George Tscherny 1924-2023

by Dan Margulis on November 21, 2023

Last week we lost perhaps the last titan of the early digital era, a man, according to the headline on the New York Times obituary, “whose graphic designs defined an era.”

I’m unable to endorse that phrase, because, like all such great artists, George Tscherny had an individual touch that nobody could copy with complete success. Nevertheless, one can say that he used design to accept the teachings of the time when they suited him, and to defy them when they didn’t.

Berlin in the late 1930s was no place for a family of Hungarian Jews. George apparently did not wish to discuss the horrors they had to live through. His life history fast-forwards to post-war service as a German translator for the occupying U.S. forces. Thereafter he emigrated to the U.S. and began to study design; there is no indication he had ever done so previously.

His talent quickly became evident. He married, and set up business out of his residence, an upper-East-Side townhouse in Manhattan. By the late 1960s his work was well-known. He specialized in advertising, annual reports, promotional posters, and the like. He also made a huge contribution as an educator, strongly supporting what is now known as the School of Visual Arts.

I knew him as an occasional client of the prepress house I was working in in early 1990s Manhattan, but I also got to spend about a week at his townhouse office, teaching his staff about QuarkXPress. He was a gracious host, with an engaging personality not shared by so many of his egotistical colleagues of the time. Notoriously curious about the technologies of his trade, he sat in on many of my demonstrations. He never intended to work hands-on himself, but he was quicker to understand the implications of what he was seeing than his computer-literate subordinates.

An interviewer once asked him to “describe your design.” George’s answer was “Maximum meaning with minimum means.” To the extent that one can summarize a style as complex as his in five words, this is a very good one.

The longer answer would be: he had a knack for finding a single compelling graphic to wrap a design around. The results could often be described as not striking, but strikingly effective. In an age when the prevailing style was to jam text down the viewers’ throats with distorted typefaces with huge x-heights, George often set important, large text in a classic serifed italic. The message: if the graphic interests you, you’ll make the extra effort to read something more elegant if slightly less legible, and if the graphic doesn’t interest you, nothing is lost.

Three examples of this understatement. First, George’s poster for the movie version of West Side Story has to be one of the greatest film promotional designs in history. Granting the prominence of the graphic, the conventional thing would still be to print the actor’s credits in pure white. George realized that doing this would distract from the white figures on the fire escape, so he darkened the letters a bit. Less legible? Too bad. If you want to know who’s in the film, make the effort to read it, but don’t risk having your attention distracted from the poster’s main message.

Perhaps the most effective movie poster ever.

Perhaps the most effective movie poster ever.

Second, a promotional piece for SVA. This time, not only is the type seriously understated, but the average viewer might not even be able to figure out what the piece is trying to promote. That was all right with George, too. Anyone who doesn’t understand this piece is not part of the target audience.

A promotional piece for the School of Visual Arts, New York City

A promotional piece for the School of Visual Arts, New York City.

Finally, George created beautiful advertising material for the world’s most prestigious airline, Pan Am. Back then, traveling across an ocean was much more expensive than it is today, and Pan Am was noted for luxury. Naturally enough, they provided travelers with maps and guides to their destination city, of which I show six of George’s efforts. As clever as his graphics are, this time the type (or at least the city name) is equally important, so he makes it as legible as possible: pure white, an easy-to-read sans-serif, as large as the design permits.

Selections from a series of travel guides to cities served by Pan American World Airways.

Selections from a series of travel guides to cities served by Pan American World Airways.

I got to work with the two pre-eminent designers of their time, George Tscherny and Paul Rand. I liken Rand to Mozart. Their trick was to make their work appear simple, simple, so simple that you think anybody could equal it, until you try to do it yourself.

George, OTOH, I’d liken to Brahms. A complete command of technique, but used flexibly and tastefully, not with the violence of a Beethoven.

As a rule, we say we mourn the loss of someone who has passed away, particularly if the death takes place earlier than might be expected. As George was 99 years old, I would prefer to say that we salute his contribution, his personality, and his legacy. If there is anything to mourn, George would probably remind us of how people imagined that the horrors of his youth could never happen again.


The 2023 Progress Award

by Dan Margulis on October 17, 2023

My retirement was interrupted last month by one of my life’s happier experiences. In Williamsburg, Virginia, I accepted the Progress Award for 2023 from the Photographic Society of America.

PSA has been around for 84 years and is likely the most prestigious such organization in our field. They state, “The Progress Award recognizes a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the progress of photography or an allied subject. The recipient does not have to be a member of the Society. The Progress Award, PSA’s highest award, is presented each year…”

This is a rather exclusive group that I just joined. Among previous recipients are Ansel Adams, Tim Berners-Lee, Ken Burns, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Walt Disney, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Adolf Fassbender, Victor Hasselblad, Edwin Land, and Henry Luce.

My brief acceptance speech posed a small problem. As in Oscar ceremonies, the other people who received lesser awards had a list of people to thank. I couldn’t, because the list would be way too long. So, with apologies for the length of the post, I’ll do it here.


The piece of hardware that I’m holding cites me “For the authoritative work in the field of digital color correction of photographs. Establishing the usage of L*A*B* as a standard part of the repertory of high-end retouchers. Teaching that digital color correction should seek to correspond to what a human observer would see if placed in the position on the camera. Publishing techniques to emulate certain well-known reactions/attributes of the human visual system, such as chromatic adaptation and simultaneous contrast.”

I wasn’t consulted about that inscription, so they must have done some research. Another thing that was researched, and discussed at some length, was the fact that my final four books before Chevreul had panels of beta readers. This may have been a reaction to another controversy. Apparently many of their competitions have the same judges, who can bring the same set of biases each time. It was announced that henceforth there is going to be some system of rotation of judges who may have different perceptions.

So the question came up as to how I knew each group of beta readers offered a broad enough spectrum of experiences. I produced the questionnaire that I would post to my Applied Color Theory list before selecting the group. And I explained that I would usually get 50 or 60 responses, which I would spreadsheet, and whittle it down in a way that preserved diversity. This procedure ensured I had some of everything: non-experts as well as experts; people who did not know me and others who did; people with backgrounds in art, in science, in writing, or teaching, people whose work ends up in CMYK and those who end up with RGB; people whose first language is not English, etc.

AFAIK I’ve never listed all the beta readers who have meant so much to the quality of what I’ve published. I reiterate that it was a great honor to have so many volunteers, because the beta reading program required scores of hours from every participant. Before listing them, however, I want to thank some others who were not beta readers as such but have made an extraordinary contribution to my career and teaching. In alphabetical order, I tip my hat to:

*Giuliana Abbiati. Everyone who has ever used the PPW panel is in her debt, as am I. Her dedication to our field, and particularly to development of innovative tools, is extraordinary.

*Gerald Bakker. Just this week he posted another in his series of actions that represent a continuation of what the PPW panel’s suite of actions started. As a full slate of beta readers wasn’t feasible for the Chevreul book, he was the one who gave the manuscript the most careful read prior to publication. And, of course, his work in moderating and participating in this list benefits everyone.

*Daniele Di Stanio has done much of the behind-the-scenes work in promotion, the development of our site, as well as his own fine one on color correction.

*Sterling Ledet is the unstoppable energetic force behind my ACT classes, my books, and the ACT list. We have been close friends for 30 years. Without his contribution, you would likely never even have heard of me.

*Clarence Maslowski. I know that I said I wasn’t going to list beta readers except as an entire group, but only one person was a beta reader for all four titles (PP5E, both editions of Canyon Conundrum, and MPCW). Furthermore, his criticism was less diplomatic than that of others, which was probably helpful because he had a knack of pointing out serious flaws.

*Cathy Panagoulias. Living with an author who is on deadline is no picnic, particularly when the author is prone to do his best writing in the middle of the night, and even more so when the author is not one to suffer fools. Cathy supported me throughout, was the ultimate reader of all these books before they were published, and was even recognized by PSA, which invited her by name, instead of merely “Dan Margulis and Guest”.

And now the readers; the number in parentheses is shown when the individual participated in more than one title.

Il_Colore-750Alessandro Bernardi, Italy (2); Russell Brown, Australia; Bevi Chagnon, United States; M.E. Chevreul, France; the late Les De Moss, United States (2); Mike Demyan, United States (2); Fred Drury, United States; André Dumas, Canada (2); Adriano Esteves, Portugal (2); Bruce Fellman, United States (2); James Gray, United States (2); George Harding, United States; John Jacobs, Canada (2); the late Timo Kirves, Finland; Katia Lazarova, Bulgaria; André Borges Lopes, Brazil; George Machen, United States; Clarence Maslowski, United States (4); Clyde McConnell, Canada (2); Marco Olivotto, Italy (2); John Pavel, United Kingdom (2); John Ruttenberg, United States; Kevin Stecyk, Canada; Nick Tressider, New Zealand; Campo Weijerman, The Netherlands; Frederick Yocum, United States.

I deny that any one individual named above had more impact on the final product than I did myself, but the group as a whole surely did.

I ended two of my presentations with a photo of myself on my porch, drinking a bottle of Italian red while practicing my Italian by reading Marco Olivotto’s recent book on color correction. This was a leadup to my final image. I said when I was done reading it, it would go to a place of which I showed a photo. It’s a bookshelf containing thirty-some-odd books written by my students, the candidates for future Progress Awards.

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“HINT: It’s inspired by the natural world’s ability to adapt and regenerate.”

That was a major paint manufacturer, announcing that it would shortly name its 2022 Color of the Year.

We tend to associate the term Color of the Year with Pantone, but many companies offer competing nominees, trying to predict the trends of the forthcoming year. Some of these companies are thinking primarily of wall covering, others of furniture, still others of fashion and advertising, but as usual a color that is trendy in one of these areas is likely to be so in the others.

The predictions sometimes turn out wrong but more often they are at least somewhat correct. So I thought it useful to take a look at what’s being forecast for our tastes in this most challenging of years. I’ve looked for all the 2022 Colors of the Year I could find—eleven of them—and how the companies choosing them explained their decisions.

So, what do you think the choices were? Would it be substantially different than in any other year?

Answer: yes, absolutely, both in how many companies chose almost the same thing, and in the class of colors chosen.

in this unhappy year, nobody has picked anything warm, which I suspect is unprecedented. 9 of the 11 choices are ambiguous, in the sense that one of the AB channels is positive and the other negative, as opposed to an optimistic red or a warm yellow where both are positive, or a cool aqua/teal where both are negative. Only one, perhaps two, of the colors would be considered assertive.

I’ll let these pandemic colors, and their advocates, speak for themselves, but here’s the summary: six greens, two magentas, one purplish blue, one light blue, and one near-neutral. I can only show ten samples, because the eleventh was described by its advocate, Etsy, only in words: “Symbolizing harmony and growth, along with royalty and refinement, emerald green is the perfect color to remind us to find balance this year.”

Your guess is as good as mine for what emerald green means, but we don’t have to guess at the other five greens shown below. They’re all quite similar: dull, yellowish, not reminding us of vegetation at all. Definitely not the hues one would consider uplifting; in my days as a retoucher my colleagues might have referred to any of them as puke green.

Five vendors chose closely similar greens as Color of the Year.

Five vendors chose closely similar greens as Color of the Year.

Here’s what the vendors have to say about them.

Breezeway, from the paint company Behr: “A relaxed and uplifting sea glass green expressing peace and tranquility for forward movement.”

Evergreen Fog, from paint company Sherwin-Williams: “The pandemic certainly influenced where we are with colors. Consumers were seeking nourishing, meaningful, reassuring, and healing…organic, nature-inspired palettes like warm brown and cool green tones are essential to achieving a restorative state and satisfying a need for energizing positivity.”

Guacamole, from paint company Glidden: “This spirited yet soothing green brings an organic energy to any space, which is needed because we all know you’ve probably killed at least three plants this year.”

October Mist, from paint company Benjamin Moore: “This gently shaded sage quietly anchors a space, while encouraging individual expression through color.”

Olive Sprig, from paint company PPG: “A midtone, neutral, lush green with an organic green undertone.”

On to the non-greens, the vendor descriptions of which break new ground in pomposity. Be warned. I return the floor to them.

The five non-green choices, still with no warm color.

The five non-green choices, still without a single warm color.

Cream Moonstone, from Roommates Decor, which specializes in colorful wallpaper, but here offers us something completely bland, at odds with their reputation: “This is a color that provides a restorative calm, while also offering a refreshing sense of energy and optimism to lead the way in 2022. It’s a versatile hue that can be both the gentle hero of a space–with a stylish neutral palette throughout–or something that plays a supportive role to complement other colors. It’s also unexpected–people often associate us with our bold, bright patterns, and we’re excited to show that peel and stick wallpaper can also yield spaces that promote calm and relaxation.”

Bright Skies, from AkzoNobel, a Dutch paint and coatings firm: “The airy, light blue feels like the breath of fresh air we all need. After a spell of feeling shut in, people are craving expansion. Extensive global trend research conducted by a team of in-house paints and coatings color experts and international design professionals reveals that we want open air, connections to the great outdoors and a fresh approach to everything.”

Cosmos, from Robert Kaufman Fabrics: “This extraplanetary purple embodies the majesty and mystery of the universe.” Wow.

Orchid Flower, from WGSN, a London-based consumer trend forecast firm: “Has an intense, hyper-real and energizing quality that will stand out in both real-life and digital settings. It is also versatile enough to work across seasons and continents. In a challenging time, this saturated magenta tone will be a great way to create a sense of positivity and escapism.”

Very Peri, (short for Periwinkle, from the most well-known authority of all): “A new Pantone color whose courageous presence encourages personal inventiveness and creativity.”

And there you have vendor ideas of what constitutes courageous, intense, energizing, extraplanetary, organic. uplifting, relaxed, and soothing in this challenging year. Maybe so, but I find them depressing and at best, ambiguous. We’ll soon see whether they are, in fact, the colors of the year.

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Books available for educational donation

by Dan Margulis January 7, 2021

Educational and cultural institutions whose students and patrons could make use of my two latest books now have an opportunity to obtain them in quantity at no charge, courtesy of the members of the Applied Color Theory group. This offer is good for January only and involves the books Modern Photoshop Color Workflow and On […]

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Ed Benguiat 1927-2020

by Dan Margulis November 1, 2020

On October 15 we lost the most prolific type designer of the second half of the twentieth century, Ed Benguiat, after 92 years of enjoying life. Having designed hundreds of faces, he was well adapted to any style. Most of his works were in the style of the 70s and 80s, which is not popular […]

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Test Your Correction Skills!

by Dan Margulis September 24, 2020

If you’d like to check out how your color correction skills stack up to those of others, including some top professionals, my online discussion group recently finished a series of case studies in which group members were asked to submit their versions of some images chosen to be at least mildly challenging/interesting. We did one […]

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Chevreul Meets Margulis: Now Available!

by Dan Margulis February 29, 2020

My update of M.E. Chevreul’s classic text On the Law of Simultaneous Contrast of Colors is finally available online. It was printed in late January; members of my discussion group were able to order it direct from the pressroom, which they did in surprising quantity. Our first shipment to Amazon sold out in four hours. […]

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Announcing a Modernized Classic

by Dan Margulis February 5, 2020

This is a pre-announcement of a book that is about to come on the market. You can’t order it for a few days yet, but you need to be on the lookout for the offer, because it’s going to be time-limited. After that, it will be available only on Amazon, which sometimes runs out of […]

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Applied Color Theory Group Finds a New Home

by Dan Margulis November 24, 2019

The Applied Color Theory list, which discusses matters of interest to my students, friends, and colleagues, has been operating since 1999. For almost the past twenty years it has resided at yahoogroups. After many years of deterioration, yahoogroups recently decided it would now become e-mail only, no images allowed. We have therefore moved the group […]

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Unexpected and Unpleasant Surprises (The MIT 5k dataset 9)

by Dan Margulis September 2, 2019

Previous postings evaluating how the Picture Postcard Workflow did compared to the retouching team on the MIT dataset established the obvious, that neither PPW nor any other workflow is the perfect solution every time. The question is, how do identify when PPW shouldn’t be expected to be better? Sometimes the image simply doesn’t have enough potential for […]

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