Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Harvey Schmidt: "With great relief I began to learn there was no hidden secret to being creative..."

We pick up from yesterday as Schmidt describes his time at the University of Texas...

"During the next four years I attempted everything I never could before: designing scenery, composing musicals, working on the student magazine, singing in the choral group, and making my first oil painting. With great relief I began to learn there was no hidden secret to being creative, no occult information on 'how to do art' after all. If you felt the urge to do a certain thing you just did it, the most direct way you could. I was lucky to be attending the university during a kind of golden age in its fine-art department, when there were working together, all at one time, an exceptionally large number of very talented students whose excitement seemed to rub off and ignite the spark in someone else."


"In the art department there were little groups of four or five people who worked in similar styles, and who gave and took from one another. This healthy climate produced some spectacular results on occasion... far above the average student level. The important thing here was doing something rather than theorizing about it."


"It was at the university, where we wrote our first musical together, that I met the lyricist I have always worked with, the highly talented Tom Jones."


Harvey Schmidt graduated with a B.F.A. in 1952 and quickly landed a job in Houston as a layout artist for the Sakowitz department store as a well as an artist for the Houston Post. Neither assignment would last long, however, because Uncle Sam called Schmidt up for duty on Christmas day, 1952. Stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Schmidt, having checked off 'artist' on his army induction questionnaire was assigned... to paint signs.


"The army dignified me with the title 'Director of Training Aids,'" recalled Schmidt, "and I became a part-time creator of latrine signs. For two years I blanketed Fort Bliss with all kinds of neatly lettered admonitions. This novel discipline taught me more about lettering than I had ever learned in school."


What Schmidt learned about lettering in the army served him well when he finished his service and decided to try finding work in New York. Edward J. Bennett, director of the graphic design department at NBC television took one look through Henry Schmidt's portfolio and hired him on the spot. One early assignment, done in competition with the rest of the graphic design dept. staff, was a title illustration for an NBC production of "Alice in Wonderland." Schmidt's design won. Many more tv show title cards followed and soon his boss, Ed Bennet would state, "Harvey quickly developed into one of our outstanding designer-illustrators and almost immediately created a style that was unique in the department and highly suited to television reproduction."


"Within a year or so, every artist in the department learned to recognize every illustration and word of lettering that Harvey had done. They were fast becoming identifiable with the artist."


Schmidt said he was very glad for his television title card experience because it taught him to "remove a lot of nonessentials from my work" and "the importance of conveying a visual idea as straightforwardly as possible."


It must have also taught him to think fast and work fast. Schmidt described a typical work day, when he wasn't working on advance assignments: "I stood by on call, usually at the barn-like Brooklyn studio, in case a special title might be needed. In moments of relative calm between these deadline emergencies I used to play the piano in the unused studio where I worked.


Then suddenly the word came down for a title to be used in ten minutes, and I'd start painting like mad - usually on the bare floor - getting as much dirt as pigment into the job."

"Somehow, these were always my best efforts!"


Continued tomorrow

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