Master illustrator Seymour Chwast on getting ideas when creativity runs dry

Conversations About Your Voice: The legendary American illustrator reveals how he tackle days when ideas elude him and how he nourishes his creative voice.

by Zohra Khan Published on : Feb 02, 2021

"Your work has to be unique but not so unique that nobody is interested in it,” says Seymour Chwast, the legendary American illustrator and type designer in an exclusive video interview with STIR. “Learn from people from the past, then do your own. Don’t try to imitate anybody," he mentions as an advice to young graphic designers and illustrators who are seeking a voice of their own.

  • Cofounder of internationally acclaimed Push Pin Studios, Seymour Chwast is a master of historical styles and movements | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra | STIRworld
    Cofounder of internationally acclaimed Push Pin Studios, Seymour Chwast is a master of historical styles and movements Image: Courtesy of Seymour Chwast
  • Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra | STIRworld
    Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser (1968) Image: Courtesy of Seymour Chwast
  • Seymour Chwast with wife Paula Scher (celebrated graphic designer and a partner at New York consultancy Pentagram) | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra | STIRworld
    Seymour Chwast with wife Paula Scher (celebrated graphic designer and a partner at New York consultancy Pentagram) Image: Courtesy of Seymour Chwast

Chwast, 89, is one of the most influential figures who have contributed in shaping the contemporary American and European graphic design language with his idea-centric and witty style of illustration. Together with two other powerhouses, Milton Glaser and Edward Sorel, he co-founded critically acclaimed Push Pin Studios where he created playful and culturally relevant work that unified illustration and design.

His first monograph (1985): The Left-Handed Designer (Harry N. Adams, New York) | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra | STIRworld
His first monograph (1985): The Left-Handed Designer (Harry N. Adams, New York) Image: Courtesy of Seymour Chwast
I can’t imagine myself drawing on a computer. Paper is enough for me. – Seymour Chwast

Born in Bronx, New York City, Chwast began to draw at the age of seven. He was introduced to the art of illustration in high school by an art teacher named Leon Friend, who inspired him to understand and appreciate type, graphic images and nuances of commercial art. Friend encouraged young Chwast to enter all competitions and this led to the publishing of his first illustration in a reader’s column in Seventeen magazine when he was only 16. All along riveted by the art on billboards and advertisement as against what populated museums and galleries, his penchant towards poster design grew even more as he entered New York’s Cooper Union where he later met partners Sorel and Glaser.

  • Beyond frequent client assignments and editorial projects, Chwast continually mines his own psyche for expressive material to explore, examine, and uncover | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra | STIRworld
    Beyond frequent client assignments and editorial projects, Chwast continually mines his own psyche for expressive material to explore, examine, and uncover Image: Courtesy of Seymour Chwast
  • Chwast’s most celebrated works are in response to warfare | Conversations About Your Voice | STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra | STIRworld
    Chwast’s most celebrated works are in response to warfare Image: Courtesy of Seymour Chwast
"It's always looking around at things and going through a lot of books that inspire me." – Seymour Chwast

Chwast, whose works have appeared on posters, books for children and adults, magazine covers and advertisements, shares with STIR how he responds to noise in his creative practice, where does technology fit in his craft and what inspires him to get up every morning. He also reveals his mantra to get through those times when creativity runs dry.

“It happens that when I am looking to solve a graphic problem, I often get most results by waking up in the morning when it’s quiet. The ideas don’t always work, sometimes they are crazy, but they help," observes the master of historical styles and movements.

Grateful, he observes, that he gets to wake up every morning to something to work on, he looks ahead optimistically to continue creating work that creates a stir: “Getting ideas is all the more difficult these days, but I am going to keep on doing what I am doing as long as I can," he says with a smile.

Tap on the cover video to watch the entire conversation.

STIR X Kyoorius Designyatra 2020: Conversations About Your Voice
The 2020 edition of Kyoorius Designyatra (#KDY20) themed around ‘Your Voice’ caught many stellar creatives from the world of design and visual arts in a moment of self-reflection. As #KDY20 Exclusive Media Partner, STIR spoke with design luminaries Paula Scher Seymour Chwast, Frank de Ruwe, and Anita Fontaine to know what it takes to live one’s voice. To know more, click here.

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