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Drawing on creativity

Rachel Stanton sits face-to-face with commercial arts teacher Orlando Saavedra as he picks apart her first-draft drawing.

"What is this?" he asked, pushing the paper back toward her, "dolphins jumping in a box in a room?"

Rachel muttered something about surrealism and Salvador Dali.

"But what does it mean? Just don't do a box and a bunch of dolphins. There's got to be a meaning to it," he told her before sending her off with the instructions to "keep going."

Next in line is Charles White with his skateboard idea. Saavedra dismissed him at once. "No skateboards. That's all you ever do," he said. "Just skateboard back there and start something else."

The procession of students continued. Their objective is to come up with a cover design for Print magazine that both they and their teacher can live with.

It's not an easy assignment: find a clever idea that gets across a message without using words and meets the unique style that sets the trade magazine apart from all the rest.

Still, more than a few of Saavedra's students are up to the task.

"I like that," Saavedra told one student approvingly.

"Start working the design," he instructed another.

Before long, Rachel Stanton was back at his desk. She scrapped the dolphin idea and went with a drawing of a grandfather clock with the face and body of a real grandfather.

"Now this I like," Saavedra said as Rachel smiled with relief.

So it goes in the commercial arts class at Marchman Technical Education Center. Most of the students come from high schools for about two class periods a day. Some are adults who worked their way up a waiting list and have returned to school to obtain a marketable skill.

A creative tug-of-war seems to go on between Saavedra and all of his students, but the end results are always worth it, he said while proudly displaying a portfolio filled with some of his students' work.

His entire class is built around creativity, Saavedra explained, holding up a pencil portrait that at a distance could easily pass for a photograph.

"The students in this class have a love and a passion for art," he said. "The majority of them have been doing this their whole life. What makes an artist here different is their creativity and how they use their imagination."

Indeed it's that creativity that one day might get these kids their dream job in a field that is awash in opportunity.

Students in the commercial arts class can look forward to one day pursuing jobs in advertising agencies. There are career opportunities with magazines, newspapers, book jacket covers and the booming industries of computer games and comic books.

Computer games? Comic books?

There's a lot of money to be made in both those industries, said Steve Blackwell, the design manager for Wizard magazine, a fan publication for the comic industry, especially if you're a highly successful freelance artist.

"Half these guys started out with a really cool character, and now they're selling millions of games and comic books."

And even if your character doesn't sell, there still is money to be made within the industry, in other jobs.

"There's computer coloring, where someone, often with a background in fine arts, colors the characters," Blackwell said. "There are the inkers _ people who take a pencil and embellish things. Lettering, where people work up the word bubbles and sound effects. All those people have to have some education in commercial arts."

"Just think of it," Saavedra said, "every billboard, every product on the shelf at the supermarket, every tag on every piece of clothing you buy, the plastic bags you take it home in, all those things were designed by a commercial artist."

Saavedra's job is to help prepare his students for those job opportunities.

Before coming to Marchman, Saavedra taught for eight years at Tampa Technical Institute. "I adopted that college atmosphere in my classroom. I want my kids to be light years ahead of the rest when they go on to a secondary school like Tampa Tech," he said.

Monica Novak, 29, won't be heading for school when she completes the course next month. She already is interviewing for jobs and has a few promising leads.

Monica, who has been a homemaker and mother of four since leaving school three weeks shy of graduating, said she decided to return to the classroom when her third child headed to kindergarten. "I figured maybe mom ought to be doing that, too," she said.