Milton Glaser on Drawing

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday October 15, 2020

The artistry of Milton Glaser (1929-2020) is surely key to the mark he has left on our ways of looking at, and thinking about, the world we live in. In his seven decades behind a pencil, Milton looked and thought twice about more subjects than there is space here to mention. As co-founder of Push Pin Studios, with his Cooper Union classmates, Seymour Chwast and Edward Sorel, in 1954, they brought a new look in illustration artwork to a publishing world that had shifted to photography as a means of visual communication. The success of this work, which rejected tradition in favor of reinvigorated interpretations of historical styles (Victorian, art nouveau, art deco), provided a fresh counterpoint to both the increasingly formulaic blandness of modernism, and the rote sentimental realism of commercial illustration. As readership grew, the Push Pin Graphic, and Push Pin Studios, attracted advertisers, clients, and acclaim.

This success eventually made Milton Glaser a household name—often referred to as Milton, or at least “the guy who did the Dylan poster”. His legacy is unquestionable, and backed by numerous publications over the years. Next week a new book will be out: Sketch & Finish: The Journey from Here to There (Princeton Architectural Press), in which Milton celebrates drawing in all its forms. Following is an extract, followed by an extract from a 2003 interview.



A sketch is typically understood to be a rough drawing. It raises the questions of what a drawing is and, even more, what do we mean by “rough”? If we consider “rough” to simply be the opposite of “smooth,” the definition is useless.

I’d rather consider a sketch as the mind’s introduction to a creative journey. It is, by many standards, ambiguous. Its primary purpose may be to create an opportunity for a path to emerge. You don’t know where you’re going, but the answer lies in your brain. It just needs to be uncovered. 



The tentativeness in the act of sketching is crucial. Doubt is essential. If you already know the answer before you start, why bother? Conviction is the killer of imagination….

The sketch, incidentally, is not necessarily meant to be seen by anyone except the artist. And yet we adore seeing artists’ sketches because they reveal how their minds function. Who would not want a sketch by Leonardo? It would essentially be a picture of the brain of one of the greatest geniuses in history. The fidelity of the sketch varies too. Rough or refined, tight or loose—sometimes you develop a sketch further to see if it’s a path worth taking. Many sketches even look like finished works….

Drawing is useful because it helps you refocus and recalibrate your existing perceptions about something. 



In a 2003 interview by Martin Pedersen for Metropolis Magazine, Milton talked about teaching drawing

Martin Pedersen: Why do you teach?

Milton Glaser: I enjoy teaching. I love the act of being in front of a class. It makes me feel good. I have no other reason to teach. If I didn't look forward to it, I wouldn't do it anymore. But I find it gives me a lot of energy and makes me feel useful. For a large part of my life, feeling useful has been a dominate characteristic of what rewards me, whether it's teaching or making things or being socially active.

MP: Let's talk about drawing. You've always been somebody whose brain is wired to your hand. There's now been a whole generation, and even a second generation, who have been much less wedded to that. Are you sensing a return to the hand?



MG: I think so. There is no greater instrument for understanding the visual world than the hand and a pencil, because the idea of creating or recreating form produces a different neurological pattern than using a computer to find things. To understand the meaning of formwhat a shape is, what an edge is, what space isthere's nothing more instructive than the act of drawing. Why has it been abandoned? Partially it's been given up because it's so difficult-and also the advent of modernism introduced a whole new set of values that were not necessarily useful (some of them were, some of them were not). But like every set of principles you had to pick your way through them. Still the physiological act of trying to represent the world through drawing is enormously instructive.

MP: Can drawing be taught?

MG: You can teach anyone to draw in a representational way. You cannot teach anyone to draw expressively. But you can set the stage for it. There are different kinds of drawing. Drawing for understanding is different than the drawing for demonstration. People also confuse drawing with illustration. Or think that the only people that have to learn to draw in this era are people who want to illustrate.

Read the entire interview here
Images courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press



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