The Long March

Tim Amerine went from the fields of Iraq to the field of graphic design.

Tim Amerine Graphic Design Student Watkins College of Art

By Ron Wagner

Once a conversation starts with Tim Amerine, it doesn’t take long to realize you’re not talking to typical Watkins undergrad.

“I’m 38 years old, so I’m much older than most of the other students,” Amerine notes with a chuckle. “I’m also an Army veteran.”

Having two decades on your classmates creates some socially awkward situations, but when you’ve been deployed twice to Iraq (Kirkuk in 2006 and Samarra in 2008) as well as in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province in 2011, those kinds of things tend to lose their ability to ruin your day. Amerine is also a father to four, and his voice carries the confidence and maturity you’d expect from someone with those things on his resume.

What wasn’t on Amerine’s resume when he left the military in 2014, though, were updated professional skills. So, he did what an eight-year infantryman does—confronted the issue head on by going back to college with the help of the GI Bill.

“I’ve worked in graphic design for a long time. I’m somewhat of a seasoned professional, but I’m also kind of re-learning the tools of the trade, as it were,” he says. “There have been a lot of changes since I started in ’98. I’ve been able to keep up with it ever since, but now it’s just incredible what you can do.”

The students at Watkins have a drive. It's a natural drive.

Though Amerine’s plan was straightforward, his journey to Watkins was anything but. His father’s ailing health prompted him to move his family from Colorado Springs to the Nashville area, and Amerine quickly started school. It took two transfers, however, until he found the right fit.

“Just the overall atmosphere,” he replies when asked what made Watkins different. “The students at Watkins have a drive. It’s a natural drive. They have the desire to create, and the faculty instead of—for lack of a better way to put it—herding students like cattle through the system are actually trying to facilitate a better education and in the process making it fun, which is brilliant. That’s why I stayed, because it’s exactly the experience I was looking for.”

Amerine says his passions are illustration and basic design, and while he may not fit the stereotype of an art-school student, the main lesson on that is not to stereotype. “I’ve been an artist ever since I was a kid,” he explains. “I was doing graphic design since I was in high school, and I didn’t even realize I was doing graphic design. It was just what I did. I tried to go to college to do engineering out of all things, but I was like, I like drawing, and so I decided to just draw. And I found graphic design as that niche, where you can draw and make a living. I started doing that and self-taught myself along the way how to use the programs.”

Despite his best efforts, however, there was a difficulty in keeping up with the dizzying rate of change increasingly powerful computers make possible. The resources at Watkins—along with the influence of his own children—have proven invaluable. Balancing everything, he says, “has been a challenge, but luckily the school provides tools in order to keep that going as well. I also have kids that range from the age of six to 16, so I’m continually inundated with new technology. They definitely keep me constantly creating. My kids come home with art projects, and they’re like, Dad, we need help … I’ve actually used stuff I’ve done with my kids in life projects.”

Amerine is set to graduate with his BFA in graphic design, which will meet the GI Bill’s deadline. Currently residing in Fairview, Tennessee, with wife Lisa and sons Tim (16), Ian (13), and Levi (8), and daughter Charlotte (6), he’s ready to enter the workforce. Again.

“The GI Bill afforded me 36 months of time to complete my degree, and I’ve managed to do that. It’s been a pretty hectic couple of years, but I’m getting it done,” he says. “I’m looking forward to completing school and moving on to the next stage of my life, which is being a professional. I already consider myself one, but I’ll have a piece of paper to solidify it.”