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When it comes to mentors I've been blessed, both personally and
I didn't know what graphic design was when I went to college. I
just figured that, as a liberal arts major, I would find something
that I liked. I lucked out that Penn State happened to have a
strong graphic design program led by Lanny Sommese. By the time I
studied there, the program had been going for about ten years or
so. I stumbled upon graphic design during a break in a drawing
class. Down the hall from my class, I saw a silkscreened gorilla on
the hall wall with type (“graphic design,” bold sans serif, all
lowercase) running vertically up the wall. Music was blaring and
students were silkscreening posters. I thought this was way beyond
cool and went to visit the program and talked to Lanny about
graphic design. The next fall I took his intro class and have never
looked back. Graphic design opened up all of my senses and appealed
to so many of my interests. I felt that I had truly found something
that I really liked, something that I could do.
My introduction to graphic design was through the way Lanny
Sommese worked and taught. The approach to graphic design was
conceptual, always about communication, and always with an idea.
Lanny stressed excellence: he urged us to try to make something
distinctive, to care about our work and to push it to be the best
that it possibly could be. It was an experience to see Lanny roll
up some posters (many of them printed by his students) and ship
them over to Walter Herdeg at Graphis in Zurich, Switzerland and to
see them published a year later in Graphis Posters. To see your
professor's work, or an article authored by your professor in a
design publication, was an eye-opening experience.
Through Lanny Sommese I met my next mentor, Joe Scorsone. Joe
had just recently taken over the graduate program at Tyler School
of Art in suburban Philadelphia and he became my faculty advisor
when I decided to go to grad school. Joe Scorsone is kind of a
walking sketch: rather tall, thin, and lanky. Almost any of Joe's
former students could do an imitation of him cracking up at one of
his own jokes, complete with a wide Cheshire grin. Joe has always
had a wonderful sense of humor, a dry wit (it was from Joe Scorsone
that I first heard the ultimate phrase for futility: “that's like
setting up the deck chairs on the Titanic.”) The thing about Joe is
that he always seemed to know exactly what to say and when to say
it. How to motivate a student, to cajole, to brainstorm an idea. He
was, and still is, full of great ideas. There have been many times
throughout my career when I have talked with Joe about life, work,
and career moves and he's always been willing to offer sage
My next mentors came from when I worked in New York City. At
Bernhardt Fudyma Design, from Craig Bernhardt and Janice Fudyma, I
learned so much about how to run a design business. And not just
any design business, but a thriving, award-winning studio that has
been producing excellent work for a long time. From Janice
especially, I learned the importance of the meticulous craft of
When I went to work for Walter Bernard and Milton Glaser it was
like working at the feet of design gods. I found them both to be
brilliant men, warm and caring. Milton encouraged me to make
something beautiful (when I was struggling with a project he would
say, “but, it's not beautiful, yet.”). Milton draws like an angel;
I have never seen anyone draw so well before or since. From Walter
Bernard, I learned to think editorially, to find just the right
meaning in a piece to convey the message.
All of these people continue to be prolific designers. Open any
design annual, and more often than not, you're likely to find their
work. And their work still looks fresh—it's just as accessible,
humorous, witty and as beautifully done as ever. In a word:
I am so proud to be an alumnus of these places, not just the
schools that I attended and the professors that I studied with, but
the significant studios and wonderful designers that I worked with.
I learned so much from these experiences and I want to deeply thank
all of these people. As a designer, I strive to produce the kind of
work that would make my mentors proud. And, now as a teacher, I see
the opportunity to be a mentor to my students, to try to give them
some of the same opportunities I was given, to give back. I am only
too happy to do so.
Principal, Baseman Design Associates
Assistant Professor, Philadelphia University
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Section: Inspiration -
personal essay, typography, mentoring, students
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Section: Inspiration -
personal essay, graphic design, mentoring, students
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