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‘You feel you’re there – in his head’. On the appeal of Lance Wyman’s sketchbooks

By Mark Sinclair

Designer Jim Sutherland recently tweeted his admiration for US graphics legend Lance Wyman’s sketchbook work, which is collected together in our book, Lance Wyman: The Visual Diaries 1973-1982. What is it about preparatory drawings, work-in-progress doodles and annotated ideas on paper that people find so appealing? We asked Sutherland about what this insight into Wyman’s working practice gave him – and how sketching fits into his own graphic design practice. Limited copies of Lance Wyman: The Visual Diaries are still available from the Unit shop.

Mark Sinclair: What does seeing Wyman’s sketch work presented like this mean to you as a designer?

Jim Sutherland: I love seeing the thought process and progression of ideas. From initial sketches and variations to the final iterations and developments. You almost feel youre there – in his head – as he’s trying stuff out and looking for the final solution. Playing with forms and shapes, searching around and the settling on something to develop.

I also love the incidental notes about flight times, meetings, shopping etc. It feels like you’ve seen into his life as well as his work. So often you only get to see the final pieces of work with a designer – and actually his workings are so revealing to his thought process.

MS: In your tweet you highlighted the Minnesota Zoo identity that Wyman worked on in 1979. What other projects of his stand out for you? 

JS: I have loved Lance’s work for such a long time there are too many to cover. But I’ve snapped a few pages [shown here] – arrows, ampersands, animals in many forms (including a camel table and snake display). It’s all completely magical.

MS: How do you sketch ideas for projects today? On paper, or do you keep notes digitally? And do you keep all of your sketch work?

JS: I keep a notebook on me at all times. It’s part diary, part list-making, part ideas. Nowhere near as neat and tidy as his, mine is more of an outpouring of unresolved scribblings.

Every project I do starts in a notebook. Ideas don’t come when you’re sitting at your desk, but when you’re on the move, out in the world seeing interesting things. I find ideas tumble out and develop over time and then when you sit down to start properly, it’s already got going.

I do keep all my notebooks, but I’m not sure why. (I’ve included a couple of images from when I was working on the recent Start-Rite project and a chess project.) Lastly, were currently working on a new project in Detroit – and all Lance’s work has been an amazing resource for that – the identity may be featuring a star.

More of Studio Sutherl&'s work is at Limited copies of Lance Wyman: The Visual Diaries are still available from the Unit shop. All photography shown above kindly supplied by Jim Sutherland.