William DeForest, better known to those around campus as Bill, is the assistant professor of graphic design here at Castleton University and the advisor of the Castleton Content Lab.
Well known for his lively demeanor, students new and old speak of him fondly.
“Bill has an eccentric personality. I find his positivity and (want) to promote success in his students very supportive,” Castleton Content Lab member Severin Sheldon said.
A lifelong love
As a child, DeForest said he immediately loved drawing. While he never took it as a serious hobby, he would always find himself doodling, even at a young age.
He said he would draw the letter M a lot in second grade and drew things like monsters and mountains. By the time he was in middle school, he developed an admiration of “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings” books, so he started making fantasy drawings with men on horses holding weapons. Pretty quickly, he became skilled at simply looking at something and drawing it.
While drawing was something he always did, DeForest said he never really considered it as a career path.
In high school, he and a group of friends started a marine biology club with the help of their A.V. librarian. The group sold enough candy bars to make not one, but two trips to the Bahamas. DeForest said he thought marine biology would be the direction he would go in life, but that all changed when his mother said he should take an art class to fulfill some general education requirements.
The road from here wasn’t a smooth one, according to DeForest. The teacher thought his art was terrible, but that didn’t stop him. So, he kept drawing and kept improving.
“The more I worked at it, the more I felt (my art) come alive under my hands,” DeForest said.
Soon, he found himself majoring in art and printmaking at SUNY Oswego — later attending graduate school at Ohio State University.
DeForest said he knew he wanted to be an artist and an art professor after graduating, so he moved to Ithaca, New York, to start teaching.
While he loved what he was doing, he said he couldn’t help but feel like something was missing from his life.
“Something was tickling me that said life was moving on and that I needed to pick up the pace,” DeForest said.
Not long after, computer art and graphic design entered his life.
From paper to computer
He attended the Rochester Institute of Technology to study as a medical illustrator and it was there that he was introduced to Adobe products – a key tool for any graphic designer.
Though he said that, at the time, he had little knowledge of graphic design, he quickly learned to love it. He fell in love with what he refers to as “the white space,” which is the area of white before you add anything — like a blank canvas or a brand new artboard in Adobe Illustrator — and found himself looking at letters as shapes as opposed to simply reading them.
A year after graduating, he got his first job as a graphic designer.
DeForest said he didn’t think he would stick with graphic design or teaching, but when he was approached about creating a website, that all changed. The client had absolutely no idea what they wanted for their website, but DeForest said he saw how enthusiastic the client was about their work — so he gladly took on the challenge.
By the time he finished, the client absolutely loved DeForest’s work. He said this first experience of creating art for somebody else and working with them to make something happen in the world emboldened his passion.
“You serve something or somebody, and it influences the world one project at a time,” he said. “If you want everyone in the world to be on the same page, somebody has to design that page.”
Finding his passion
From that moment on, DeForest stuck with graphic design and began working as a freelance graphic designer. Soon after, he took a job at Bryant & Stratton college, a small two-year college in Buffalo, New York with a relatively new program. Though he said he knew he still had much to learn, he was adamant that if the program was going to be successful, he and his students had to actually do graphic design as opposed to him just lecturing about it.
DeForest and his students ended up taking on a real-world logo design project with the company Byrne Dairy. DeForest said he was approached to help create a logo for a new product and that he offered to do it free of charge if he could create it with his students. That design is still being distributed today.
DeForest worked at that school for 14 years, but in his heart, he had always wanted to work at a four-year liberal arts college. He said he’s always believed in college education and the liberal arts.
Recalling the first time he visited Castleton University campus to see about an open graphic design professor position, he said he immediately knew that it was where he wanted to be.
DeForest said he quickly fell in love with Castleton — the small campus, the faculty and the students were “just like where (I) had always wanted to be”.
“(Bill is a) chaotically good person who’s passionate about teaching and the Content Lab. He’s always super supportive and always there if I need advice on a project,” Castleton Content Lab President Richmond Rathbun said.