Tuesday, February 20, 2018

La Marzocco 2017 Yearbook—A Florentine Supper

The coffee shop is akin to Rock Music—It’s a very restrictive format but how you creatively play with the form can yield a myriad of surprising expressions and infinite results within its limits. Each shop is a sort of shrine to belief and experience ranging from funky & home spun warmth, to an eye toward high end contemporary architecture and design, and all manner in-between. Partially because of the nature of this Yearbook project Sven Hoffman (design+photos) and I have worked on for the past 4 years, and mostly because of my love of deeply satisfying espresso drinks, when I walk into a new coffee shop I notice the choices in each space, what is added, what is subtracted, and why.

This post includes: Book cover, end pages, spread selections, sketchbook pages, and back cover .

Where a diverse variety of people come together and why has always been a personal interest of mine and the coffee shop typifies this sort of space and experience with the espresso machine is at it’s heart. Some of the favorite shops I’ve visited around the world have simply been a  La Marzocco prominently displayed on the counter with almost nothing else in the space, shown with the reverence of a sculpture on display at a contemporary art museum. These machines are things of beauty, lovingly hand crafted to yield an exceptional and satisfying beverage, and seeing a La Marzocco in a shop is like seeing an old friend as I saw them assembled by hand from pieces on tables the at factory in Italy when I when I was invited to spend a few days to get to know the company, the “global family” feel, vibe, and approach. I was told the company history from those close to the founding fathers of the company, drew images on the factory floor as the employees assembled the machines and had rousing matches of foosball on their lunch-break, and was regularly treated to exceptional espresso and great company at every turn. Enjoy.

I love working with designers interested in playing with and remixing my sketchbook images as it always yields surprising and unexpected results. I’ve worked with some very adventurous designers to explore what’s possible in this regard and Sven is tops.

Monday, February 5, 2018

American Illustration 36 / Charlotte, NC Public Art Project

Thanks to American Illustration—Fun with the unscrew & mix n match (put your image on the cover) edition this year. My image of an illustration element from my Charlotte NC Public Art project to be installed in 2020.

Center detail shows Biddle Hall at JCSU, founded in 1876 as an African American college by Presbyterian ministers, as post-emancipation they realized the worst scenario for former slaves would to be without an education. Above right, local civil rights activist Charles Jones testifying at the House On Un-American Activities trials. Across to his left is a Freedom Riders bus he rode to protest segregation. Heartbreaking to listen to his oral history of the vicious violence and racism that moved his family throughout The South. Lower left, church choir, local churches were separate from white control and places to organize activism.

The oral history of local resident, Marty Johnson Saunders speaks to historic Biddleville as an African American enclave, incredibly warm and open community, were all neighbors looked after each other’s children, folks shared out of their gardens (left) and doors were unlocked. A priceless interview to listen to as she speaks of her father being so respected locally that white bus drivers knew to let his daughters ride in the front of the bus during segregation, years before Rosa Parks, as she tells it. References in the piece to the Million Youth March and the unseen who have contributed to the area history.

Project notes range from hand written notes from Biddle University founding fathers from the 1800’s speaking to how “All truth and all doctrine are of no avail unless they result in goodness” to jotting down info while riding in cars hearing from locals about significant places and persons such as civil rights activist Reginald Hawkins who’s home was firebombed and who’s actions contributed to ending segregation locally.

Significant, site specific, historical and slice-of-life moments are revealed though the research & begin to take shape.

This project’s travel notebook / sketchbook & guiding star. There's one for each new project. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Long post in a world of short attention—It’s Illustration Week in NYC this week.

You gotta have a guiding star. I meet people all the time who tell me they don’t know what they want to do. I can’t imagine this thinking, but I do understand it. Not knowing what you want is a signal that your intent has not been manifest or considered. And what’s the point of a life unconsidered? 

I’ve always believed there is an inherent value in revealing images that spark a thoughtful reflection. If within that reflection, and engagement with aesthetics, one considers the better nature of ourselves then the works have really done their job. A thoughtful reflection is an act of kindness, and the world can always use more of this. The job of the artist is to remind us of what is worth considering. 

It’s been curious to see how my original intent has opened doors outside of Illustration into the realms of Public Art and Fine Art (all very different worlds and practices) as the program I attended encouraged us to push boundaries and blur lines with an eye toward social relevance. At this stage of my practice I have several large scale public artworks that may be on the planet in the public realm longer than I’ll be alive. Humbling to think about. This only deepens the responsibility of my original and ever evolving intent. 

Illustrators are a quirky and strong-headed group, it’s what I love about them. Their quirks are their assets that inform their intent and deepen their practice as creative entrepreneurs. But the reason there are such low success rates is that most folks won’t want to rise to the responsibility of what it takes to do it entirely yourself when you realize what you actually have to do. Drawing out the intent of my students has been the focus of the elective I’ve taught for many years but I’ve had former students who’ve remarked when their careers have taken off “We had no idea of the intense scope of what it takes to do this and had no idea of what our teachers were up against as professionals while also teaching us”. 

Pre-recession I would tell everyone who was serious about this path that when your practice takes off you always have to have 20k somewhere (either billed out or in-house) due to taxes, and operating costs and you’ll need to constantly shuffle this 20k around to get through the expected and unexpected. This sounds entirely daunting to most who have only ever known a job with a paycheck every 2 weeks. Post-recession those numbers have changed and so many pros I’ve know have either left the field or felt pushed out. Others have found ways to navigate forward with a deeper regard for a reconsidered intent. 

As Chris Rock says about having a career “There’s not enough time in the day to do everything you need to do”. True, and you have to deal with all manner of issues, inducing assholes, peer schadenfreude, nepotism, sexism, racism, shady back-room dealings with peers actively suppressing and attempting to sabotage your path, traditional industries supporting your practice upended or decimated by new technologies, shifting currents of trends, and decreased pay rates but at the end of the day you make the decision to solve problems and keep a fixed eye on your intent regardless. Your intent is all that matters. It’s a guiding star that steers you right. Artists solve problems and one of the problems is you’ll find yourself working for weeks on end with no break, no weekends, and high pressure deadlines. You’ll work harder than you ever would if you had a job with set hours. A significant advantage though is that you can take time off and no one can say no. That’s a real upside.

Surfing is heavy-handed #metaphor for everything. Most folks think it’s a sport but if you really watch it and practice it it’s a dance. Intuition and knowledge get you in the best position to experience the most pleasurable and longest ride possible, in challenging and ever changing conditions. 

Finally got in the water after 2 1/2 weeks of no break, intense deadlines and rigorous work travel. Was out all alone, with some perfect sets coming in, just sublime. Happy Illustration Week and great respect and appreciation for all those who practice, have practiced, or ever tried.

Friday, April 15, 2016


I was approached to explore type options for Andreea Waters stunning book of NYC surfing photos available from Schiffer Publishing. Andreea and I met at an outdoor, women’s, surf event on a cold day in October of 2012 where I was surprised and inspired to see how many women were interested in cold water surfing. Understand that women surfing in the winter lineup was a rarity previously but the scene had been changing drastically and was organizing in new ways. I remarked to her that having photos of what Rockaway was like a few years before these changes will be of a great value someday. No one seemed to be comprehensively documenting it. There was a realization among myself and the crew that I surfed with that the NYC surf scene would never be going back to the sort of unseen innocence that existed previous to hurricane Sandy and earlier. She had those photos, she had been on the street and on the shore passionately documenting it all. A few weeks after meeting her, hurricane Sandy hit and changed the area and interest in surfing Rockaway and NYC forever. At the time, and to this day, Andreea is the only photographer I know who has been comprehensively documenting the entire scene and region throughout. From standing on the shore in 20 degree wind gusts and rain while shooting Nor´easter bomb drops when no one is watching, to witnessing the NYC freaks of summer dancing in the sand, she’s got it all. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to edit the book from her vast trove of inspired images and can’t wait to see them all published someday as a historical document of the time.

Our discussions on hand-lettered type for the cover were about how NYC surf is in a constant and dynamic flux with drastically changing conditions — “You should have been here an hour ago.” It’s urban beach-side. Gritty, quirky, unexpected, ever changing and beautiful. The waves go from amazing to crap, very quickly. There are a myriad of frustrations to deal with, as any NYC surfer knows, but you always get to the bliss eventually, if you know where, when and how to look.

My own experience with surfing in NYC started in the mid 90’s. I called my brother who lived in NJ at the time to get my old surfboards and we started surfing again in NYC. We mostly surfed from hurricane season through winter (as everyone now knows, it’s when the waves are best). If waves were firing we’d go out at least 3 times a week. We bought bigger boards as we were blown away at how big, steep and heavy (read - spooky) NYC can get as compared to our experiences surfing in NJ, and our tiny thrusters wouldn’t cut it on bigger days. The feel and aesthetics of the place were so contrary to the NJ beaches we gew up surfing but it was such an appealing and open place, we fell in love with it. Approaching the type was based on a feel for the place and a collective thinking about experiences and conversations with my own surf crew and other surfers I met along the way.

Schiffer Publishing was responsive to all of the creative input and put all the design and print elements together to deliver the final product. I was there that day for that hurricane swell, depicted in the cover image, and it spells out so much about NYC surfing — the incongruities and the exuberance of it all. I remarked to Andreea on the beach that day “I bet that guy in the purple glitter suit rips...” and he did, he killed it. And I love that Derek Hynd had a really interesting conversation with Andreea about the significance of this image and subsequently penned a thoughtful essay included in the book after seeing her photos. As she tells it, “The cover was a hot creative collaboration.” When she reviewed her photos with Derek, he had an immediate reaction to the image, “The photo of the purple wetsuited surfer jogging by as another tries an “air” in the background tweaks the norm of blackouts and uncrowded surf usually seen in magazines. Vividly abnormal, it murmurs strange breed these parts.” 

This post features a series of type & image explorations from our creative sessions that also included the wisdom, design & creative eye of Elisa Bates These images and treatments didn’t make the final cut with for a variety of reasons but each have their own charms and soul. It’s how the sausage is made. Enjoy.

Those who surf here know that NYC surf can’t be pinned down but it’s got a serious flow and soul all it’s own. My typographic approach is painterly and comes from an interest in expressive and intuitive solutions. At times it nods and bends to the understood rules of type (Swiss bullsh*t) but it’s always reaching for an impact on an expressive level first and foremost.
Brutalist architecture / soviet communal apartment style can be seen dotting the Rockaway NYC landscape, which makes for an unexpected beach aesthetic. This type was originally conceived as a nod to this architectural aesthetic and
thinking for the Quiksilver NYC Pro competition to hint at the chunky, odd, yet beautiful (in their way) brutalist buildings. I also see these typeform explorations as referencing heavy, steep, drops jacking up quick over sandbars. 

My sketchbook page seen below and Andreea’s photo spread both show these sort of buildings in relation to the surf. In the end it all came together in the creative direction from Andreea — “The cover was the last piece of the puzzle and it had to wow. It had to speak to a surfer and non-surfer. The type needed to connect the energy of the surfers and elements of the ocean to the grit and culture of the city. It had to showcase the beauty in the madness of New York Surfing.” Yes.
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We considered exploring some type that had a “Surf meets NYC tagging” feel (*Fun fact —While in high school in south NJ a transfer student from Queens wrote out the graffiti tagging alphabet he and his crew used. I was grateful to get this hidden/expressive typographic code based on an economy of movement, physical and medium limitations and subculture). None of these really worked out in the end but...

This happy accident from the tag type explorations is a fave. Those who surf winter swells are out often enough on overcast, gray days on dark, big, winter swells. It’s not for everyone, I get that. Hardcore NYC.

We were asked to explore some type only/no photos solutions with colored spine options. Out of these the black cover with gray type was a favorite of the creative crew.
Every hardcore NYC surfer know the winter spray. Exhilarating.

This image captures so much about NYC surfing when decent winter swells roll in on foggy/snowy days and the ocean blends seamlessly with the sky. Thoroughly enjoyed working this image. Some of the most memorable days out there.
Originally the idea was thrown around that the book would be titled ONE. Here are some of the favorite hand lettered type explorations from that series with design by Elisa Bates.

See inside more of the final published edition and get your own damn copy at Surf NYC.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Virgin Mobile Office Murals—“It always comes back to the Music”

This post will feature the work for the Virgin Mobile-Office Murals and the discuss the process and direction behind the project. If you just want to see the work, skip to the images way below.


Last year I was approached to create a series of murals for the Virgin Mobile offices in New York and New Jersey. This was a dream job as The Creative Director-Octavio Sobriero was a fan (as am I) of the Prince Paul—Psychoanalysis album package art that I created for the Tommy Boy release of that album. This art became the “Guiding Star” for the project.

One of the reasons the gig resonated so much with me was that when I was young I was really into Roger Dean. His work and pioneering of the look of Virgin Records' brand has always been a huge influence on my work and interests. Dean is one of the reasons I became and illustrator as the idea of creating art for ““Kids” getting high in their bedrooms, listening to records and digging on album art” always seemed like a worthy endeavor and a social good—in the name of what Aesthetics truly is...

Some of the earliest influences on my work and thinking are Rodger Dean, Willem de Kooning and Constantin Brancusi. I see these influences as wholly apparent in the approach to the work over the years and in this mural series. The exposure to these influences came from the books in our house when I was growing up. They were part of a library of Commerical and Fine Art books my father had amassed for reference and inspiration as he had worked as an illustrator in the 60’s in the CBS art pool who later became a High School Art teacher. Some of these books I found entirely confusing at that early age (de Kooning) but that only added to their appeal and later influence. However, in Artschool it was the Rodger Dean/M├ętal Hurlant (read-French Heavy Metal magazine) influences that were dismissed as “Corny” and I was encouraged to move away from it then. I understood the argument but early influences run deep...

I still marvel at Dean’s work today.

Beginning the Project:

The depth and history of the Virgin brand is expansive (to say the least) as Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial spirit has touched ALL media and services but as Octavio said in our initial conversation about Branson “It always comes back the music”. It was of particular interest while researching the company to read how distraught Branson was to sell the original Virgin Music label as this was the only way to actually save it and ensure the long-term goals for the brand as a whole.

Critical Art Direction from conversations with Octavio that really influenced the project:

1. For the person who works at this company their entire life, I want them to see something new in these murals every day.

2. It’s ok for folks to be unsure of the murals...

3. Virgin Freefest is our main event—It’s all about The Fans & The Music.


I really thought about the difference between what you can do internally with a brand versus what’s been done outside in the marketplace as Octavio asked me to push what’s possible to the limit. I’ve found that the tastes of folks, especially creatives, working internally for a corporation are always much more adventurous than what can be done with a brand in the marketplace (there are obvious and solid reasons for this) and internal projects always have a bit more freedom and flair to them.

Keeping all of this, and the vast history of the brand, in mind, the thinking was to depict a loose sort of “Primordial Soup/Origin Story” for the series.

Yet the statement—“It always comes back to the Music” was ever apparent as I’m eternally fascinated by the idea of what “Fandom” is. Fandom is about a relatedness that is in touch with the idea of “The Good” but I do think an aspect, or thesis, of the deepest forms of Fandom is—If you don’t understand what is good about this, then you don’t understand anything about life and living. This I find most fascinating.

To see Virgin Freefest is to see what Fandom is all about and it’s value as an communal experience. The Fan—is the symbol of Genuine Enthusiasm, and—Genuine Enthusiasm is a precious and inspiring thing. I’m always up for creating an image or icon that can relate and communicate an ethos to a fan that in turn instills inspiration and enthusiasm (In some ways this is like describing a feedback loop ((music)).

You’ll see a wide range of approaches to the storytelling in the images below as for me, a large part of being an Illustrator is about having a deep interest in an expansive and ever evolving skill set to combine and re-mix all this with intuition— to activate ideas and solve problems. Style- is a concept. This project insisted on dipping into all of these ideas and a mixed bag of skills from the sketchbook work, experiments and old techniques to play around within the story of the Virgin brand’s development, where it’s at now and where it’s going.

These murals would not be what they are without the colab & direction from Octavio. Thanks Oc!


NYC Mural art, details and installation:


New Jersey Mural Art 1, details and installation:

New Jersey Mural Art 2, details and installation:

Below are selected elements created for the project, some of which were used for wall art (in celebration of The Fan):

That's all for now...