We sat down with the legendary designer before the holidays and recorded this conversation.

You created some of the hottest illustration design in Canada over the past few decades. What are some of your favourite pieces/clients? What are you most proud of professionally? First of all, I’d like to say a few words about Hugh Kane and Jack McClelland. McClelland was president and owner of the publishing house of McClelland, and Stewart Kane was the Senior Vice-President. It was Kane who invited me to join McClelland and Stewart as Director of Design and Production. From the beginning, I was given full creative freedom and encouragement; even when I introduced extended visual prelims, an unheard of innovation for Canadian publishing. Luckily, the prelims became a trademark of certain McClelland and Stewart books, and found favour with critics. The encouragement and ‘visual’ freedom McClelland and Stewart gave me was very welcome.

dm_creaturesBefore I enmesh myself in vainglory, let me remind you that I was by trade a typographic designer. Somehow more than 650 books resulted. Greedily, I sometimes took the opportunity to inflict my own illustrations on some of the books. I guess of my early work, I enjoyed doing magazine covers for ‘MAYFAIR’ Magazine. A couple still look fairly good to me. The art director was Keith Scott, the best A.D. in Toronto in the late 1950’s. My most favourite commission is ‘The Grasshopper’ published by U of T press. The project was directed by Laurie Lewis, and the book was designed by W. Rueter. Both a delight to work with. I consider it my best adult work. Second favourite is ‘Creatures’ published by Groundwood. I have to mention one other, a book for young readers, ‘The Princess of Tomboso’, my first children’s book, and a chance to learn from working with William Toye, Canada’s famed publishing maven. It may sound like patting myself on the back, but I was both surprised and proud to receive a Typomundus 20 Award for an outstanding contribution to the development of the graphic art of the 20th Century.

alligator-pie-cmyk

Tell me your process?  Without any doubt, the most interesting challenge is illustrating poetry for the young reader. The poet must establish an intimate relationship with the reader. Often a relationship considered totally personal by his or her reader. Part and parcel of this relationship is not just that of reader to poem, but that of reader to the artwork. The illustration’s purpose is to encourage readers to concoct personal visions of the action and the players. As far as the sample (above) you sent me is concerned, I simply drew Alligator Pie’ actors: the silver dollar, the ‘alligator’ etc. The gist of the encounter is for the reader to invent. It was a unique experience forty years ago. The publisher asked me to come in on a royalty basis, which changed the customary relationship. I had more access to the Publisher than was usual, which gave my visual contribution more weight and voice.

What do you think of where illustration is now? Of course, the illustrated book of both prose and poetry has vanished. The e-book was inevitable, and it is too late to cry ‘WOLF’. The worst thing, at the moment, is the problem of not being able to touch the work. You’re looking at it through a pane of glass. The next worst thing is too many cute ‘kitsch’ illustrations for young readers. I well recall a time of internationally acclaimed illustrators Brian Wildsmith (U.K.), Maurice Sendak (U.S.), James Hill (CAN.), to name just three of many superb illustrators. Their illustration never drew ‘down’ for their reader. Their art was widely loved and understood, even by the youngest readers. Lately, kid.lit books are drawing ‘down’ to young readers.

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You made some real illustration gems, but when do you think you hit your high-water mark in design? It was during my life at McClelland and Stewart.

In the 60’s and 70’s who were you competing with? Was there other designers that you kept bumping into? We didn’t compete. There were some really talented people in Toronto, and we all had enough work, not to need to compete. A fast dozen of talented fellow doodlers: Jack Birdsall, Carl Brett, Heather Cooper, Graham Coughtry, Louis de Niverville, Theo Dimson, Hans Kleefeld, Arnaud Maggs, Leo Rampen, Keith Scott, Evelyn Stoynoff, and Harold Town.

RomHave you followed the rise and fall of contemporary logos? Ontario lost their modern masterpiece, Saskatchewan lost theirs, the ROM has moved through a few, CBC updated theirs. Do you think classic logo design has become vulnerable? I designed the original ROM Logo, with crown atop the ‘O’ over fifty years ago, and when the museum announced that it was about to launch a new logo, I thought it’s about time. But when the latest logo appeared, it turned out to be weighty enough to better suit a cement factory.

Recently, GDC members were asked to produce some better alternatives to the poorly commissioned Canada Turns 150. Unfortunately, the counter protest showed just how complex logo design can be. Your question brought memories of some great logos, RCA’s ‘His Master’s Voice‘, complete with terrier and phonograph, the Rolls-Royce Logo,  Alan Fleming’s brilliant CN Logo. Each easily recalled, firmly fixed in memory, coherent complex simplicity. Even though I saw both logo and counter logos for Canada Turns 150, I can’t remember any of them.

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Do you feel that you had a style, or a way of thinking that drove your work? Did you ever feel like you part of something bigger, like a movement? Some years ago, Hiroshi Oshi the editor of Japan’s magazine ‘IDEA’ came to Toronto. IDEA intended to publish an issue devoted entirely to graphic art in Canada. At the end of his visit, we took him out for a farewell dinner. After dessert, Oshi stood up, thanked us for our assistance, and ended his short speech with these words: “Canadian glafic style undehstand impotance of regibility and leadability.” Hopefully I did, too.

What is your favourite

car/ My Triumph TR3.

flower/ The Dandelion, the typographer of plants.

painter/ Can’t choose but I will say Jack Bush and Alex Colville.

record/ Anything from The Beatles and Dvorak.

drink at a bar/ Campari with Soda.

You have had a long career, from all that experience are there any lessons/advice that can be shared? No. You must just make your own mistakes, and they may result in something precious. Don’t listen to mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Buy Frank Newfeld’s excellent book Drawing on Type here.

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