These Days

Meg and I learned about a collaboration between William Schickel and Cincinnati artist and designer David Day during our visit to the William Schickel Gallery last week. We met David and his wife Barbara a few years back and decided was time to pay them another visit to say "hi" and learn about their work with Schickel.

You may know David and Barbara from their book Vanishing Cincinnati. They also designed the tower at the entrance of Over-The-Rhine, a mosaic on the floor at the center of Findlay Market, and the mural of Pendleton next to The Pendleton Art Center where David and Barbara work. 


David shows his current work-in-progress, a study of old Woodward High School in Pendleton, the first public school west of the Allegheny Mountains. He says it will take a year for him to complete the project after multiple studies and drafts. Stacks of fodder stand Behind Davidas a timeline of his continuous pursuits.


David’s desk. It was given to him by Barbara’s father. A prototype of the Over-The-Rhine tower sits at the top right. David has a mostly simple toolset. (Notice that there’s no computer at his desk.)

You can’t hear it from the picture, but a Red’s spring training game sounded from an old radio. The Day’s love for Cincinnati is thick. Being a Red’s fans now for 70+ years is almost as dedicated as you can get.


David showed us a book he created with William Schickel.

The Day's worked with Schickel in Loveland, Ohio for six years. It was their first jobs out of graduate school. They say he was tough and continually challenged them to do their best work. When David and Barbara left Schickel, they say that they were ruined (in a positive sense) and couldn’t imagine working for anyone else. That's why they started their studio. 


A spread from inside the book.

We talked about the apparent diversity of their work. Schickel and the Day's are not confined or defined by a specific medium or skillset. Stained glass, drawing, architecture, graphic design, interior design, you name it. David called the practice “comprehensive design.” That’s what he learned at Cincinnati College (now University of Cincinnati) and graduate school at the University of Southern Illinois under the instruction of Buckminster Fuller. I asked why students aren't taught this anymore. It seems designers nowadays, both professionals and students, are hyper-focused on one concentration. David said that design these days is too scientific. I think he means we’ve become too formulaic. Design starts to look like a step by step process. There's not a lot of room for discovery and play. I saw this in the classroom last year. Students desperately wanted to know how to get an A. Anxiety brewed when there wasn’t a fixed line connected to a clear path. I can’t be too critical because I’m just as guilty. I’m a product of a similar binary education system. I want to know the right and safe path to success. Just let me know what the rules are, and I'll follow. Experimentation becomes threatening because the results are unpredictable. In this way, the design disciplines risk becoming automated, which makes me less concerned that robots will take our jobs because it's designers that have become the robots.

David and Barbara's practice and worldview nudged Meg and me to question the boxes of security we most often reside. As you’ll see in the post from two days after our visit, that inspiration led us to do something uncomfortable. We made designs, art, things, or whatever you want to call it, just for the pure pleasure of making. We embarked without a destination in mind or being that good at what we were doing. It's a modest start for us both, and hopefully, it's a habit that will grow inside and outside our professional practices.