The Alex Osborn Award

Michael Gelen

Founder/Picture Drawrer, Inkwell Studios

Michael Gelen: 2012 Alex Osborn Award

I distinctly remember the moment when I became aware of this thing called “graphic design.” It was 1965, and I was in an automobile showroom with my parents. I remember the big fan in the corner and the smell of new tires, but mostly I remember a poster announcing the imminent arrival of next year’s models. The poster’s main visual element was a big, bold “66,” but inside the counters some anonymous Mad Men-era Art Director had added two pupils, creating a pair of eyes that looked askance, puckishly, at the headline. My six-year old mind reeled. I wasn’t interested in cars, but I was fascinated by that poster. Someone somewhere, I realized, had thought of that. Someone had turned type into something that was more than type, and a picture into something that was more than a picture. It was a joke of sorts, a pun – and I was in on it. In retrospect, it may not have been Volkswagen-Think-Small brilliant, or Andy-Warhol-on-the cover-of-Esquire brilliant, but it was engaging and clever, and it was the beginning of a life-long fascination with, for lack of a better word, “visual communication.”

In a perfect world I would have honed my drawing skills, attended Parsons or the Rhode Island School of Design, and earned accolades, fame and fortune as a wunderkind illustrator/designer; instead, I wandered academically, studying literature and later law. But the Rule Against Perpetuities and the myriad exceptions to the Hearsay Rule never fascinated me quite as much as T. S. Sullivant, A. M. Cassandre, Al Hirschfeld, Robert Crumb and the thousand other heroes I’d acquired over the years. Eventually, with the encouragement of my then-girlfriend Ellen Stay, I returned to my love of picture-making, and managed to carve out a niche for myself in Buffalo’s graphic arts community. For almost 20 years, as Inkwell Studios, I’ve worked alongside some extraordinarily talented and dedicated people, creating illustrations, posters, logos and characters. I’m grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me, along with their guidance and encouragement. I’m particularly grateful to the Irish Classical Theatre Company for putting my pictures in their windows for the last 10 years. And I’m especially and eternally grateful to my now-wife Ellen and our marvelous children, Maggie and Patrick.



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