Sunday, June 5, 2011

Seymour Chwast, the Left-Handed Designer

Seymour Chwast (b. 1931) has been a published designer and illustrator for 64 years! He grew up in New York and attended WPA-sponsored art classes as a child. He then attended Cooper Union in 1948 with another great designer, Milton Glaser. They formed a bond which in 1954 resulted in the founding of Push Pin studio.

Push Pin was at the leading edge of a design revolution that signaled the end of the age of Norman Rockwell. The studio incorporated many styles from the past — Victoriana, Art Nouveau, Art Deco — and made them refreshing and contemporary. Many designers and illustrators, including Paul Davis, were associated with Push Pin through the decades, and the collaborative approach of the studio kept illustrations and designs exciting and ground-breaking. Chwast also personally thrived through collaboration.

When Milton Glaser left Push Pin in 1975, Chwast continued as its director, and Push Pin Graphic was published as a magazine. Next came Push Pin Press, which packaged books, and in the 1980s, The Pushpin Group.

In 1984, Seymour Chwast was inducted into the Art Director's Hall of Fame.

Seymour Chwast has designed record and magazine covers, advertisements, posters, books, packaging, typefaces, all with humor and great imagination.

Illustrations for a Seymour Chwast retrospective

A 1965 2-inch Chwast illustration that I've saved in my files for 46 years!

Three Chwast posters

CBS Records

Chwast book cover

Chwast book, with Martin Stephen Muskof  |  MCGraw-Hill Books

A 1981 Chwast typeface, available from Linotype library


  1. Hello Mark:
    This is, and these are, quite remarkable - such originality, such imagination, and such style. Designs, such as these by Seymour Chwast, transcend the everyday to become works of art in their own right. We find them hugely appealing and do not doubt that his work is highly collectible. Understandably so.

  2. Hi, Jane and Lance - I think that Seymour Chwast is appreciated as much for his witty design solutions as for his drawing style, which was, as you say, original, and very different for his time.

  3. I recognize some of these...and Push Pin is a name even I know! When I look at the dates on these, they were certainly alien for their time! I love the quill illustration.

  4. Hi Mark, Jane and Lance Hattatt said it best. Thank you for always bringing the not-so-well known artists to us.
    And thank you also for leaving such a wonderful comment.
    Have a great week,

  5. I have always loved Seymour Chwast's work. He and Glaser and Isadore Seltzer have always been at the forefront of my thinking when it comes to good design and innovative illustration. A funny thing I'm noticing about their work - belatedly. Chwast and Seltzer, especially, but also Glaser in some of his designs all have a timeless look to them - it is work that could have been done yesterday - literally.

    I was lucky enough to have Bob Blechman and Charles Slackman as teachers for a night class I once took at The School of Visual Arts - I group them in with the above mentioned artists and innovators.

    What great work they've all done.

    I really do think that all these men were years ahead of their time. That's probably why their work still looks fresh and new today.

  6. Hi, Theresa - I also like the quill illustration, especially next to the Picasso/Braque pen & hand (and pipe). I've worked with very good art directors who were not especially good artists, and I've known good illustrators who very much needed art direction, so one of the reasons I admire Chwast is that he did it all.

  7. Hi, Gina - a double thanks to you; I always admire peeking into your world, which appears to me as the best mix of exhuberant creativity and serenity.

  8. Well, Yvette, you've made me jealous - green with it! I would have loved to have had classes with Bleachman and Slackman, two artists whose work I've collected into files for years.

    I agree with you that the work that came out of Push Pin was timeless, and I think it had to do less with style than with their approach to solving design challenges.

    Years ago, I was teaching illustration at an art school, to students who were post-high school. I was very much struck by the fact that these young art students always looked to contemporary illustration for inspiration, but had no interest in art history! I worked very hard to show them that art history is not linear, and it was an uphill battle. I mention all this because Milton Glaser, who was then at his peak, has often made references to art history in his elegant designs.

    Thanks for your comment.

  9. I also do know some of these. His style was very indicative of his era and seems to change with the times.

  10. Hi, David - Seymour Chwast certainly has several styles associated with him, but I think that whatever style he used was always subservient to a design solution because he was as much an art director as an illustrator.

  11. These are cool! I recognize his style definitely, but I never know that so many of the familiar images were the product of one man. Great post!

  12. Hi, Michael - I'm guessing that you've seen a lot of Chwast's work over the years, since you are both New York-based.