Master of Fine Arts
Communication Arts & Design
For the first ten years of my career I practiced my craft — advertising art direction — exclusively by hand. To help me in the design process itself, I hired specialists. For typography, for instance, I chose a firm I admired in Minneapolis where the typographers would hand cut the film negatives letter by letter.
In those days — the 1980s — each area of design had master craftsmen. I can remember one day walking into a warehouse with thirty-foot ceilings. On the back wall I saw a large horizontal canvas. The artist was suspended from scaffolding and covered in speckled paint dots. I wasn’t in an artist’s studio looking at a masterpiece half-finished. I was admiring a billboard — a hand painted one-of-a-kind billboard.
This is not to say that the old methods of working by hand were entirely idyllic. They had countless drawbacks. IT took several days to put together a layout with Pantone paper and transfer type, only to realize the color combination was wrong and the time wasted. Because processes were slow and labor-intensive, choices were limited.
In the mid 1980s, design studios and creative departments started using computers. For the first time I was able to select a color scheme, click a button, and see seemingly endless options instantaneously.
It wasn’t long before the skilled craftsmen of type were replaced with digitized fonts loaded directly onto hard drives. Suddenly, the idea of working type by hand became economically unfeasible. The typographers closed up shop, threw out their old tools, and went out to look for new jobs.
Several years later billboards were being painted on vinyl sheets right from our electronic files. Perfect replications of the original reproduced with speed and precision saved time and manpower. The new process had replaced the billboard artists almost overnight.
I saw a generation of artisans exchanged for a generation of desktop publishers. Just like the craftsmen of the past, older methods of graphic design have been cast aside finding their way uneasily into the category of fine art. And now fine art, too, may cast them aside.
Recently the Dean of the Fine Arts Program at Virginia Commonwealth University has held several meetings where he discussed the elimination of older printmaking methods in order to expand digital printmaking. Computers, it seems, will not be simply content with displacing the old hand processes; they want to eliminate them.
For most young designers the computer has completely replaced the hand in every stage of the design process. I’ve noticed in many cases designers aren’t problem solving outside of the computer. It isn’t even considered.
Certainly, the goal and outcome of my creative project were not intended to revive antiquated hand methods, at least as they historically existed. But hopefully, I’ve created something original by combining both hand methods and modern technology. If nothing else, I want younger designers to think beyond the 20GB hard drive as the only tool in their process.
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