David was born in the suburban flatlands north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. With the schoolyard half a block in one direction and the candy store a half a block in the other direction, his childhood was an interesting balance of motion sickness on the tire swing and a sugar buzz from Hollie’s corner store.
That high-fructose queasiness frequently shows up in David's illustrations yet today. With clients such as the City of Chicago, CVS/Pharmacy, Gary Fisher Bikes, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and honors from Communication Arts, Print, and HOW magazines, it is apparent that David's work has found somebody's sweet tooth. Remember to floss.
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
By the end of that sequence, I was almost entirely working on database design and management. Clearly things had steered wildly off course form my art roots. Fortunately I was working at a fantastic design shop in Madison at the time (Planet Propaganda - http://www.planetpropaganda.com/), and some of the principals there noticed my meeting doodles. They offered me a chance to do some poster design and printing, and I jumped at the chance. One of the resulting posters ended up in Print's Regional Design Annual, HOW International Design Annual, and Communication Arts Illustration Annual, and that was it for me. I did a Threadless shirt, some pieces for the Art-o-Mat, and then it wasn't long before I decided to go back to grad school for art, making a clean break from all the programming and database design.
Who or what inspires you?
What doesn't? My peers, my heroes, my students, my family... I am primarily driven by stories and storytelling, so any work that tells a story or has a narrative component sucks me in. In terms of genres, that means I love children's books, comics, and illustrators like Steve Brodner, Sam Weber, Jillian Tamaki, Meg Hunt, Little Friends of Printmaking, Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos, and a bunch more.
I also read around 50 comics online everyday. Both through RSS and through the newspaper comic syndication websites. Some of my favorites lately are Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac, Scott Campbell's Double Fine Action Comics, Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant, Johnny Ryan's Blecky Yuckarella, Jessica Hagy's Indexed, Les McClaine's Johnny Crossbones, Anthony Clark's Nedroid, Graham Annable's Dunk, and just too many to keep listing.
I also love designers whose work leans towards illustration, and illustrators whose work leans towards design. This often manifests in great typography and/or custom lettering. Marian Bantjes, Ray Fenwick, Frank Chimero, Nick Feltron, Seb Lester, Aesthetic Apparatus -- oh my god, this is so hard to do!
I have a hard time listing inspirational artists because the list is very long, and I know I'm going to forget some people, and I just hope nobody takes it as a slight - just know I love your work, too, and I'm looking at your work all the time, believe me. My Cloudy Collection project means that I have a long list of artists whose work I love. There are currently over 100 artists on the list, and I'm inspired by each and every one of them, and by more that I haven't yet put on that list.
I guess I'm mostly looking at my contemporaries these days, but I also love some of the bigger-name art stars like Egon Schiele, Mark Rothko, Saul Bass, Ed Ruscha, Jim Nutt -- oh man I'm going to stop because this is just turning into an insanely complicated genealogy of my inspirations. So-and-so begat so-and-so, and this-and-thus begat...
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I never took an art class in high school, but I majored in Fine Art in undergrad. After graduating, as I mentioned, I wandered away from art for a while, but my re-entry felt like a self-education as I taught myself Photoshop and Illustrator in my attempts to mix my traditional art background with my design-y surroundings. Then, when I went back to grad school, again for Fine Art, I re-rooted myself in traditional media for my coursework and thesis, but I kept doing design work for my supplemental employment, again more self-taught than anything.
So I guess it's a weird mix of self-education for my design work, with more official art school education for my traditional artmaking. It's a constant process. Now as an educator (I teach a foundations course at Washington State University), I feel like I am teaching both things that I have been taught, as well as things that I have taught myself. I learn a lot each semester I teach, and it's always amazing to be there for a student's "aha!" moment. That makes all the craziness of teaching worthwhile.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
I think my best advice for keeping fresh is to just to stay aware of what others are making, but not *too* aware. I read a lot of comics and blogs and books, but lately I've been cutting back because it was starting to feel like I was consuming more than I was producing. I'm working towards more balance. For example, my RSS reader has over 1,000 unread items in it, and I'm feeling fine with that. As Kate Bingaman-Burt's print for the third Cloudy Collection print set says: "Talk Less, Do More" - or in this case, "read less, make more."
What are some of your current projects?
I'm working on another logo for next year's UNC Kidney Center's Kidney Kare Run, I've got the next Cloudy Collection print to design, I'm plotting some new comic ideas (I was incredibly inspired by attending SPX this year!), and I've got a number of personal projects that have been back-burnered that I am trying to bring back to the fore (preparing for SPX kept me crazy busy for a long time.) My client work has dropped off a bit lately with all the things I've been trying to get launched, but I'm working on ramping that back up now. (Hear that? I'm for hire!)
I've also got some non-commercial work going on right now. My studio practice is all out-of-whack since I finished grad school in 2007, but when I do get in there, I've had a lot of fun experimenting and continuing to pursue some ideas that I've been exploring. In grad school I was working on ideas about how childhood violence (like bullying) develops over time. That's evolving into a more general exploration of how children sometimes act like adults, and how adults often act like children.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
I always love the illustration projects that result in a series of related illustrations. The CVS/Pharmacy Halloween work I did last year was so much fun, and I love the "Ween the Candy Fiend" character that resulted. The Gobees project I worked on with Capsule in Minneapolis was a fantastic opportunity to design a whole cast of characters too. In both projects I got to develop not only the look of the characters, but I helped flesh out their backstories, which really made the characters come to life for me. They become personalities that I can refer to when I am trying to design poses and compositions - the technical junk just flows because I understand
their motivations. It's just so much fun!
I am also immensely proud of the Cloudy Collection and its successes. A huge thank you to all of the artists who have participated so far! I feel like the project has taken on a life beyond what I've put into it already, and the response from people has been fantastic. Beyond the (wonderful and loyal!) collectors of the prints, there are two different books in the works that will be including prints from the Cloudy Collection, which is so exciting for me and the artists involved. Those won't be out until sometime next year, I think. Also, there are plans in the works to build on the successes of the Cloudy Collection into the future, and I'm working out a format for a
subscription model for next year's Cloudy Collection releases.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I actually think I need to cut back on experimentation. I've done animation, comics, spot illustration, children's, editorial cartoons, copy layout, web design, lettering, traditional media, digital media, hybrids, etc. I love all of it, and it's been amazing to have the opportunity to work with the media and clients and mentors that I've been associated with, but I'm working on focusing my work and my habits a bit more. I can't really give up any media that I've worked with (I love them all!), but in general I'm trying to take on only those projects that have a little more meat on their bones conceptually. Those are the projects I love to work on.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
Build slowly and with purpose. It's hard to know when you're starting out, but try to keep aware of the kinds of work you really love to do, and focus on getting those kinds of projects. I love to try such a wide variety of things, so personally I couldn't have followed this advice when I was starting, but I think the people who are masters of their craft were into it early in their careers, and just kept plugging away at it. Once you master your one thing, opportunities to branch out seem to appear naturally.
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
I think the best illustrations tell a story all by themselves. The piece that I always go back to as a prime example is Steve Brodner's illustration of President George W. Bush as Mickey Mouse from the Sorcerer's Apprentice. He's chopping up the magic broom with Saddam Hussein's face on it, and each little shard is turning into a new broom with Osama bin Laden's face on it. It's just this little box filled with lines and color, but you get so much information from that pithy little picture.
Design is all about communication. If the piece is to be successful, it has to quickly and concisely deliver its message. When I worked at Planet Propaganda, we called our process "Simplify, then amplify." First, get to the core nugget of your message and trim away everything else. Then you can go ahead and amplify that focused message for the greatest impact. It sounds obvious, but it's not instinctive.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
Well, I am never short of ideas, so that's definitely not my problem. Usually my issue is picking which idea to work on next. Lately I've gotten much better at single-tracking my time, so I stay focused on one thing at a time and just crank through until it's done.
I don't think I could ever burn out on making things in the long-term. I can get tired from staying up too late too many nights in a row, but that is usually near a deadline. I watch a lot of movies when I'm not working, but even then, I've got a sketchbook in my lap and I'm doodling. I can't help it, I just love to draw.
Plus, my daughter is about 15 months old now, so she's learning to walk and talk, and she's pointing things out every time she knows the word for them. We talk a lot about apples, hats, shoes, and all sorts of animal sounds lately. Between balancing my time with her vs. my work time, plus getting re-fascinated with the things she is excited about, the world is a very interesting place for me right now.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."
I've actually always been fascinated by human anatomy and problem-solving. I worked as a student athletic trainer (working with injured athletes) in high school and all through college. I was pretty sure I was going to be a doctor when I started my undergraduate education. But then I took a drawing class and it all went out the window. I still get to include the problem-solving part - both design and illustration are about figuring out how to communicate an idea visually in the most effective way possible.
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I don't have a TV anymore. I don't miss it for the most part, but I would like to see a few of the shows that my friends rave about, and I'd really like to watch a few episodes of Yo, Gabba Gabba! since I have a few friends who have worked on animations for the show. Oh, and I stream the Daily Show everyday at lunchtime - I love Jon Stewart.
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