Paula Scher: One of a Kind

Paula Scher: One of a Kind In 1984 I moved to New York from Calgary to go to the School of Visual Arts. Richard Wilde said "I think we will put you in Paula's class." I had no idea at the time who she was or what I was in for. The whole move was a big adventure. I was actually following my talented boyfriend Garnet Henderson (AKA Eddie Guy) to New York and thought I would take a few classes to improve my portfolio. Who wanted a job in Winnipeg anyway????

My first day of Paula's class I thought I had stepped into a movie set complete with loud boom box, dancing students, big hair, wide belts, and no teacher. Of course I had enormous self doubt. I was sure my work wouldn't stack up and I would be the laughing stock of these sophisticated New Yorkers. I felt like a hick in my argyle vest and cropped jeans. Paula showed up about an hour later and as it turned out I didn't need to worry. Everyone in the class was just as nervous as I was.

Paula was different from any art teacher I had known. She was informal, blunt, funny, precise and very confident. She had just finished working at CBS records for 10 years. "What could be cooler than that," I thought. She was frank about our work and you knew you couldn't fool her. It was your best work or nothing and you couldn't be wimpy about showing your work. I thrived on this motivation and became obsessed with getting her approval. That's the thing. She didn't notice everyone. Your work  REALLY had to stand out consistently for her to remember you.

I resorted to working extra hard and extreme eye contact hoping she would realize I was hanging on to every word she said. Which I was. Under her influence and that of my other teachers at SVA, Carin Goldberg and Henrietta Condak, I became obsessed with typography and the history of graphic design. If you wanted to learn about type and design there were no better teachers. I felt I had found my species.

We were all hoping she would hire us to work at her studio. First she hired Richard Baker. We were all extremely jealous but he was a good designer, handsome and very he stood out. I had an inkling she might hire me too although I didn't dare to hope.... I knew the work had caught her eye but the extreme eye contact scheme had fallen through because she kept confusing me with another girl who was about the same height and coloring etc. After some confusion, including her hiring the wrong girl, Paula finally hired me to work at Koppel and Scher. You can imagine how excited I was and this was the beginning of my career.

I have so many things to thank Paula for. She gave me my first job and saved me from that job waiting for me in Winnipeg. She taught me what was good and raised my standards. As her assistant she let me compete with her by allowing me to offer up solutions to projects she was working on. I'm sure my solutions weren't always that great but getting the chance to work with her helped me become a better designer. I still rely on the things she taught me. They are the foundation of my evolution as a designer. I will often think,"What would Paula do?" even though I know I'm not even close. She is one of a kind.

Don't miss this chance to hear Paula talk. I know you will be as entertained, educated and inspired as I was 25 years ago and still am today.

Debra Bishop 1986 72dpi.jpg

This is me circa 1984, on my way to the Big Apple.

  • Casey A. Gollan

    I hope I'll be able to get tickets. Her TED Talk was incredible!

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