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Spike Press is the nom de squeegee of Chicago-based illustrator, designer, and printer John Solimine.

When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

I can't really point to some clouds-parting-shaft-of-heavenly-light moment. I started drawing as a kid and my 5 older siblings were a big influence - I grew up with stacks of Mad Magazine and National Lampoon (back when both were actually funny) and also, this was back in the 70s when DIY artsy-craftsy stuff became popular - ceramics, jewelry-making, crochet, macrame, etc. Both of my brothers also had notebooks full of drawings of planes and war scenes (my father was a career Air Force officer before retiring), so I was always surrounded by creativity. Illustration is pretty much the only thing I ever wanted to do, aside from a few brief flirtations with oceanography, motorcycle stunt riding, and exotic dancing.

Who or what inspires you?

Good ideas and hard work are what inspire me - and not just from other illustrators. Seeing someone really throw themselves into something they love, work really hard at it, and watch them evolve and improve I think is inspiring. And, of course I can point to a million purely visual inspirations: Evaline Ness, Aurelius Battaglia, Ed Emberly, Alice and Martin Provensen, Aliki, Chris Ware, Miroslav Sasek, Mary Blair, John Kricfalusi, Looney Tunes, just to name a few.

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

I went to the University of Cincinnati's Design, Art, Architecture and Planning college, which taught me alot about graphic design and illustration, but I didn't start screen printing until much later, so I guess I'm somewhere between self-taught and art school. I much prefer teaching myself something hands-on than reading about it or listening to someone talk about it.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

Its funny - I think one key to staying "fresh" is to try to ignore the industry. When I was younger, I would pour over design and illustration books and annuals, looking at other people's work, trying to emulate (rip-off) the stuff I liked, and I think this stunted my own ideas and technique, because I was trying to think like someone else, and not focus on my own originality and strengths. Another way is just to constantly be drawing - I didn't start keeping a sketchbook until 5 years ago or so and now I'm hooked.

What are some of your current projects?

A couple of magazine illustrations, 3 or 4 gig posters, a self-promo mailer - I try to keep a balance between purely digital assignments and ones where I get my hands dirty.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

I think my most successful illustrations are the ones that elicit an immediate emotional response - The Wrens poster and The National tour poster with the astronaut are two examples. I like the idea of capturing a moment in time that is charged with emotion without really showing anything - it all takes place in the mind of the viewer. I read an interview with Chris Ware in which he talked about the "blank" look of his character Jimmy Corrigan - which he also shares with Charlie Brown - that allows the reader to map their own emotional response onto that face, which immediately draws the viewer into the story (or illustration). Sometimes I think of my illustrations as a single panel picked out of a longer narrative and I'm leaving it up to the viewer to fill in those blanks.

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

I've always wanted to do some kind of comic book. I was a big fan of the men-in-tights stuff as a kid and then really got into all the great comics that Fantagraphics was putting out in the '90s, so I've always had a hankering to do one, but I find the idea very intimidating - its like laboring over an illustration and then doing it 100 more times. Plus, I can never draw the same character from a different angle and have them look the same.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

Work your ass off and concentrate on finding your own style. And never whittle towards yourself.

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

I think it depends how you define success - a piece or illustration can be beautifully crafted and have a clever visual twist to it, but can still leave you I said earlier, if I can get someone to laugh or say "awwww!" then its a success.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

You can avoid burnout?

Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."

happy, normal person.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?

Does the Daily Show and Colbert Report count as prime-time? If not, then I have to go with Dragnet '68 reruns on the Sleuth! channel.

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Jeff Andrews said...

Your work ROCKS John, thanks for taking part!

I'm so jealous that you can see Dragnet '68, I don't get the Sleuth Channel here. I'm a big fan of Dragnet.


Choper Nawers! said...

wow..that as a nice interview..really inspirational....and you work is just ass kicking....can i say that here..well never mind...really congratulations...Best, Choper!

Anonymous said...

Mr.Spikepress's unrelenting drive to create beautiful illustrations is a sight to behold! Keep up the great work and constant inspiration!!

Anonymous said...

Is that guy the best designer ever or is he the best designer EVER?

Anonymous said...

Fantastic work! You should absolutely take a venture into the comic book arena. You’d be great at it.

Chandan Crasta said...

hi John,

you have some neat work on! your design sensibilities are also very good.

~ Chandan

Allan Lorde said...

I was totally unaware of this interview! A new Spike Press poster at is always a cause for excitement for me.

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