There are people who changed the course of your life in such a visible way you don’t know how much of it you owe to them.
I interned for Hillman as a SVA student studying a completely unrelated field to web design. It was suppose to be a semester long internship, something to put on my resume, and some change in my pocket. But at Hillman’s requests, I stayed on, for close to two years.
He was a man of very few words, and I guess I was, too. Each day, we would speak briefly about the tasks at hand, and get to our work without another sound.
There’s steely inscrutable silence to Hillman. There’s no telling what the man was thinking. He did not preach, and rarely did he instruct. But when he did spoke, it was in a few words, loaded with his thoughts. I would try to unravel each word like clues to a riddle, to get to know the man.
What I learned from Hillman I learned from watching him. I observe his creative process, and made it a template for mine. I see where and when he breaks the grid, and what for. He showed me what it meant to be an artist, and a web designer.
But above all, it was his support that changed everything for me.
I remember two weeks into my internship, I was fetching some equipment in the storage room, and telling Liz Danzico, who was working with us at the time, that I have no clue what I was doing, and how well I was doing it. With Hillman, it’s hard to tell his opinion on anything. She said that he liked me, that he thinks I was doing fine.
Years later I was having lunch with an architect friend who shares office space with us. She told me that they talked about me, I asked who, she said Hillman and my co-worker. They think that I am special, that I will do something good.
These episodes instilled confidence in me when I’m filled with doubt. It pushed me to try harder in the face of failures, and made me believe that I can be a great web designer, like Hillman.
I got a chance to thank him last year at the fundraiser for his unfinished collaboration with Stefan Sagmeister, the Happy Film. It is obvious to me that I would not have a career if it wasn’t for Hillman, not to mention his numerous recommendation letters over the years.
I remember our last conversation well:
Me: Hillman, I don’t want to be the one that have to tell you this, but you need to eat something, you are all skin and bones.
Hillman: Ah, you see, Du, I’m sick. I eat five meals a day but nothing seems to help.
Me: But, you are going to be okay, right?
Hillman: I hope so, but the doctor don’t know, no one knows.
My heart goes out to his young children, Jasper and Tess.