Somehow by attrition, I have become the “go to” designer when color is involved. This amazes me because my color theory is pretty simple: everything works with everything. Just don’t be wimpy. I love hateful combinations such as almond, maroon, and teal. I’d make every project avocado, burnt orange, butter yellow, baby blue, and magenta if I could. But, oddly, I love black and white. It’s the color combination used the least. Everyone assumes it’s ubiquitous, so everything is full of color. When was the last time you saw a stark black and white ad, billboard, or television commercial? Color is an evil temptress; we attempt restrain, but are lured with the promise of excitement. Be brave. Try black and white. This isn’t black and white with a splash of orange. No. No splash. You must deny any additional color.
One of the most difficult tasks is to go through a family member’s things after they’ve died. After my father died, we did this so my brother and his family could take over his house. At first, it’s gut wrenching, and I wanted to keep everything for sentimental reasons. “But that was Dad’s rubber-band,” I would argue. After a few days, something else clicked in and the dumpster began to fill up. This was after we’d been told by several thrift shops to stop bring clothing from the 1970s. Fortunately, my sister gave the bulk of my father’s wardrobe to a friend who was the bartender at a groovy bar. Unfortunately, my brother had to stop going there because he thought it was creepy to see a young hipster behind the bar in Dad’s old striped shirts from Sears in 1975.
Books were the hardest to give away. Who knew that everyone was so picky? We called several used booksellers in Berkeley and San Francisco. They came out to the house, sifted through the hundreds of books and took three. Eventually we started throwing them away. I admit a book on Cobol (a computer language from 1959) is not a big draw. I did, however, save a wonderful assortment of ephemera. One of my favorite items is Kaiser Aluminum News III, from 1965. The drawings are by Saul Steinberg. Don Conover is listed as the art director. I don’t have any idea why my dad had this. Maybe he owned stock, but I don’t think he was interested in aluminum. There are some scary typographic choices (the bold Century Expanded and italic Optima), but each page is as incredible as the next.
Some day, after a few cocktails, I’ll do some drunk posting, and talk about the other “ephemera” we found.
I used to sit across the table from several very well known designers during meetings for AIGA. I was impressed at their ability to take copious notes while someone was presenting an issue. After a couple of years, I felt inadequate, my notes were singular words that later made no sense to me. Then I saw one of the impressive board member’s notes. They weren’t notes at all, only doodles of buildings, and a dog, or someone standing at a write-board. When I later asked this person what was presented, they were able to explain it perfectly. Clearly these notes were some sort of hieroglyph. Some of the doodles were quite nice, but frankly, nothing came close to Saul Steinberg’s spontaneous and simple drawings.
Steinberg is best known for his View of the World from 9th Avenue. This is his famous 1976 New Yorker cover, of the mental geography of Manhattanites. Maybe I’ve seen this one too many times in a New Yorker’s foyer, but I love some of his other work much more. Steinberg was born in Romania in 1914. He came to the United States in the early 1940s to escape anti-Jewish laws in Italy. This outsider point of view is a constant in all of his work. In addition to the remarkable fresh and light style, each piece sees the world through a filter most of us don’t notice. People in this world are dwarfed by the material world, but seem to muddle through with humor.
I like to accuse people of stealing. Whenever I'm looking for a book in our library and can't find it, I tell everyone in the studio, "Someone has stolen it. I know it." And then someone will go to the shelf and pull the book out that I thought was stolen. Oddly, in 16 years, we've only had one book stolen. It was a book on Fillmore posters and it was stolen by an errant intern who had a band and lasted two days. Today, in the midst of accusing the designers of stealing my Studio Boggeri book, I found the Ninth Graphic Arts Production Yearbook. It sounds dull, and I assumed from the cover that it was an old book that showed examples of halftones, which it was. Mixed in with the chapters on Photo-electric Engraving Techniques, and Dot Etching were remarkable chapter dividers and miscellaneous pages.
So the lesson is, yeah no duh, don't judge a book by its cover. And it turns out that Monica had the Studio Boggeri book on her desk, so I probably should stop attacking and accusing everyone of theft immediately.