Maira Kalman: 2016 AIGA Medalist

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Early in 2016 five names were chosen to represent the field of graphic design. Their achievements, services and contributions to the field have been beyond exceptional. And for that, they have been honored as AIGA medalists—a tradition that dates back to the 1920s and is considered the most distinguished honor in the field.

We had the opportunity to collect bits of advice, inspiration and anecdotes from this year’s recipients.

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Maira Kalman was awarded the AIGA Medal for “brilliantly merging the worlds of storytelling, illustration, and design while pushing the limits of all three with her spirited creative practice.” Read her full bio written by Debbie Millman on AIGA’s website.

Q: Did you have any major inspirations while growing up that led you to the creative field?

A: I loved to read and planned on being a writer. When I read Pippi Longstocking, I was certain that was what i would do. Then I read Nabokov and Jane Austen. Then Flaubert. Proust. Tolstoy. And on.

When it came to drawing, Saul Steinberg was a big influence. To write and draw ideas and strange digressions. That seemed perfect to me.

Q: What has been your favorite project to work on, or a project that really stands out in your mind as important or successful?

A: Working on The Principles of Uncertainty for the New York Times was an extraordinary adventure. To post a column each month about what I was thinking about, seeing, worrying about, falling in love with.

All of that was exhilarating and interesting.

Q: What was the most difficult thing you had to do during your career?

A: The most difficult thing is always to have self confidence. it is never certain that you will have it. So I am always grateful when I sit down to work, because it is not always easy.

Q: Is there any advice you wish you had been given before becoming a designer?

A: I don’t think of myself as a designer. But the best advice I have ever been given for anything is to just Do.

Q: Story-telling and design go hand-in-hand (or at least they should). Can you speak to the importance of the two as they relate to one another?

A: Everything that is created is telling a story whether the designer is aware of it or not. There are so many ways to tell a story and the interesting thing is to discover a unique way.

I come from the I Didn’t Study Anything School, so I am ready to mix disciplines and experiment as much as I can. Not always successful, but worth trying.

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