I was born and raised in a blue-collar neighborhood in Philadelphia, PA. I lived in a conservative household, answering to parents who viewed a college education as key to gaining access to a secure life and 'art' was viewed as a weekend hobby. I viewed the world differently and as a young person I believed a career in the arts as boundless and exciting. Throughout my K-12 studies, I somewhat underachieved academically and I was not much of an athlete. Yet, I always excelled at drawing and painting and my art skills gave me credibility throughout my first twelve years of school.

My formal college education began at Bucks County Community College, Newtown, PA. At "Bucks" I took a diverse selection of art courses and eventually decided to study commercial art. After two years of study at "Bucks", I studied, on a partial scholarship at Philadelphia College of Art (now The University of the Arts.) Initially, I planned on becoming an illustrator, likely pursuing a career as an artist for books and magazines. In the summer of 1984, I worked as an assistant at a local commercial design firm and I quickly became disinterested in commercial art because I struggled with taking orders from people who knew absolutely nothing about art and yet these "art Neanderthals" forced me to create art based on their uninspiring ideas. In the fall of 1984, I switched my major to fine arts because I wanted to become a painter.

I graduated with honors and awards from Philadelphia College of Art in 1987 and the day after graduation my lifelong neighborhood pal got me a union job at a local firm in town. I viewed this menial job a temporary detour on the road towards my eventual success . I painted during the day and worked at night. Eventually, my paintings were exhibited in shows in Philadelphia galleries, gaining favorable reviews and occasionally making a sale. Still, factory work quickly caused me to become disillusioned and frustrated. Consequently, I opted to crawl into the secure womb of graduate school and avoid reality for two years. I received a full scholarship to study painting, in an MFA program, at The University of Delaware in the fall of 1988.

At the University of Delaware, I lived like a starving artist- odd hours of drawing and painting, numerous philosophical conversations about being a modern artist and drinking extra strong black coffee. At the start of my second year of study, I received a fellowship to study in England and proceeded to enjoy the blissful experience of European living and the culinary infliction of British food. I left The University of Delaware with a Master of Fine Arts Degree (in drawing and painting), two thousand dollars in my bank account and the typical dreams of a young and untested artist. Aside from an adjunct art instructor position at Bucks County Community College, I once again ventured into paying my bills via odd jobs and factory work.

In 1990, uninsured, underpaid and unfulfilled, I earned a full scholarship into the Master of Art Education Program at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA. I completed my obligatory 21 certification credits, did my student teaching and earned PA and NJ Art Teacher Certification, K-12, but I never completed my M.Ed. degree. I left the program because I had recently married and I wanted to "provide" for my beautiful, young bride. I needed to locate a full time job.

In 1992, my first teaching experience was at a school for emotionally disturbed and neurologically impaired students in Cherry Hill, NJ. I was not prepared to deal with the demands of a pseudo-art therapy position and left after one year to take a position as an art teacher at West Morris Mendham High School, Mendham. NJ. My first year went extremely well and I decided to sell my home in Philadelphia and relocate to North Jersey. Unfortunately, during my second year, having recently sold my home, I was called into my supervisor's office and I was told that due to cutbacks, I was going to be laid off. This was the beginning of a series of art education positions that I held through much of the 1990's. I became an 'artistic rogue' selling my services to various public schools throughout New Jersey, constantly subjecting my art education position to the whim of cutbacks, always enduring the ramifications of a school budget that was voted down by the community.

At this point, frustrated and somewhat bitter, I decided to reinvent myself. Having relocated to South Jersey and teaching as an adjunct drawing instructor at Stockton College, I needed to diversify my art and creative abilities. In 1996 I purchased my friend's Apple computer and I proceeded to install bootleg versions of PhotoShop, Illustrator and Quark XPress onto the harddrive. Within a year, I was teaching an introductory level graphic design course at Rowan University as well as teaching at Montgomery High School, Skillman, NJ (I was hired as a one-year replacement instructor) and at Stockton College. In addition, I was sporadically working as a freelance designer for small design firms and photographers in South Jersey and Philadelphia.

By 1999 I received a number of job offers as an art/graphics instructor at numerous high schools throughout New Jersey. However, I was convinced that my abilities would be better served as a college instructor. For that reason, I hastily declined a position at a high school near Princeton, NJ and decided to take a position at Centenary College. In the twelve years I have taught at the college, I have continued to pursue painting as well as graphic design. In addition, I have no also added web design and Flash animation onto my formal list of abilities.

In retrospect, the best way to remain a 'working artist' is to learn art skills that go beyond traditional art mediums. Drawing and painting skills transcend into ALL visual art mediums. The best fine artists make the best digital artists.


-Gary Caal