Two-Dimensional Man: Paul Sahre

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I don’t make any secret of the fact that Paul Sahre is one of my biggest design inspirations, needless to say, I was keenly really been looking forward to the release of  his book, Two-Dimensional Man.

Paul Sahre is renowned for his book design for a number of well-known authors, so it is probably inevitable that he has finally gotten around to releasing a book of his own, and it doesn’t disappoint.

The designer monograph has become a sort of right-of-passage for ‘famous’ designers that have reached a certain level of acclaim, where once it was reserved as an end of career compilation, anyone who is anyone in the design field these days needs to have their name on the spine of their own book to broadcast that they have ‘made it’.

I don’t mean that as a criticism, what designer wouldn’t want their own book about themselves. Humility generally isn’t a large part of a designers character! There’s certainly plenty of those sorts of monographs out there. We’re all familiar with the glossy, beautifully photographed pictures of envy inducing work, the advice on how you too can reach such levels of brilliance, and of course, the endorsements of equally acclaimed design contemporaries. Trust Paul to turn all of that on its head.

Two Dimensional Man stretches the design monograph into something all together more personal. It can perhaps be described as a warts and all examination of how he has pushed the craft of design to where he wants it to be. Everyday we look at great design work, we admire the finished product, without realising the frustration and effort that goes into getting that result. There’s plenty of Paul’s great design pieces included in the pages, but this book is just as much about the journey it takes to get there as it is about the destination.

Case in point. I had the pleasure of visiting and talking to Paul a few years ago in his studio. The biggest revelation for me was when he was discussing some work he was doing for a small theatre company (it was pro-bono or for not much money) and he was agonising over the troubles he was having producing something that the client was happy with. Two things immediately struck me. First, this is Paul Sahre, one of the world’s most recognised and celebrated graphic designers, and he’ was worried about what some small theatre company thinks about his work, work that he was doing fore none or very little money. Second, with all the big name clients he has worked for, he is still as passionate about a little job as any other project he may have worked on.

This example is at the heart of what you will get out of this book – the passion and frustrations of working as a graphic designer. Sometimes you will immediately come up with something amazing that you love and the client loves, but often times, its a struggle to get to the solution. Your mileage may vary depending on persistence.

Take for example the chapter on dealing with the band Steely Dan for an album cover project is title ‘Getting Fucked by Steely Dan’. Pretty much every designer designer will be familiar with the scenario as he relates it. Sometimes what seems the greatest opportunities can lead to the greatest disappointments. As much as we like to think of the importance of graphic design – to some – the greatest graphic designer in the world only means as much as the greatest plumber in the world.

It’s not all dealing with clueless clients though. The book goes a long way in helping to explain why graphic designers do what they do, why we continue at it even though 99% of the population has very little grasp of what in fact it is that we do. I don’t think many of us ever pictured ourselves, say at the age of six, imagining a future in the productive, financially rewarding world of graphic design. It’s something we mostly fell into because we liked to draw, and continued doing it because of the praise we received, or we were obsessive enough that we kept on doing it when our peers had given it up for other pre-adolescent pursuits. We leave school and have to become adults, so we look for some way to channel that six year old kid drawing x-wing fighters while lying on their bedroom floor, and suddenly, you’re an adult, dressed in black, drinking lattes and calling yourself a graphic designer.

Part user’s guide, part compilation, part vivid memoir, Two-Dimensional Man is a testament to being your life. If you’re starting out in design, just cruising along, or really in need of a inspirational kick up the backside, I highly recommend you grab a copy.

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