Milton Glaser: Inspiration and Process

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday June 3, 2021

Milton Glaser (1929-2020), grandee of them all in art and design, is the subject of a new volume in Moleskin Books’ Inspiration and Process in Design series. In his introduction to Milton Glaser | Inspiration and Process in Design, Steven Heller recounts the designer’s reply to the question of being an enormous, and longtime influence, on other designers. Glaser replied, “I’ve always seen myself as someone who worked in the realm of ideas and who was susceptible to influences. My own practice,” he continued, “is one where I consciously try to absorb and be influenced by many of my experiences, so the idea of influence and being influential is important to me.”

Heller goes on to say that Glaser believed that he was in an existential stream of artistic ideas and wanted to continue that stream by participating in disseminating those ideas. As a teacher at School of Visual Arts from 1960 to 2019, when he retired at ninety years of age, he felt that his pedagogy was “basically for students to see themselves as part of the continuity of visual history, rather than as a deviation from that.”

A polymath of visual and intellectual rigor, Glaser won a 1952 Fulbright grant to the Academy of Fine Arts, Bologna, to study with the painter Giorgio Morandi. On his return, he set up Pushpin Studios with Seymour Chwast and Edward Sorel, where together they forged a new path in visual communications for art and industry. 

The current volume is a tribute to the art of the everyday experience, the moments in which the smallest details become significant. Sometimes the drawings presented here are studies for assignments, such as his Shakespeare posters for Theatre for a New Audience. But often, the pages offer Glaser’s close observation of subjects that simply get his juices flowing; food, for one. A series of loose ink drawings capture the abundance and variety of an overflowing fish market counter; a spread depicting a lunchtime feast with fava beans, with the rest of the menu annotated in his fluid script; or the precisely rendered qualities of a grape leaf and some figs. 

Glaser’s travels abroad get plenty of space here, including a couple of ink drawings made of Palladio’s Teatro Olympico at Vicenza; the Paris Opera, also loosely sketched yet unquestionably identifiable; and a view from his hotel room across San Giminano to the hills falling away in the distance (below).

Like most highly accomplished artists, Glaser can draw with whatever is at hand. One of the great pleasures that comes from paging through this book is to sense the excitement inherent in picking up any kind of stick, from an ink pen to a Conté crayon to pastels, watercolors and color pencils, and running with it. A highly refined rendering in ink and watercolor of Venice’s Grand Canal, dated 1953 (top) is sandwiched between a loosely drawn transcription of what might be a sculpted head by Micelangelo, done in color pencil, and an ink drawing of a samurai, dated 1989/Tokyo. One of the highlights, for me, is Glaser’s transcription of Cezanne’s portrait of his childhood friend, Gustave Boyer, at The Met, done in colored inks.


Milton Glaser | Inspiration and Process in Design is the newest in the series from Moleskin Books, now available from Princeton Architectural Press. Info Other titles in the series include Seymour Chwast, Paul Rand, Louise Fili and Herbert Bayer, among others. More about Milton Glaser here




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