Paula Bearzotti’s Tale

Creators’ paths are rarely simple. Here is the testimony from a graphic designer who speaks visuals the way others speak words, and who has accepted to take a new look at the way she learns. You can expect something about design of course, but also grammar, algebra and computers.

This post is also available in French. So you have a choice. N’est-ce pas?

Paula Bearzotti has been a graphic designer for 30 years. Originally from Córdoba in Argentina, she has lived and worked in France for the past 16 years. Her Instagram profile states : Mother and graphic designer full-time. I design letters. How did she become a letter designer? It all started with grammar.

Something clicked twice

PB – My first learning click came when I was 13 or 14. I was forever making grammar and spelling mistakes. In class, my work always came back covered in red pen. And at home, there were constant comparisons with my brother who was, of course, more intelligent than me.

She realized that there was no point in trying to be like her brother because that slot was already taken. She had to find her own way of succeeding. As writing was crucial to all school subjects, her spelling and grammar mistakes penalized her constantly, and her sense of failure slowly became the norm. She decided that something had to change, and that grammar and spelling were where to begin.

Photo by Unseen Studio from Unsplash

PB – I can remember the exact day day when I decided I was going to really get to grips with grammar rules. And from that point on, I had no more problems. It wasn’t easy. There were nights when my mother would help me with my homework because I couldn’t do it alone. But I think it was all in that moment when I decided to change, to start learning, studying. The first time something clicked for me was with grammar.

As she spent time on grammar and spelling, she realized that learning could actually be a source of pleasure.

PB – When I set myself an objective and I reached it, the process became like a drug. I said to myself : Hey, I really am able to achieve what I set out to do! And even today I like to do things for myself, without help. For example, when some new task comes up, I tell myself I can do it.

This appetite for learning, and for the pleasure of learning, eased its way into maths class, as Paula explains.

Photo by Thomas T from Unsplash

PB – After grammar and spelling, I remember that I liked algebra – I mean really liked it. It was total fascination! The complexity of 4-page exercises … I developed a special relationship with the maths teacher who nobody else in the class respected, because nobody else liked maths! At the time, I would have been 15. And I would even wake up up at 4 am with the solution to an exercise, get up to write it down and then go back to sleep! I also used to stay behind after class because the teacher gave me harder exercises to work on. From then on, I built this kind of relationship with other teachers too. Because I always wanted to learn more. So I can say for certain that learning algebra, was the second time that something clicked.

Architecture – a new way of looking

Now seen as a bright student with the profile of a future scientist, at 17 Paula finishes secondary school. What she should study next?

Here is that little book on letters and how to draw them!

PB – I was already drawn towards graphics because my father had a little book called El ABC del Letrista, on letters and different ways to draw them. He also had various drawing tools, like T-squares and so on. And I think I absorbed all that because, at some point in secondary school, I started turning out beautiful projects in all my subjects. Whatever the project, it had to make people want to look at it. But then, in the end, I enrolled at university to study architecture because, at the time in Córdoba, there was no way to study to become a graphic designer at university. There were some courses on offer elsewhere, but you had to pay, and they were too expensive. Somebody suggested architecture and I said yes, because it seemed close to the things I was interested in.

Interior deatil – Provincial Parliament, Provincia de Córdoba – Trip Advisor

Paula studies architecture for two years. She discovers the delights of using bond paper for drafting the plans and projects which she has to work on. Studying architecture also reveals the treasures of her hometown, Córdoba, capital of the Argentinian Province of Córdoba, which she explores in all its details.

PB We spent a lot of time going out to look at, visit and draw the buildings in various parts of the city. It was basic training for doing everything else. I loved doing everything that was visual in some way, drawing and so on. If I finally dropped architecture after two years, it was because I never had the time to do the things which gave me real satisfaction. We spent all our time working on the resistance of materials and doing structural calculations. And I loved maths!

Another specific memory of a decision made resurfaces here.

PB – I remember one night. It was 4 am, and I was still at the drawing board. I had one sheet of bond paper left to finish my project, and I made a mistake. I drew a staircase which was supposed to lead to the roof, but it led nowhere at all. I’d made a mistake! I had no more paper to start again. So I said to myself Basta ! I don’t want to this anymore. I’ve had it with architecture. In any case, I was always working through the night and forever losing sleep. My mother said : I prefer a sane daughter to a mad architect! And that’s how I dropped architecture. I found a job. I was already 19. I worked with my father and, with the money I earned, I paid for the course in graphic design. I got my diploma in 1995 and that was when I started working as a graphic designer.

Close encounters with computers

On entering graphic design as a professional, a whole new chapter of learning would begin for Paula Bearzotti as she discovered computers.

PB – How did I start in computing? To answer that one, I have to talk about a family tragedy which occurred in 1993 when my brother died. He was killed in a motorbike accident. I had just started my graphic design course. My Dad sold the motorbike and, with the money, he bought me a computer and enrolled me on a course to learn how to use it. Don’t imagine it was a course on how to use Windows. It was all about DOS, the computer’s disk operating system. I think it was a 3-month course, and it was my introduction to computer technology.

Source – Wikipedia

3 years studying graphic design had taught me to do everything by hand, but I could already see the potential contribution from computers. I had seen the growing number of websites, and all the multi-media presentations using CD-ROM support. But in order to actually learn how to learn the software and become computer proficient, I had to learn on my own again. A friend gave me a book on HTML, the basic programming language for websites – a book I devoured. I had to know more! So I enrolled at the Technology Faculty to study for a career in systems engineering. In order to be accepted, I had to prove that I had already started to work on computing on my own initiative. But the only times I could attend class were in the morning – with all the youngsters fresh out of high school! I was 23, not 17. They chatted all through class, played cards. They all already saw themselves as systems engineers!

Fired with an irresistible urge to learn and not feeling that she was by any means in the right place, she left the course and decided to learn differently.

PB – I bought books and started learning on my own. I wanted to learn how to do mult-media presentations. A book taught me how to program in Visual Basic then Macromedia Flash. Now these technologies are obselete, of course. But that is the way of things in the digital world. Innovation is endless. It’s no good trying to hang on to systems from the past, you need to be flexible and ready to adapt to what’s new.

Neverending learning and constant renewal

As we finish, Paula maintains her focus on constant renewal, which she insists is a defining characteristic of her profession. She looks for a convincing example.

PB – I am a graphic designer. I design websites. And even when you create a site using WordPress, for example, it’s a system of content management which changes all the time. File format is an good example of this. Nowadays, everyone wants to see everything using their phone and, on top of that, there are different types of phone. As a designer, I have guarantee RWD or Responsive Web Design so that everything is clearly displayed whatever the user’s device – computer, tablet, iPad, telephone. That means every logo has to adapt to every display requirement on every device, so site logos now have a new format known as SVG. This is a vector-image format which makes it possible to vary logo size depending on the display device being used. The percentages vary. For a display of less than 1200 pixels, it’s 80 per cent. If the pixel count is higher, then maybe 50 per cent. All these tweaks mean that the logo stays aligned on the right and so on. And all those details are programmed!

A few years ago, I told myself I wasn’t going to design any more websites because it was so time-consuming. But I’m still at it, because you have to earn a living. That said, after all these years, the thing I really enjoy is simply drawing letters!

Extract from Spanish Chocolate Company Project – Paula Bearzotti

Does Paula Bearzotti still draw?

PB – That hasn’t changed. Today, when siomeone says : Oh you’re a Mac user. Which apps do you use most? I say no, everything starts with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil. Today I use a Mac. Before that, I was on a PC. It doesn’t matter what sort of computer you’re on, which apps you use. What counts is your own creativity. For me, the basic tools are still the same : pencil and paper.

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