find out more about his academic experiences.

Notes on Design: Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your academic and professional journey to date?

Clinton: After a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in English Literature, Theatre Studies and Journalism) in South Africa, I was a little lost as to which direction I wanted to take. I had enjoyed both my contemporary dance classes in Theatre Studies and the layout course as part of my Journalism course, but neither qualified me to start as a professional. A few months later I was given an amazing opportunity: a scholarship to study in Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s newly established contemporary dance school in Brussels – P.A.R.T.S. I packed everything into an enormous suitcase and left for my big career… as a dancer! Ten years later, after joining Rosas, de Keermaeker’s company, and performing all over the world, my creative needs longed for new challenges and other outlets. I quit the company to begin my second big career… as a graphic designer!

When deciding where to study, I looked to Britain and Belgium. In Britain I would be able to speak my mother-tongue and get a good education. In Belgium, I would have to study in Dutch (my second language is Afrikaans – the baby sister of Dutch), but I could earn money using my dance contacts and still get a good education. The clincher was that the Belgian education was exactly 10% of the cost of its British counterpart – €500 as opposed to €5000 per year. A no-brainer.

Notes on Design: What is it about design that motivates you?

Clinton: As a daily activity, there are a number of moments in the design process that give me a kick. That moment when your brain is looking at the problem from all angles, 24/7 and then things click into place and an interesting, clever, funny or apt solution steps forward and knocks you over. Wham! That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I get really excited to try it out.

Another thing I love is to work with my hands. There’s no getting away from the fact that the computer will come into the process at some point, so I try to invent ways to step away from the keyboard and get my hands dirty. This often ends up with me, my cutting-knife and piles of paper – some things I’ll never tire of. This part of the process is also, I think, the most closely connected to my dance experience. The freedom of play and experimentation is essential to both creative activities. Lastly, it is motivating when you take a final step back and are satisfied with what you’ve made. Nothing will ever be perfect, but when a project comes to an end and I’m happy with the result, that motivates me to continue.

Notes on Design: What was life at university like for you?

Clinton: The first half was pretty tiring – my first career was finishing and my second career beginning. During my first year and a half at Sint-Lukas Hogeschool in Brussels I was still touring as a freelancer with Rosas. This made my bank balance feel comfy, but my life was upside-down trying to deal with the steep learning-curve and the enormous workload. Things went in reverse for the second half of my studies, and it was great to loosen my collar behind my desk, even if I had to tighten my belt at the same time.

I was also a good deal older than most of my classmates, but we were learning together about things that were new for all of us so we had plenty of common ground. Some were brilliant at drawing, others were computer geniuses, so I enjoyed learning from them as well as from my teachers. Thankfully, I didn’t feel the pressure to keep up with the all night parties!

Notes on Design: What will you always remember about studying design at university?

Clinton: University has taught me that play and experimentation keep your interest and passion alive. This includes allowing yourself to go through stages in your process where things lead to a dead-end, or are interesting, but not appropriate for the design problem at hand. Or perhaps the result is just a complete failure. If these options weren’t possible, things tend to stagnate.

Notes on Design: So, what’s next for you?

Clinton: Most of my schoolmates are going onto their Masters course next year – a large chunk of which is taken up by an internship. I decided that, at my age and 9 years of education behind my back, I could learn a lot from an internship, but then I wanted to get back into the professional world as soon as possible. Soon I will be moving to Amsterdam for 3 months to intern with De Designpolitie, a champion of “Dutch Design”. I think that my experience there will determine my path and choices in the future.

Notes on Design: Based on your experiences do you have any advice for next years graduates?

Clinton: Enjoy the freedom that university allows. Do things with your computer, but also try as many materials and techniques as you can. It’s all useful. Experiment. Do crazy stuff. It’s up to you to have fun (and by this I mean “serious hard-working fun”). If you’re not enjoying working on your assignments, then try something else.


See more of Clinton’s work on his portfolio website clintonstringer.net.

Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.

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