On the surface Lennon and Sutcliffe appeared to be polar opposites. Lennon was already highly skilled at hiding his emotions behind a firewall of aggressive and abusive cruelty towards anyone on his radar. This behaviour moved up a gear at Art College as a defence mechanism to deflect from the fact that he believed himself to be a phony who was surrounded by real talent. When it came to applying himself to his studies, he was lazy, bored and easily distracted – the worst pupil in his class. Sutcliffe on the other hand was gifted with a natural talent for drawing, painting and even sculpture. He was a determined, studious, and meticulous artist who possessed an intensity and dedication which alarmed his tutors, who advised him to slow down and take life easier even then.
Sutcliffe was the most promising student at the college. Cynthia Powell, John Lennon’s future wife and art school student remembers that “Stuart was a sensitive artist and he was not a rebel, as John was. He wasn’t rowdy or rough”. (Mojo, 10 Years That Shook The World, p. 26)
Despite their differences however, they possessed a mutual admiration for each other, and for rock 'n' roll. Unlike his jazz influenced art school contemporaries Sutcliffe was influenced by Elvis, which intrigued Lennon, and it was rock 'n' roll's imagery that drew him to Lennon’s group. Lennon was intimidated by Sutcliffe's talent and particularly by his image. Sutcliffe however also admired Lennon's cartoons, particularly their honest and satirical subject matter.
Sutcliffe’s praise of his work had the effect of making Lennon feel he actually belonged at the art college and he fulfilled a desire in Lennon to be taken seriously by an artist whom he looked up to. Sutcliffe fulfilled an early role as a muse, a role later occupied by Yoko Ono. Indeed Sutcliffe introduced Lennon to Dadaism, a movement Lennon would later embrace wholeheartedly during his peace campaigns with Ono. Arthur Ballard, a former tutor at the Art College commented that "without Stu Sutcliffe, John Lennon wouldn't have known Dada from a donkey". (Philip Norman, Lennon – The Life, p. 136)
Late in 1959, Lennon’s group sought to broaden their prospects for bookings with the addition of a drummer/bass player. Lennon tendered either role to Sutcliffe and fellow flatmate and art student Rod Murray, who set about building a bass made from college materials. He was beaten to the role ,however, by Sutcliffe who purchased a bass guitar sometime in early 1960 with £65 he made from the recent sale of a painting which had hung at an exhibition in the prestigious Walker Art Gallery.