My best teacher

18th August 2000 at 01:00
I was the original Meccano kid. I was fascinated by structures and loved finding out how things worked, taking them apart and putting them back together. I made wacky machines and models and every birthday I would get the upgrade set of Meccano. When I was at prep school, aged about 12, I discovered I could draw. Ursula Tremlett was the headmaster's wife and she really took me in hand and made me realise I was quite good. It was a revelation to be able to draw all these things I'd been making and dreaming about.

By the time I got to Ampleforth I was already interested in art. There was a very good art teacher, John Bunting, who was a sculptor and very much a fan of traditional art skills. He was a lay teacher, not a monk, solid and short with strong stubby fingers like bananas and he chipped away at huge blocks of stone when he wasn't teaching us.

He made us do the basic things - drawing and looking - looking at things and getting them down on paper. It was of enormous value. It's terrible how drawing is dying out in art schools. To find a graduate who can draw these days is as rare as rocking horse shit. That's awful because drawing is fundamental.

Anyway, John Bunting was very encouraging, and when you're a boy and not sure of yourself you need someone like that to keep you going. I don't think my parents understood. My father was the son of a miner but he'd had a very traditional career path - Jesus College, Oxford, and then the civil service. When it came to choosing a career the only thing that mattered to me were my two interests - art and mechanical things. In my father's eyes it was okay to be an architect, the acceptable face of art. So for A-levels I did maths, art, history and French because I was going to do architecture at Cambridge.

In history I was taught how to write and organise my thoughts. That's another problem for students now. You know you've got a problem with a student when they write "country" without the "o", which I saw in a letter recently.

I knew I'd got to spend another term at school to do Cambridge entrance and that didn't appeal. Then in the school library I started reading Design magazineavidly. It came from the Design Council and I discovered this thing called industrial design. I approached my father to explain that I wanted to go to art school and that was it. My elder brother, Nick, had just dropped out of Sussex to join Student magazine with Richard Branson, who was a friend. My father thought all that was a bad influence and that going to art college was absolutely dreadful. But, bless him, he realised I was dead set on it and proceeded to help fund me through the next seven years of higher education.

My degree course at Manchester was very nuts and boltsy, grooming you for industry rather than expanding your intelligence. At the end I was offered a job by Stanley, the equipment people, for pound;4,000 a year but I turned them down to go to the Royal College of Art. My tutors said I was absolutely crazy but it was easily the best thing I ever did.

At the RCA the guy who really inspired me was Peter Stevens in automotive design, who is a friend now. He was very easy to talk to, not much older than me and a freelance car designer. Rather than tell you how to do something he would show you. Whenever I've done teaching myself I've tried to do the same - you pick up the pencil or the marker and do it. Watching a master at work is the fastest way to learn.

Designer Dick Powell was talking to Sarah Bayliss

THE STORY SO FAR

1951 Born

1964-69 Ampleforth College, Yorkshire

1969 Foundation art course, Farnham, West Surrey

1973 Degree in industrial design, Manchester Polytechnic

1976 Masters degree, Royal College of Art, London

1984 Forms Seymour-Powell with Richard Seymour, now employing 28 people designing cars, cameras, motorbikes, vacuum cleaners, watches, etc

1985 Writes Presentation Techniques, a handbook for design students published by Little, Brown and Company

1995 Appointed member of Design Council

1998 Appointed governor of Cranleigh School

July-August 2000 With Richard Seymour, presents their second Channel

4six-part TV series, Better by Design, in which Seymour-Powell aims to

improveeveryday products. Theseries ends on Tuesday at 8.30pm.


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