• Steven Heller

Sketchy Rand

“… [T]o be a Sunday painter … is the most depressing idea there is,” Paul Rand told George Lois (c. 1995). “There’s nothing more depressing. Because it means that the rest of the week is futile, I mean absolutely hopeless, and the only day you live for … You can’t be an artist one day a week, no way. It’s very difficult to explain the idea, because people sort of think you’re being very stuffy and pompous by talking about art. But that’s not so. … I mean, it may not be in actuality that you’re an artist, but at least it’s your goal. And I think that’s the only thing that really counts.”

Rand was an artist who loved to draw and paint. Yet I once commended him on not attempting to make mediocre paintings when his true metier was exceptional graphic design. With a smug smile on his face, he beckoned me into a room, which was filled with still life and other paintings. Hmm! My face was red.

I did, however, know that Rand was an inveterate sketcher, often during lulls in the day but also when he was searching for a design solution. His sketches also appeared in much of his early work, including covers for Direction, advertisements for El Producto and various book jackets and other work. Here are some that I acquired when writing Paul Rand (Phaidon).


Notes on from “Theory and Design in the First Machine Age.”

Homage to a square on printer’s calendar. Chaplin, Hitler and possibly a rabbi with phylactery on head.

Notes for a manuscript: “Words and pictures are mutually exclusive. Words do not take the place of pictures. Yet words, the very name words, can describe ‘pictures’ that are well or badly designed. A number of pictures which appeared in the final edition of ‘Thoughts on Design’ are no longer in this addition [sic]. They have simply not stood the test of time.”

IBM lines and convict stripes.

An early iteration of Rand’s famous eye-bee-m rebus.

Early sketch for AIGA annual #3 where in the final Rand jumbles the A, G A around an eye.

Collage elements that found their way into various posters and brochures.

Ball point pen sketches of people, including skull chewing on a laurel leaf used for a 1968 anti-war poster.

Rand’s notes for an essay: “So-called ‘old English’ letters are popular because they are symbolic [sic] evoke—are reminiscent of achievement. Baseball teams insignia, Diplomas. Tombstone.

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