Interview: Some Words About Drawing with Words


Exhibition logo by Leonardo Sonnoli

On Tuesday, March 27th New York Times Art Directors Nicholas Blechman and Alexandra Zsigmond celebrated the opening of their new group show of typographic illustration created for The Times, Drawing with Words.

The show is located in the New York Times building itself and features work by an impressive roster of artists:

Marian Bantjes + Ron Barrett + Michael Bierut + Kelly Blair + Christopher Brand + Seymour Chwast + Rodrigo Corral + Jennifer Daniel + Matt Dorfman + Stephen Doyle + Alan Dye + Fogelson-Lubliner + Jason Fulford + Carin Goldberg + August Heffner + Jessica Hische + Joel Holland + Mikel Jaso + Leo Jung + Joon Mo Kang + Chip Kidd + Barbara Kruger + Ji Lee + Jason Logan + Ellen Lupton + Wendy MacNaughton + Abbott Miller + Oliver Munday + Lenny Naar + Tucker Nichols + Christoph Niemann + Christian Northeast + OPEN + Other Means + Kailie Parrish + Post Typography + Chris Rubino + Rumors + Ed Ruscha + Paul Sahre + Paula Scher + Michael Schmelling + Johnny Selman + Tamara Shopsin + Leonardo Sonnoli + Brian Stauffer + Felix Sockwell + Patrick Thomas + Topos Graphics + James Victore + Ben Wiseman

Illustration Age decided to ask Nicholas and Alexandra to share their experiences of the event, and more specifically their views on the impact of typographic illustration.

Could you start by giving us your elevator pitch for the show and tell us about the inspiration for the theme Drawing with Words?

Nicholas Blechman: The exhibition brings together a selection of typographic illustrations that have appeared in the pages of The Times over the past 20 years. These ground breaking pieces pushed the boundaries of editorial illustration, and helped redefine the field. Traditionally articles on the Op-Ed page have been accompanied by drawings. Beginning in the late 90s, designers like Chip Kidd, Alexander Isley and Michael Bierut began appearing in newsprint. What had been the home of illustration was being infiltrated by typography.

I’d love to hear your individual thoughts on the impact of typographic illustration as opposed to other forms. In your experience as Art Directors, are there times when a typographic approach is obviously the more effective choice?

NB: Typographic illustration has the virtue of  being able to tackle sensitive issues. Articles on sex, race, or torture are every illustrator’s nightmare. But a designer can have fun with these topics. And the results are likely to appease nervous editors.

Alexandra Zsigmond: A type illustration can sometimes say what can’t be shown in the paper due to emotionally-charged or taboo content that might visually offend some readers. And it can do so in a way that remains graphically impactful, cutting directly to the point with clever or humorous twists of word or phrase. These type illustrations are incisive in meaning and concept, graphic and bold in their visual impact. Some solutions make you smile, some make you laugh out loud. In their clever combinations, they produce the satisfying feeling of being in on the joke.


Photo by Felix Sockwell

What is the unique visual quality of these solutions?

AZ: The artists in the show use a wide range of techniques in creating these typographic solutions. Some are photographic, involving typographic tableaux made from physical objects. Others use only words, reconfiguring them in unexpected ways. Still others combine image and text, allowing the two to play off and enhance one another.

The show’s opening was held on March 27th. What was the general reception of the public, as well as your own feeling on the collection?

NB: I am always amazed at how well attended these events are. The narrow gallery space (its really a corridor) intensifies the density, so it feels really packed. I love it. I think there is a real need for illustrators and designers to turn off their computers and socialize.

Thanks very much to Nicholas Blechman and Alexandra Zsigmond for taking the time to share their thoughts, and thanks also to Felix Sockwell for allowing us to share one of his photos from the opening.

You can see all the great typographic work with your own eyes in the New York Times gallery thru May 30th.

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Categories: Events

Author:Thomas James

Creative Director of Illustration Age and Illustrator for The New York Times, Pentagram, WIRED, Buzzfeed, and more. Website / Instagram

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3 Comments on “Interview: Some Words About Drawing with Words”

  1. April 2, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    Reblogged this on bradshal.

  2. April 2, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

    Really interesting, especially the point about typographical illustration tackling sensitive issues.

  3. April 3, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    Reblogged this on JuanArte.


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