Polish artist and graphic designer Aleksandra Toborowicz has huge passion for typography. She not only creates and designs, but also teaches the new generation of graphic designers at the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow.
What was your dream profession as a child? When did you realise that you wanted to be an artist / designer?
I’m not sure if I can name it “a dream”. As a little girl I had a big fun playing the role of a teacher, a shop-assistant or a priest, and I also liked to dress up in folk costumes and imitate performances of artists from folk Song and Dance Ensemble “Śląsk”, in which my parents worked. Generally, I was evidently interested in power, management, entertainment and money. :-)
But seriously, I didn’t dream about being an artist or a designer at that time, although I started to draw and paint portraits or landscapes quite early. At the age of 6 I started to learn music – play the piano. I liked it a lot, but just for myself, more and more, I disliked public performances. During one of my piano shows at primary school I made many mistakes despite the fact that I was perfectly prepared. The stress… I realised that all kind of live performances aren’t for me, they are too stressful. Then my mother decided not to press for continuing piano courses and suggested me to try going towards visual arts, in which there is not so much “live action”. At that time I also had my first exhibition of charcoal drawings. I guess then it has began.
Because of my concern and aversion against public presentations I realised that there might be a different way of expressing myself. This method could be visual arts which might speak for themselves without my presence. I guess this was the beginning of my adventure with art and graphic design. Then there was secondary school with specialisation in graphic design and later graphic design studies at the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, and now the PhD. In fact, one of my childhood dreams has come true: I am a teacher, I’ve just realised this recently.
How would you describe yourself with three words?
Activist, designer and cat lover.
You work as an Assistant Lecturer at the Lettering and Typography Studio at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts. Could you talk about your job and the studio? I’m more interested in how you and the studio approach design, lettering and typography.
The Studio has worked out the universal visual programme that is continually modified by the changes in the art and design world. The exercises enhance student’s visual awareness, developing the manual skills and creating a base for individual artistic attitudes. The teaching process is supported by series of lectures on letter, typography and graphic design. The knowledge provides a basis to professional treatment of the function of the letter in relation to tool letters, designed or existing typefaces. In exercises (in form of every week face-to-face consulting) letters are created or used in many different materials and in the media – 2D and 3D, traditional, digital and experimental fields such as making typefaces/fonts, editorial design – redesiging magazines, typesetting, typographic and lettering posters, interpretations of poems, typographic packagings, typographic animation, lettering signs/marks, lettering sculptures, systems of visual identification, social campaigns as well as outdoor and street art concepts.
The teaching goal at the Lettering and Typography Studio is to bring students to such a state of consciousness that enables them to self-putting and solving specific problems with lettering, typography and design according to the needs of time.
I’m also quite curious about your opinion on the perfect balance when it comes to theory and practice concerning typography, graphic design etc. How important should each of them be?
Practice is always before theory in our field. But to keep on evolving one needs to incorporate all the theory that exist in his or her practice, just to develop new practises that will be the bases to new theories and so on.
What would be your advice to graphic design students or those who are thinking of getting into this field?
I would advise them to take advantage of study time as best as they can. To boldly experiment and combine knowledge, experience and skills in many different fields of art and design, and of the real life. As well as to search for commercial practices during studies, which give the knowledge, exprerience and contacts for further, real and multifaceted job of a graphic designer. I also would encourage them to participate in contests and reviews.
You have won several awards, first of all, congrats on them. Could you tell me what those mean to you? Which one are you the most proud of, and why?
Thanks. I think, among my awards, the most important and prestigeous was the Silver Medal at the European Design Awards in 2009, which is the biggest European design competition. I was awarded for my diploma project of the flash website of theVirtual Museum of Erotic Art (http://muzeumerotyzmu.pl). It had a great value for me because my project had been noticed in the category of professionals, not students. After several years I still consider this project as good and valuable as before, it hasn’t grown old yet. It’s worth adding that the idea of the Museum of Erotic Art has the continuation in virtual world and in the real one. With my husband, Michał Pałasz, we are trying to create such museum in Cracow. In recent years we published several editions of the Erotic Art Calendar and organized some exhibitions promoting Polish erotic art.
What do awards mean to me? It’s nice to be awarded and appreciated for works that are important to me, it’s worth sharing them worldwide. What is much more important than an award is that how you will use it later, what you will do with this fact. If you develop and work in this direction, it’s ok, if not, the award is just a nice surprise in your life.
I’ve seen on your Behance profile that you have made some paintings. Do you still paint or do you focus more on design now?
For some years I’ve focused on design, especially as it is one of my main means of income and is related to a field in which I teach students. Graphic design is my occupation, the way of thinking and percepting, whereas while I’m painting I can be myself. This may sound banal: painting is my tester, reflection, litmus paper. My personality is much closer to painting, which is very emotional and intuitive, spontaneous, and it’s more extreme than design is. I paint from the very beginning of my way associated with art, since 1998 with a break of several years recently. I paint very quickly, intuitively, with gesture, often using one paint in many paintings. When I was studying I used to paint over 150 painting during one academic year.
It’s clear that the aquired knowledge and experience are helpful in developing new skills and personality in all fields that we work in. However, I really doubt, in my case, that both my consciousness – the painter’s and the designer’s – should go together in painting. When I start designing the effect of my paintings usually is not satisfactory. In painting, at first, I need to clean up and free my mind from all the learnt rules, principles, schemes and limits.
In fact, because of an excess of freedom and the lack of any limitations, I decided during my third year of studies to focus on graphic design, which gives restrictions and assumptions, which had to be referred to – through adaptation or opposition.
I will come back to paint soon, after passing my PhD exam I’m going to rent a studio and start to paint and experiment. I hope that this time nothing will disturb my plan.
It might seem that I’ve forgot about my paintings, that they are covered with dust somewhere in the corner, but not. During the last two years I was invited to two individual exhibitions in Warsaw and Cracow. And to my big surprise, some of my paintings were sold to foreign customers in the U.S. thanks to placing them in one of the most important online galleries. Some of them were used as elements of scenography in a sci-fi movie directed by Claire Carre, an American and Polish production entitled Embers.
What type of work do you like the most and why?
In graphic design what I like the most is the initial creative restlessness associated with a new project challenge. The process of searching ideas, solutions of problems, combining many different issues, facts, associations and processing them into a multilayered visual language, creating new visual systems and worlds with their own way of functioning.
Digital or print?
Both, they intermingle and are connected to each other.
What kind of tools and software do you use?
I usually use programmes from Adobe: InDesign for editorial design, Illustrator for logotypes, posters and other smaller elements of editorial design, and Photoshop for photography editing.
Based on your street art projects it seems you enjoy working in team. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working alone and in team?
I only worked in team during mural painting occasions. It was a really nice and social experience. I used to invite many inspiring people from different areas to do street art projects. They were full of positive energies and very involved in the process of creating murals, often on huge walls and in minus 15 degrees cold, which was a really big challenge. It was all new for us. After some days of hard work we saw surprising effects. The atmosphere was great, and creating murals gave us the feeling of a piece of well-made work done together.
When I work alone, I think I’m more concentrated on the work, but after a longer period of time I start to lose social skills. Contacting with others begins to be difficult. In Poland, generally, people aren’t very good at team work. I see it in many different areas, also among students.
In the book Graphic Arts Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow you present artworks of teachers and students. What was the initial concept? Did it change during the design process?
In general, the idea for the album hadn’t changed. From the beginning, the main assumption was to refer by visual means and typography to a specific character of the Faculty of Graphic Arts. However, my initial concepts on layout/graphic solutions were too invasive. I was trying too literally to refer to printmaking, to imitate with no relation to the function and the graphic traces of printmaking. It wasn’t a transparent solution, too much of me and my expression. I also planned to present in section “People” the artists’ entire spectrum of creativity, but as it turned out, it was impossible on a limited space, which is single spread. Additionally, the initial concept seemed that – in reference to the process of making prints in traditional techniques – each printed copy of the album would differ from the others. But because of the technical and financial aspects I had to abandon this idea.
Regarding your project Typographic installation “Gwar chmar”, your write: “Typographic installation refers to the recorded street noise, bustle, noise information, which is accompanies man in the city, attacking him from all sides by the words and sounds, advertising and other visual messages, received SMS or phone calls and many others – reflects the character of the city bustle.” How did the visitors react on the installation? Was it clear for them what kind of message you wanted to convey with it? How much did it take to actually finish the project? Were there any challenges you had to overcome while working on it?
My assumption was an interaction with the recipient, and it succeeded. Due to locating the installation in a small gallery room the projected video through installation and the loud sound of the recorded and multiplied street noise filled the entire space. The whole room became an installation, so the viewer who entered, became part of it. Some more courageous and curious viewers had been entering the centre of the installation, among thousands of letters. Being inside, the recipient felt like in the epicentrum of the buzz of multiplied fragmented voices, visually materialised accumulation of invisible information, distractions and jagged man thoughts.
The impression was very unpleasant and quite schizophrenic. Letters tangled around people inside the installation, it was difficult to free oneself or get out of there. It was like being among unfriendly clouds of insects or birds. I think the idea was clear for the viewers. For the recipients it was also interesting to perceive the multidimensional dynamic aspect of typography going far beyond it’s initial function.
Conceptual works lasted quite a long time but the realisation itself only over a month. It was hand work – we had to string over 5000 laser cut letters made of cardboard on fishing lines, which was interesting, needlework experience.
The problem was placing the installation in the gallery space. But the biggest challenge was disentangling the strings with letters every time after crazy interaction of recipients inside the installation.
When I first saw your work on Behance the Audiomural (NCK Krakow-Nowa Huta) project immediately caught my eye. Unfortunately, I don’t speak or understand Polish so could you tell me what this project is about?
Audiomural painted on the wall of Nowa Huta Cultural Center in Cracow is a synthetic and surreal image of piano keys mixed with audio mixer. The keys are at the same time mixers scroll bars accompanied by buttons, winders, slots. The project is site specific and is taking under account buildings architecture and function. It’s also familiar with the new logo of Nowa Huta Cultural Center in Cracow.
On the other side of the wall on which the mural is placed, there is the biggest concert hall in Cracow. It is here, where before concerts the sound engineers drive in with their own audio mixers and other professional sound engineering or acoustic devices, which now they can recognise in the image on the wall. Moreover, placing the painting in the back of the building makes it an institutional backstage, a place of power and control, plugging in to the energy source – wiring up to the culture.
Audiomural NCK was made within Nowohucki Festiwal Sztuki (Nowa Huta Art Festival) on South-east wall of Nowa Huta Cultural Center in Cracow, Poland. It’s area is about 800 m2, it took 12 days to make it on-site, almost 20 people were involved. It’s the biggest mural in Nowa Huta, and second biggest mural in Cracow.
What are you working on right now?
Last year was the time of the realisation of my PhD project, which is my publication for the Faculty of Graphic Arts in Cracow entitled Graphic Arts / Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow. I had to resign from others, not only commercial projects, to be able to focus on graphic design work in an album. It was really a big challenge to me, not only graphically but also content-related and as well as organisationally. Now I’m focusing on the theoretical part of my doctoral dissertation and also on preparations for doctoral exams.
What are your plans for the future?
For now, the most important is the doctoral dissertation, after which I have plans, concepts for big and typographic realisations of murals in Cracow, but right now I cannot say anything more, it’s a secret. What I can say is that it will be the biggest one in Poland.
Moreover, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m going to rent a studio and start new series of painting. But what it will be I do not know yet. We will see!
Photos: Aleksandra Toborowicz, Edyta Dufaj, Michał Pałasz & Kuba Sowiński