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Bored with sitting in hospital basements drawing body parts,
Margo Chase turned to graphic design. Dripping blood
all over Francis Ford Coppola’s posters and transforming Cher
into a tarot goddess, she single-handedly invented
high-fashion Goth design.
any designers come from backgrounds that make a career in the arts seem almost inevitable.
Margo Chase is one of them: her late biological mother drew, painted, and made furniture;
her stepmother plays bass viol with the Santa Barbara Symphony and studied calligraphy.
Her grandfather was a photographer, and both aunts were painters. Even her father, an aerospace
engineer by trade, is an accomplished jazz guitarist. Surrounded by so many artistic influences, Margo
started drawing at an early age. “I got into trouble in elementary school for doodling and drawing
horses all over my school papers. Most of my horses had heads that were too small and butts that
were too big, but I kept drawing them anyway.”
Surprisingly, nobody in Chase’s family considered visual arts a viable career. So when it came time to
pick a major in college, she enrolled in the biology department of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in hopes
of later moving on to the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. “I loved studying biology. I was
learning how living things worked. It was visually exciting to study all the life forms in comparative
anatomy and learn about plants in plant taxonomy. I loved the classes where we looked at things under
the microscope. I even loved dissection. I think my interest in organic form in graphic design carries
over from my years studying biology.”
EEDS OF CHANGE It was an act of cold, hard calculation that eventually brought Chase into
contact with graphic design: “Grades are extremely important for getting into medical school so
I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to get my liberal arts credits without
damaging my GPA. Drawing and painting classes were easy As. I had already taken a few when
I signed up for an illustration class that I thought would just be more figure drawing. It turned out
to be a third-year class in the recently formed graphic design department.”
1978 1992
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One of the first illustration projects was to pick a word and letters that expressed
the word, and then illustrate it. She chose “Feline Anatomy” and rented a cat skeleton
from the biology lab. “I had no idea what a typeface was. I’d copied the letters out of
a book.” Chase soon added a minor degree in graphic design to her biology curriculum.
“The most exciting part was discovering that one might actually make a living doing
something visually creative. Design was a revelation!”
Following the advice of one of her instructors, Chase signed up for the graduate
program in medical illustration at UC San Francisco. “My parents were enthusiastic
about the medical illustration idea. They were still sure I’d starve to death doing
graphic design.” But despite honing her technical skills, Chase was not thrilled by
the idea of spending the better part of her life in hospital basements making
drawings for medical textbooks. “I realized I hated it. I missed the creativity and
openness of the graphics classes. I quit graduate school in 1981.”
Human Foot, illustration This scratchboard
illustration was a graduate project and one of
the pieces Margo had in her portfolio when first
trying to break into the graphic design field.
1987 1988 1989 199
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