A writer who draws

Saul Steinberg, most famous as a cover artist for The New Yorker since 1941 says of himself in “The lines of Saul Steinberg’s mind” published in Chicago Reader (July 7, 2017) that he was “a writer who draws”.  Neither a cartoonist or illustrator (though he has been chacterised as both, and doesn’t consider himself either), we can all agree his style is unique.  Many of his drawings use text, “but the words don’t illuminate the images or vice versa”, instead the letters embody concepts or ideas or internal thoughts or perceptions, being both graphic and literary.  Influenced by architecture, inspired by a wide range of sources including maps, children’s art, calligraphy, handwriting, postcards and underground comics too,  he always maintained that he was an outsider, and tried to convey that in his art.  It’s his use of calligraphy and handwriting that has drawn me to his creations.

In my marketing communications/direct marketing days, primarily in the 1980’s and ’90’s at successful hardware and software firms, I enjoyed being able to choose freelance writers and designers, boutique agencies and creatives to work on my marketing programs.  Sometimes I paired up accomplished writers and designers who didn’t know each other, encouraging them to collaborate, like Bob Cargill of Cargil Creative , a former president of NEDMA, and now a social media pundit, along with Caryl Hull of Hull Creative . Both of them were wonderful to work with and produced memorable and successful programs.  I worked repeatedly with the established designer/writer team of Jory Mason and Don Crane of Crane Creative of the South Shore.  The two of them clicked and produced outstanding work as she was a visual thinker with a strong marketing sense, and he was a marketing writer with a strong design sensibility.   Sometimes it was her concept to write in a certain way, sometimes it was his notion to produce with certain colors, shapes and fonts.  Her grandfather, John R.Neill was a recognized pen and ink illustrator.  Both Jory and Don worked in legendary Boston ad agencies before going out on their own.  Most of our work was done at both Data General and Progress Software.  That was so much fun, brainstorming with both of them, and then sweating the details while staying on schedule and budget.  I remember showing my father, a small businessman some of my marketing collateral and mailers, and he always asked with a scrunched up facial expression, incredulously  “you get paid to do this?”  I guess if I had been a surgeon and saved someone’s life or a lawyer who argued a case that effected the welfare of many he would have been more impressed.

Sixteen years ago almost to the day (February 2, 2002 to be exact), I was introduced through e-mail to two individuals and their respective non profit organizations.  John Vitolo, an ornamental pen master of Bethesda, MD told me about  IAMPETH, and John DeCollibus of Westboro, MA, invited me to join both Masscribes, a supportive guild of calligraphers, lettering artists (maybe Steinberg could call himself that?) and art enthusiasts.  IAMPETH is a group of 1,100 ornamental pen men worldwide of The International Association of Master Penmen, Engravers and Teachers of Handwriting.

A few years back I joined Masscribes  and attended a potluck luncheon in Plymouth, MA one Sunday afternoon. Besides learning about calligraphy inks, papers and nibs, the metallic structure that “makes the mark”,  that produce the line of ink on to paper,  I saw holders like scroll nibs, mapping nibs, and elbow nibs for Copperplate writing,  I saw textured, smooth and colored papers from which to choose,  I met a calligraphic rock star, a young man who was the White House calligrapher in residence and heard stories about his 3-person staff and project work he produced:  invitations and menus to State dinners while workijg for then-president Barack Obama.

Now that it’s 2018, I can begin to get started with a class on Calligraphy and Illustration, to start out with the basics and make my mark, getting it right through patience, good teaching and practice, practice, practice.

Update, June 20, 2018: I have not been able to find a teacher and instead have a few books and YouTube videos to draw from in my pursuit.  Steinberg was self-taught, so maybe a Halpern can be self-taught as well.




Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

One thought on “A writer who draws

  1. Hi Richard, Another great blog! How does it feel to be retired? Are you ready for your big road trip tomorrow? Saw Arlyn’s book at Jane’s. Look forward to reading it. Joel

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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