Drawing on Type by Frank Newfeld
Frank Newfeld, ‘type-cast’ (as it were) as a book designer-cum-illustrator, as well as a designer of printed matter for art galleries, gives us a fascinating memoir both from the standpoint of human interest and from the standpoint of his involvement in the book trade -- in publishing, editing, illustration, and design. Drawing on Type is historically valuable in providing a portrait of publishing in Canada in its formative decades.
Mr Newfeld was, for many years, Vice-President (Publishing) at McClelland & Stewart.
Drawing on Type is the life-story of one of Canada’s more colourful book-world characters -- Frank Newfeld, designer, illustrator and storyteller extraordinaire. It is a wide-ranging account, beginning with Newfeld’s youth in England during the Second World War and leading to his involvement in the book trade in Canada. Eventually becoming Art Director, and subsequently, Vice-President of Publishing at McClelland & Stewart, he went on to co-found the Society of Typographic Designers of Canada (now the Graphic Designers of Canada), and to run the illustration program at Sheridan College. Newfeld pulls no punches: he is critical of a college system that infantalizes its students; of childrens’-book illustrators that insult young readers’ intelligence; of authors, artists, designers and editors who condescend to their collaborators. Yet he is as unflinching in his evaluations of himself as he is in his evaluations of others, for Drawing on Type is also a reckoning of self.
2009—ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year,
Newfeld is [...] at his very best when he is describing a project or a process rather than a person or an event. This, I imagine, is the result of his being (by his account -- and I have no reason to doubt him) an excellent teacher who ultimately wound up as head of the illustration program at Sheridan College. The art of design, typography and illustration comes brilliantly to life under his instruction, and his commentary on each discipline is insightful, measured and utterly authoritative. I was especially impressed with his very rational assessment of the use of modern technology in the book trade. [...] He is a genuine connoisseur of material book culture, one with more experience and laurels than many other people alive today. [...] Drawing on Type is a valuable text -- and looks absolutely wonderful on my bookshelf.
—Charlottle Ashley, Inklings
Excerpt from book
... I bought a Toronto Star and carefully scanned the Want Ads. There was just the thing! And I had found it on my first day of job search in my first Canadian newspaper.... Armed with my Art School portfolio, I arrived at the Wellington Street plant some ten minutes early. I was aware that I would probably have to wait to see Mr Ronald who was surely a busy man. Still, I decided to go in. At the receptionist’s desk I explained that I had an appointment with Mr Ronald. She smiled at me, and flicked a switch on her intercom. ‘Hey Ron, there’s a young man here to see you. I’ll send him in, okay?’ Canadians seemed to have an overly familiar way to address a vice-president.... Mr Ronald turned out to be a middle-aged, somewhat corpulent gentleman, whose cigar seemed to be the largest thing in his office. He motioned me to a metal folding-chair and handed me a questionnaire to fill out.
The questions pertained to name, age, sex, address, next of kin, previous employment ... but nothing to do with education, exhibitions or awards. After filling it out, I handed it to Mr Ronald, and told him that I had brought my portfolio, to which he replied: ‘That’s good. Can you paint?’
‘Yes, I took Painting at both the Brighton College of Art and Central School of Arts and Crafts in London.’
‘London has an art school? I didn’t know that. I thought they only had a County Fairground. Well, good. Do you paint fast?’ The first part of this exchange I didn’t quite grasp.
‘Average, I suppose. Would you like to see my portfolio?’
‘In a moment. Are you a neat painter?’
‘I suppose I am. I work in a realistic style. Would you like to see my portfolio?’
‘Not yet. Can you work without supervison?’
‘Actually I prefer to work without supervision.’
‘Do you mind supervison?’
‘Not really, I find it can be helpful in working out problems at my present stage of development. Would you like to see my portfolio?’
‘That won’t be necessary. You’re hired ...’
I realized I had misjudged Mr Ronald! Without even seeing my portfolio he recognized talent. This was obviously a sensitive person.
‘That’s good, kid. Take the service elevator to the fourth floor. There’ll be a young lady waiting for you. She’ll be your boss, and she’ll tell you exactly what she wants done. And call me Ron, eh?’
The young lady’s name was Vi, and she was at least ten years older than my mother. Her hair was in curlers and she wore a pair of powder blue polyester pants, elasticized at the waist and ankles.... She was waiting for me with a small pushcart, on which I could see four cans with a paintbrush beside each.
Vi led me to a large room with long rows of dolls’ heads fixed on wooden pegs.... Each head had beautiful red lips, rouged cheeks and delicate eyebrows. There must have been three hundred of these disembodied ‘French aristocrats’ at the very minimum. But they were completely sightless!
‘Your job is to paint their eyes,’ Vi explained.
‘The ‘‘pleasure of visual sophistication’’ has certainly been the foundation of Frank Newfeld’s career. Newfeld has combined art and humour with an intellectually rigorous practice and applied it to the design of the Canadian book. The result has been a rarely seen sophistication and artistry that stands far above others in the field.’
‘Anyone who, in the last fifty years, has read a Canadian children’s book, gone to school, read a text-book, studied at university, read a novel, browsed a magazine, attended an art exhibition, purchased an exhibition catalogue, reviewed an annual report, attended art school, trained as a graphic designer, looked at a coffee table book or read Canadian history -- all of you know something about the work of Frank Newfeld: for Frank Newfeld is everywhere in the world of Canadian books.’
Frank Newfeld received his art education in England, at the Brighton College of Art, and the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. Educated in England, Frank Newfeld immigrated to Canada in 1954. Once here, he founded his own design company in a studio on Spadina Avenue in Toronto.
In 1956 Newfeld, Frank Davies, Leslie (Sam) Smart and John Gibson founded the Society of Typographic Designers of Canada (TDC). Frank’s Spadina Avenue studio which was often the meeting place for the Society in its formative years. He was elected President of the Society in 1959, the year that it received its Ontario charter. In 1963 Frank joined the firm of McClelland & Stewart as an art director, and within six years he was to become Vice-President, Publishing and a member of the board of directors.
Over his career Frank Newfeld has designed well over 650 books for publishers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel and the United States. Canadian publishers include Douglas and McIntyre, Groundwood, Longmans, MacMillan, Nelson, Oxford and UofT. Authors he has worked with include Berton, Cohen, Davies, Gottlieb, Laurence, Layton, Mowat, Newman. He has won over 167 awards, including three medals from the prestigious Leipzig Book Show, two Hans Christian Anderson awards, and two from Typomundus 20. Other awards include the Canada Centennial Medal, the Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal, and awards from the AIGA, Art Directors and Type Directors clubs of New York, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto. Frank represented Canada at the 1976 Illustration Bienale in Czechoslovakia, and his work was exhibited in Bologna in 1990. He has created two children’s books, both published by Oxford University Press. He is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy.
For many years Frank Newfeld was associated with Sheridan College where he served as an educator, illustrator and publication designer.