WE HAD A CHAT WITH PAULA SCHER AND YES SHE’S AS COOL AS EVER
SILENTLY FANGIRLING OVER PAULA SCHER,
CREATIVE DIRECTOR AND PARTNER AT PENTAGRAM
These days there are relatively few graphic designers who have truly worldwide reputations, and only a very small number of those are women – Paula is one.
She has worked in the New York office of the prestigious graphic design firm Pentagram since 1991, where she is a principal. If you work as a graphic designer (unless you live on a desert island or work in a similar bubble universe) Paula’s work has certainly entered your consciousness somewhere. It may not be explicitly so and you may not necessarily know it is her work. But it will be there. And you may not remember exactly where or when you first saw it. (Was it pinned to one of how many thousand Pinterest boards or posted on a similar number of Tumblr blogs?)
During the 1990s, Paula began painting as a creative meditation outside, at least initially, her ‘day job’. She produces large, colourful canvases with lettering, painting (sometimes quirky) information-rich maps – her father was a map maker for the US Geographic Survey. In the Netflix series ‘Abstract’, we see Paula in her Pentagram offices, which are as dependent on computer technology as any other design firm, and in her home, where we see both Scher and her husband, the equally iconic designer Seymour Chwast, engaged in their individual, traditional art practices. As the documentary shows, her hand-based artistic practice is vitally important, both to Paula personally and as creative fuel for her work at Pentagram. We spoke to her via email about this ‘hand’ work on the side.
LIGATURE JOURNAL: I was interested in one comment you made during the documentary, ‘Abstract’, where you mentioned the appeal of the rote work that is involved in producing your paintings. I think this is one aspect of the transition to computers that is so often overlooked – getting work done quickly is great, but being required to spend time using our hands in a meditative, repetitive way to achieve a vision has its benefits. I was wondering if you could expand on your comment and discuss what those benefits might be for you? And how they flow into your other creative practices (if they do)?
PAULA SCHER: It is more of a personal experience. I need the physical rote work to balance the fast-paced design life I live a Pentagram where I work on many projects at once. My week is consumed with meetings, directing, coming up with answers on the spot and designing on the fly. It is exhausting. The zen-like aspect of the painting allows me to store energy for the following week.
However, it doesn’t work if I have to finish paintings on a deadline…
Catch the rest of our chat with Paula in Ligature Journal Issue Three.