Inge Druckrey: Teaching to See
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Inge Druckrey: Teaching to See


You really learn to look. And it pays off, that suddenly
you begin to see… …wonderful things in your daily
life you never noticed. And I would say it’s one of
the most wonderful presents… …you get in art education–… …–to enjoy… …seeing. Training the eye is very very important. You can’t come up with ideas if you don’t see first. What interested me… …was to teach students to see
in an abstract manner. So not to see an object… …but to see it as something round or square… …something textured or smooth… …and to translate what they see… …into a form-language. The assignment to place 5 lines in a given format… …shows how little you need… …to make the negative area come to life. Placing two squares in a given format… …to show in how many different ways… …you could handle this assignment. I gave students a 9-square grid… …which as ordering principle… …allowed them to come up with… …a coherent composition. The actual design elements were up to them. The limiting is important… …so that students have a very clear… …playground set up… …and it helps them to focus. Graphic design is seeing and envisioning. The eye has to move around… …enjoyably. There’s nothing where you get stuck. It all flows and works together. There’s nothing unnecessary. In all of these exercises… …the control of the negative area… …is very important. In another year… …I decided to work with letter… …and image combinations. She’d say: -“Hold that safety pin and look at it carefully… …and do you really see that kind of reflection… …that you are drawing here? Or even if you are not seeing it… …what’s the difference between the object and the quality of the object?” The coolness of the metal, the reflectivity… …she would talk in this terms. And yet we’re still doing just a black and white drawing. It’s about abstraction, it’s about simplification… …and she would have a way of… …getting you to see differently… …see deeper into the object. I chose the image because… …the original is a Greek relief I always loved… …and had a photograph of at my studio. The linear translation of the… …original relief… …came from another piece of art… …I greatly admired and loved… …which were the woodcuts of Maillol. So it’s linked to two areas… …I greatly cared about. And I recall a very nice statement by Herbert Matter. He told me once: -“If you love something… …the work will be just fine.” The connection that I really see between Inge… and Herbert Matter… …is that he said he was not interested in… …what things were. He was interesting on what things were doing. And as a photographer… …and a designer and an artist… …him being all three… …that was the continual question… …is to go beyond what it is… …and try to understand… …what it’s doing. The Beethoven poster was done in 1979. I thought as a visual idea to… …use the contrast of light and dark… …which evoked some similarity of Beethoven’s life… …who went from depression… …to very active working periods. The large -B- was a very early idea. The notation is authentic… …from a manuscript of a Beethoven score. The echo of the staff-lines… …also came relatively quickly. But I didn’t know where the poster… …would go from there. But staring at it… …and that is something very interesting… …when you work on a poster… …to give yourself time to stare at it… …And see what’s there? What does it want? What’s possible? Because with the first few elements one puts down… …there is already something set in motion. So I noticed the large -E- in the negative area… …and with that… …the idea for the poster was pretty clear… ..to spell out the word BEETHOVEN. The elements are very much… …in the realm of music notation. The important text… …of course, was repeated in the headline. But the word BEETHOVEN… …is not readily apparent… …and viewers have to puzzle… …a little bit to read it… …which gave students on campus… …great joy… …to see who figured it out and who didn’t. When I think of Inge, I think of someone who really finds the beauty in things. And she really… that was the inspiration for me as student. And probably many students can say the same thing. A good student assignment guides students… …through a number of important experiences. I had collected over time some beautiful old labels. So I distributed them among the students… …and asked them to create a new edition. They had to recreate the letters on the label… …draw any image that appeared on the label… …and prepare color separations… …to have hot metal plates done. They had to mix the ink and print the labels… …in proper registration on a small letterpress. So they learned about designing letters… …they matched the letters on the original label… …they designed the marks… …on the label from scratch… …carefully matching the same quality. They learned about color separation… …how to get the individual colors… …on separate hot metal plates… …about ink mixing, and the printing itself. So that’s a terrific experience! And the students loved the project… …because it had a clear goal. The drawing is something that… …I really do credit Inge… …as… …kind of my main influence… …because it started from… …this very fundamental foundation. I draw every week. I draw in a studio. I draw from a model. I’ve learned to love the activity… …of live drawing. It’s very very difficult, even to this day. I’ve been doing it regularly for over ten years. Every Friday morning for 3 hours. I don’t go to church… …but I do this every week. So in this process… …of the education in Basel… …developing the ability in students to see… …in many different drawing courses… …in courses observing light and shadow… …in texture drawing… …drawing in museums, drawing in marketplaces… …you really become visually aware. And frequently… …in the winter, animals were brought… …into the classroom. They would move around in a cage… …and you better hurry… …to capture the essence. I went into my foundation program at the Philadelphia College of Art… And had some great drawing teachers, but it was never done is a somewhat analytical way… …seeing volume… …seeing shading, seeing proportions… …until I started to draw with Inge. I can’t tell how frustrated I was… …until I got it… …until I’ve learned how to draw… …a free hand cube. We did object drawings, which would bring in drawing of a cylinder. I remember drawing a juice bottle… …and the constant correction… …the constant back and forth. It could be very tiring times… …but also very satisfying once you got it. That was a wonderful thing. You’d say: “Oh!… That’s how… …that series of ellipses fall… …in a vertical alignment of this bottle”. “Oh! That’s why… …you see less at the top… …than you do at the bottom.” Those kinds of things – they are like a revelation. When you finally see it. And once you do, and you’ve done it yourself, without someone kind of… …taking your hand and… …and making you do it. Once you do it yourself,
you’ll absolutely never forget it. So, a dot is the most flexible element, right? You can arrange it in lines, in planes… …in random clusters. All the different possibilities… …how you can compose… …dots in a given format… ..and really go through… …all the issues… …of contrast, direction, texture. There were two early exercises we did… …in the first year with Inge. One was doing letterforms… …and the other was something that… …we called “Inge Lines”. And they were these lines you made on a page… …and… …they were darker at the beginning… …and darker at the end… …and they thinned out in the middle. And they were supposed to be evenly spaced… …on the page. And I was the worst person in
the class at the letter forms… …and surprisingly… …the best person in the
class at the Inge Lines. Because when we talk about the
toggling back and forth… …between content… …and the pure visuals… …this was just pure visuals, there was no content. So I couldn’t get lost in… …was it an A? Or did it say this? There was nothing it said. It was just the lines… …and it was just your hand control. The classical Roman letter is… …the ancestor of all later… …formal developments of our alphabet. From the Roman majuscule… …to the Uncial… …Half-Uncial… …the Carolingian which is… …the first fully developed lower-case alphabet. And then to many variations of Blackletter… …and finally to the Humanist Script… …which is the model for many… …of our current typefaces. The structure of the Roman capital letter… …is simple and beautiful. It uses clear geometric elements… …the half-circle… …vertical, diagonal… …horizontal. It is based on a grid… …of square, half-square… …quarter-square. The -S- is two small half circles. The -O- is two large half circles. The -D- is a vertical and a large half circle. So it’s like a continuous rhythm… …of very simple form elements… …and that gives the coherence. So you see the carving of linear writing… …which goes back to an earlier period… …and then the writing with the
strong thick/thin differentiation… ….which is more of time of the classical period in Rome. And I always showed students… …original Roman stone carving… …either as photographs… …or I would take them to a library or museum… …to see original carvings. It is important to understand… ….letters as motion… …since the Roman letter was originally written. The written letter is a memory… …of motion. Looking at the -SL- … …there is a wonderful contrast… …between the flowing curve of an -S-… …and the very architectural form of the -L-. The motion of the large curve of the -G-… …and then the inverted smaller
curves of the -S-… …create a nice form contrast… …but experienced as motion. The negative area between these… …pairs of different line movements… …also becomes beautiful… …because of this contrast. There are two things at work
when you are writing. There are two different
aspects of writing. And this is an idea that I got
from Lloyd Reynolds. One aspect of writing is the eye. And the eye wants to look at… …an orderly set of marks on a page. The eye wants pattern.
The eye wants order. The eye wants relative perfection. The eye wants something that is reliable, that it can count on. The eye is a very conservative part of reading. On the other hand, you have the hand. And the hand is the radical aspect of writing. So the hand wants to write faster and faster. Writing changes… …because we are writing faster and faster all the time. And the hand wants to write expressively. So when you are writing your signature… …you are not thinking about getting every little letter perfect. You are thinking about the way you write your signature. And that’s why it’s very hard to forge somebody’s signature… …because you can’t do it slowly. You
have to write it fast and expressively. That’s the radical hand at work. So the whole history of writing
can be looked at… …as an elegant little conflict
between the conservative eye… …which wants everything
perfect and rational… …and the radical hand… …which wants to write fast
and write expressively. And it’s this constant battle… …that makes our environment that we
look at when we look at lettering. I did my undergraduate work at Reed College. -Reed College at that time, offered perhaps… …the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Because I had dropped out… …and didn’t have to take the normal classes… …I’ve decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I’ve learned about Serif and Sans-serif typefaces… …about varying the amount of space
between different letter combinations… …about what makes great typography great. None of this had even a hope
of any practical application… …in my life. But ten years later… …when we were designing the
first Macintosh computer… …it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer
with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in
on that single course in college… …the Mac would have never
had multiple typefaces or… …proportionally spaced fonts. When we studied calligraphy at Reed… …we studied exactly the way
you study in martial arts. You find a good teacher… …and you watch the teacher do it… …and you copy what the teacher is doing… …and then you correct it, and then you try it again… …over and over until… …the action is completely internalized. And you make it your own at that point. So it’s not just mindless copying. It’s copying thoughtfully… …and correcting thoughtfully until it’s internalized. And I think what you learn
from watching somebody write… …is the rhythm of the writing that
is not just muscle memory. It’s a rhythmic memory. It’s almost like a beat in music
that you’re learning… …when you watch somebody write. I think that Inge Druckrey… …came from a slightly different tradition than mine… …because she studied in Europe
and I studied in the Western US. But I think the thing we have in common… …is that tool in your hand… …and that’s always where the letters come from. I chose a simplified version of the Roman letter… …for the brush writing… …which leaves out the Serif. There is a beautiful gradation… …from thin to thick… …which naturally comes out of the flat-edged brush. The brush is parallel to the baseline of the writing. The -R- combines a rich variety of motions. It defines the optical middle… …where the two strokes join. In adding the -H- … …you have to carefully compare to the -R- … …to make sure… …the middle of the -H- is at the same height. All letters on the wall sit on the same baseline… …to make sure that the height is the same… …and to also… …see letters in context with each other. The back and forth of the positive and negative… …rendering of the letters in paint… …to get an absolutely smooth and delicate curve. The very essential… …deep cut of the negative area… …in the middle of the letter… …which links optically to the fine Serifs. The patience… …when I would think it would be perfect… …and she would see all the flows in it… …but never made me feel guilty about it… …never made me feel that you’ve done something bad. The curve has to be a bit refined. The links develop to the vertical. It was always about, “You can do it better”. “I know you can do it better,” was always the message. So it kind of motivated you to do good work. A little funny process. The student developed the -R- out of the -P-… …but the thin wooden leg doesn’t convince. It’s already better in the stroke weight. Better in the angle… …but the student decided… …it was not what she wanted. So she went back to brush writing. Refined the brush writing. And with a few corrections… …it’s a very beautiful -R-. Not an easy letter, the -V-. To design a symmetrical Serif on the diagonal stroke. So this doesn’t work. Now it begins to connect… …more organically to the thin stroke. The two curves of the Serifs are good. The fast motion… …summarizes the changes in individual letters… …and also now shows… …the successful family resemblance. The other wonderful thing that Inge taught me was… …the use of a reducing glass. This is something I don’t think most designers… …have today. I still have mine. But she would put our composition on the floor… …and then she would stand on a chair… …with this little reducing glass, so that she would get… … essentially thirty feet from the composition… …which allowed you to see relationships much more clearly. So she would stand up there on the chair, again, towering over me… …and look at the composition and she would say: “I think the two letters… …they are not the same weight.” And I’m looking at it, and I’m saying: “Yes, they are the same weight. I’ve measured them.” But optically, they weren’t the same weight.
So I learned the differences between… …geometric accuracy and optical accuracy. This is just a plain italic -N-… …followed by another plain italic -N-. And what we are trying to do here is to make this space… …inside the characters… …equal between the two characters. And we want the space in between the characters… …to be the same space or a little bit less. And when I say space, I don’t mean something you can measure. So you couldn’t take a ruler and measure
from there to there, and there to there… …and say: “Well, that should be the same.” We are talking about the area of the space.
And since these are complicated shapes… …it’s something that it’s very difficult to measure, and it’s something that you just have to learn to do by eye. My students had to design their own typeface. Sometimes students come up with rather wild ideas… …which seem impossible to turn into a coherent typeface. What brings these wild ideas down to earth… …are three things: First… …the letters in a typeface… …have to share a common structure. This assures evenness… …within the word picture or the entire text. Second… …letters have to be sufficiently distinct from each other… …to assure readability. And finally, a good typeface… …needs to have proper optical letter-spacing. This assures even rhythm and color. The overall page of text… …should appear as a smooth gray… …without any dark or light clusters. A typeface based on Indian script… …done with a flat-edged brush… …but held at a different angle. Unusual alphabet… …with great variation in thick and thins… …but the recurrence of thin or thick letters… …was very carefully thought-out. Well-designed typeface based on Korean script. Nice rhythm. Numbers from a parking ticket… …which don’t exist in any typeface. This alphabet… …is based on a wide variety of found letters… …scratched into the wet concrete of sidewalks. The face was then applied to the text of the Odyssey… …and looks appropriate. In my own design… …I worked on a few trademarks and logotypes. When this sign was hung in front of the pharmacy… I found out that the earlier version… …was done by Walter Käch… …who was a very famous Swiss designer. With Manfred Mayer… …we designed a wrapping paper for an interior… …design store in Basel. I used a rubber stamp of the logo. And by stamping this image over and over… …it offered the material to set up a tile pattern. When I came to Philadelphia in the early 70’s… …Ricky Wurman had just organized… …an Aspen Design Conference… …on the theme “Making the City Observable.” In this context I decided to investigate… …the various kinds of signage… …around one intersection in Philadelphia. Each student had to choose one type of sign. For example: metal signs… …which would include: die cut metal… …stamped metal, etched metal… …cast metal, sawed metal and so on. So there was a whole range of techniques… …within the theme of metal signs… …plastic signs or neon signs. Next to visually documenting… …the different types of signs… …students also had to write… …about the various production techniques. The research was published in the magazine “Design Quarterly.” The issue very quickly sold out… …because this kind of information… …was not generally available. For several years… …during my teaching in Philadelphia… …I worked with students on their senior project… …which I had developed together with Hans Allemann. The assignment was to choose a text… …from any area of interest… …and to reinterpret it using visual… …and typographic meanings. The format could be a film… …an interactive design or a book. Most students, actually, did a book. The design for the book by Bauby… …received special distinction. It was a real story… …and a very sensitive content. So the designer had to hold back. And a very favorite book on a lighter side… …was done by a student… …who was unsure of his ability… …to illustrate a text. So I decided to limit him. He could only use geometric objects… …for his illustrations and only cut paper. And it turned out just wonderful. Getting to know Edward Tufte… …made me much more aware of serious information design. Together… …we did a brochure for International Paper. When we went to Japan… …we visited the control center of the Bullet Train… …and saw a graphical train schedule. We then applied the same system… …to an airline schedule of a trip… …from Atlanta to Chicago. Good survey maps… …integrate multiple layers… …of detailed information. They use color intelligently… …balancing between hue… …grey value and brightness. Different types of information live together… …without harming each other. Detailed type and symbols survive… …because the landscape features are kept very light. Brightness is the full saturation of a color… …and could be defined… …as the bluest blue, or reddest red. The lightest color on the other hand… …is the one closest to white. We also talk about color in terms of gray value… …or weight. The brightest yellow is close to a 5% grey value. The brightest blue… …to a 70% gray. The brightest red to about 50%. Bad maps have a dominance of bright colors… …and simply get noisy. Typographic details get lost… …in meaningless dark shading of the buildings. It’s astonishing how sensitive our eyes are… …in distinguishing… …the most subtle variation in color. Gradual value changes are used… …to show variations of height… …or type of terrain. The color of the glacier… …this typical blueish cast… …is very close to reality. And so is the landscape. Even the type and symbols are layered… …by different size and weight… …to indicate their significance. It is interesting to see how a poster or cover design… …are different from information design. Because both have to function at a distance reading. They have to capture the attention… …of someone walking by… …and then entice them to look at more detailed information. And the Tissi poster functions perfectly in this way. At the large size , the word -Tissi-… …could be read from across the street. This poster for the Yale Symphony… …is more subtle in its form-language… …but the important information… …is clearly accessible. The image of the daffodil for… …a commencement poster at Yale… …is powerful. It’s like a trumpet. Graphic design is always visualizing an idea. And it’s definitely about drawing attention. It’s about informing. It’s about distance reading. But it’s also about symbolizing something. Because, like poetry… …you have to get the essence of something. I was somewhat influenced by Matthew Carter… …to give creative decisions to a student. Not to influence a student too much… …but to throw something… …in the lap of a student and see what comes out… …and then move in carefully and direct. Sometimes they end up in the bushes… …and I have to dig them out… …but that’s part of teaching. I don’t think Inge would have any successors. Like Chopin. I don’t think she will have any successors. I think she is one-off. You know, Chopin had really no influence. And I think in some ways Inge’s influence… …will not come through… …visual evidence. It will come through the people that she met… …and how she changed them and how they… …go through the world. And I think this is the great moment… …of studying with Inge, is to leave things behind… …and finally to see what is before you… …and that’s how you get to the end… …that’s how you get to the destination. English subtitles by SUNtitles.com

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8 thoughts on “Inge Druckrey: Teaching to See

  1. The composition exercise at the beginning, black squares on a white page, took me right back to my own foundation year in design school. Makes me want to draw. 

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