INSIDE Chico State
0 October 30, 2003
Volume 34 Number 4
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico






Librarian At Large

Briefly Noted





In the Picture

Illustration by Chris Ficken

Chris Ficken Is Campus's Resident Graphic Artist and Illustrator

Who designed the new Wildcat Willie? And why isn't he getting more credit? Chris Ficken, a graphic artist at CSU, Chico since 1980, is responsible for many of the line drawings of campus buildings in campus publications. And he's responsible for the new Wildcat mascot.

Ficken and Gregg Berryman, Communication Design, and Carol Berg, executive assistant to the president, had talked about creating a new character mascot, because the original was actually inspired by a 1940s hand-drawn reproduction of Tom, from the cartoon Tom and Jerry. There was some concern that someone might, someday, come along and say, "Hey, that's not Willie, that's Tom."

Ficken finished several drawings three years ago and gave them to Athletics, but the logo switch wasn't made until this fall when the new marketing director, Jeff Kraegle, picked it up. "He's a kinder, gentler Wildcat," said Ficken. "People can choose from several expressions. We also have an animated version."

Ficken graduated from CSU, Chico with a degree in fine arts in 1978. He operated his own illustration and design business for a year before he was hired at CSU, Chico as a graphic artist. "Little did I know when I was a graduate student in 1978 and drawing a cartoon version of the campus map that I'd still be working on it 25 years later," said Ficken. The campus map continues to be his project, but now it is digitalized, which makes it much easier to take out a tennis court and put in a new building.

Ficken was instrumental in establishing CSU, Chico as the first university, perhaps in the country, that had a state-of-the-art broadcast digital graphic program. In 1981, as part of a grant that funded satellite technology, a graphic option allowed him, under the direction of then director Royd Weintraub, to purchase a computer graphic system. Weintraub was aware of how much time the graphics for video production was taking. Ficken chose a program developed for ABC by Dubner Computers, especially for ABC's work with the Olympics. The system cost more than $120,000 -- expensive at the time and even now.

"Everything became digital overnight," said Ficken. The program had scanners and a drawing tablet. What had been tedious and time-consuming work was, with the new system, in the computer and ready to go immediately after it was produced.

Ficken teaches one class each semester for Communication Design. The class, Graphic Visualization, helps design majors develop their visual and hand skills -- skills students may not get much practice with in other classes. "I make it as much a thinking class as a drawing class," said Ficken.

Ficken has drawn a series of campus buildings throughout the years for Ed Masterson, Advancement, including Kendall, Laxson, Trinity, Meriam Library, and even the Normal School. The series was published by the library and is available there in a bound edition.

In the last few years, Ficken has taken on management duties for the creative services of Academic Technologies: graphic and Web design, photography, presentation graphics, and the copy center in the library. It doesn't leave him as much studio time as he'd like, but digital artistic tools compensate to some degree. He can turn a sketch into the resemblance of an oil painting in an evening -- something that would have taken days before. "I love oil -- the smell and everything -- but I can work so much faster digitally. And it is still very tactile," said Ficken.

The biggest changes over the last 23 years? Changes in management structure and in emphasis. Academic Technologies (which include TLP, IMC, and DLT) took the place of the satellite technology in which Chico had been in the lead. Now, Ficken's management duties require more time creating spreadsheets than line drawings.

As for Willie, Ficken hopes that since Athletics has picked up the logo, they'll continue to use him. "I have the beginnings of more Willie variations and an animated button of him sliding in on the campus home page," said Ficken. "I just need a bit more studio time to get it done!"

Kathleen McPartland

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