One Minute With…
Hi Andy, thanks for taking the time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Conor, thank you for having me! I’m a letterer, designer and artist for a living – and a guy who loves to spend quality time with family, friends, my girl and go on adventures outside whenever possible. I’m currently traveling throughout Europe for one year with my wife, while freelancing on select projects. Prior to leaving for our trip, Chicago had been home for the last five years. My work and work ethic have been hugely influenced by the Midwestern mentality and character. There is an underlying goal in the Midwest to make things that can be truly experienced and used, not just looked at from afar. I take that approach seriously in my work and aim to create work that’s ready to be experienced.
How did you get into design? Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a designer?
I’ve always loved art, and I’m sure I have similar stories as my colleagues – drawing logos of my favorite baseball teams, botching illustrations of Chewbacca, and so on. Design offered an avenue to combine a variety of art practices into one medium and I was drawn to that early on.
So far in my career, two defining moments come to mind. The first was getting laid off in the 2008 recession. I was working at a Chicago-based agency that folded in the poor financial climate, and I found myself one year out of college without a job in a market that was not looking to hire. In the midst of an awful situation, I was offered a job working with Firebelly Design, and I took it. To this day, it was one of the biggest blessings and influences in my career. Dawn Hancock, owner of Firebelly Design, has been a mentor, friend, and a dear colleague ever since.
The second was in the midst of a project at VSA Partners here in Chicago. I was put on a client project (to be left nameless) and was asked to extensively research and sketch script typography for the client. I’d already been exploring calligraphy on a personal level, but this project was the first time I sincerely attempted lettering, and I loved it immediately. In many ways, it came naturally and that project was the launching pad for my career in type and lettering.
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
Honestly, I wish I’d established myself more as an editorial illustrator right out of the gate. I have a passion for illustration and I’m able to use it daily within the realm of lettering, but I’d love to illustrate more for clients.
A lot of your work seems wonderfully effortless – as if you simply threw some ink down on a page, it happened to form lovely letterforms, and you called it a day. To what extent is that true? How much of your process involves iteration on a project-by-project basis, and how much of it is simply practicing to get to a state where you don’t require as much iteration?
First, thank you for the kind words. Within my work, the calligraphy-based pieces in particular, there’s an incredible amount of trial and error. Granted, I practice regularly, and I know what to expect with the ink, but no one ever sees the mountain of paper that goes into the recycling bin in an effort to achieve ideal, balanced pieces. The final result may look somewhat effortless, but it definitely takes time and effort to get it just right.
Furthermore, I always try my best to treat each project individually to make sure I’m creating a piece that’s memorable and special – so working with each client project by project has proven to be the process for me.
And as well as your lettering, you do some lovely semi-abstract artwork. Do you view one as an extension of the other, or are they, to you, two entirely different beasts? What sorts of challenges do each pose?
I’ve learned techniques in the midst of painting a canvas that I’ve been able to bring into a client project and vice versa. I challenge myself to try new things as often as I’m able. Working abstractly allows mistakes to become textures and layers, and in the end, not a mistake at all. That mentality has transitioned into my lettering work: building letterforms up, taking away bits and pieces, and then approaching the composition in a new light. I really believe that lettering and painting balance and feed off each other, and they work hand in hand.
As far as challenges, knowing the moment when a piece is finished – when to stop and when to push it further, that’s always the challenge.
Outside of other design and illustration, what sorts of things inspire and influence your work?
My wife and I are currently taking the year to travel throughout Europe, the Basque country of Spain and France in particular. This has had a profound impact on my approach to design as of late. The signage, storefronts, and the overall approach to life that people here hold is so different versus back home in the States. It’s quite refreshing. Beautiful, actually. I’ve made a habit of walking in the mornings, bringing home a baguette and 2 pain au chocolats for breakfast. I use this time to soak up type. In the Basque region for example, each family home has a name, an etxea, and that name is proudly displayed on each home – by the front door, over the gate, or along the stone fence. The name is often painted – but sometimes, the type is a wrought iron script in the fashion of neon. The legacy of type here is so rich, and I’ve noticed that it’s creeping into my work, and I like that!
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
There are countless creatives that I truly admire, so this is a tricky question. If I had to narrow it down to just one, I’d have to say John Passafiume. I love the character of his work – how it can dance between timeless, charming, and downright beautiful. I’ve seen it written that he’s the “next” Doyald Young and I agree with that sentiment. Not only is his work truly top shelf, but he spends his days with Louise Fili, who I also find unbelievably inspiring.
How would you define success? Do you think you’ve found it yet?
Professionally, as long as I’m able to passionately work with great people, create daily, and live a balanced life in and out of the studio, I feel successful. With that, I’ve certainly found success some days, and failed miserably others. Spending time with my wife, sharing a good beer and conversation with a pal, or going for a nice run helps me sleep just as well at night as finishing dream projects that I aspire to work on.
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design?
My sincerest advice to newcomers would be twofold – be honest and be authentic. I’ve always made an effort to have relationships first and colleagues second. People go to bat for their friends, and at the end of the day, we all want to work and invest time with good people.