While working on a project in the studio these last few nights, I had a loud barking going on inside my head. Each letter I rendered on this project sent an echo through my memory. “Fill in the entire character before moving to the next; you need to understand its weight before you can know its relationship with the one that follows.” And, “Hey! What kind of serif is that? It looks like a turkey leg! Redraw!”
Back in the day, my Graphic Design I/II professor, Hazel Gamec, built her reputation with her students on loud, snarky criticisms of our work at every step. We could get away with nothing. If we were working on our projects in class, she would bark about the hamburger (read eraser grit) on our boards. If we had worked on our projects outside of class, she would carp on our simple thinking and lame concepts. She was tough to face through a four-hour long studio class twice a week, especially if you hadn’t steeled yourself properly ahead of time. Hazel was a harsh instructor, but she built up our leather. Two years I spent with that woman screeching and screaming at me; by junior year my skin was 4in thick and I could take criticism of any kind. Still can.
Just like a grumpy 7th grade basketball coach, Hazel worked us through the fundamentals. We had to know type upside down & backwards, from letterform to galley, kerning to leading and justified-left. We practiced hand-rendering text for hours to develop a feel for the weight of the character, the font and the style. Italics are lighter than regular, book lighter than demi-bold. Rendering a sharp serif could drive you mad, but so could the curve of the S in Helvetica. As I write this all these years later, I realize how deeply these principles and experiences are ingrained in my practice of design. I know it doesn’t do me a lot of good now…the industry has moved light years since my design school days where we learned the value of a tight keyline. Folks who become graphic designers now need never learn these fundamentals, because their software does it all for them. How sad, really.
Some of the greatest enjoyment in the work I create today comes from knowing those rules Hazel hammered into us–and breaking them. I love to mess with the readability of text and letterform to affect meaning, and if I did not have those fundamentals under my belt, I might not enjoy it so much. Suffering the barking all those years ago has its benefits.