Early Work

Everyone starts someplace, right? I was cleaning up a dusty corner of my hard drive and came across a bunch of old poster designs. These are from 2002-04 when I really had no idea what I was doing. With no design training to speak of, I began making posters using a mix of found images, drawings, scanned type from old books, and not much else.

Each one of these has clever and interesting qualities that are slightly diminished by unexperienced design choices. I've paired a few of them below based on common visual threads. The first two below call on a kind of formalist aesthetic, highlighting color and texture as an analog to the music. In both cases a minor change to the type would have improved the whole. They both use all caps, italicized type in part of the design and it just looks unnecessary, as does the underline in the otherwise beautiful Secession Movement poster.

The one below uses hand set type scanned from an old Linotype specimen book from the 30's.

These two for The Secession Movement mix more formal type with loose illustration, and play with shape vs line. 

I rail against crappy free fonts in my classes, but here are two posters guilty of employing a few gems from the early oughts. Chinese Rocks was ubiquitous as an angular, fun free typeface, helped also by being named after a Ramones song.

I also began to distress type on my own. The next four below all use type that I set on the computer, then printed out and manipulated, then rescanned and put back into the design. The Delgados also mixes in some hand set type. This group begins to show more mature design execution. The Modey Lemon and Melt Banana posters are among my favorites. The Delgados poster was designed at the time when the US was going back into Iraq, which is why the poster's world is upside down and a white flag is signaling some kind of surrender to art and music as a healing force.

Gigposters are often devoid of concept. They are the biggest softball of a design problem, but there is also great opportunity to hit on interesting visual metaphors and take the work to a higher level. These two are taking a stab at it, with varying degrees of success. The f-hole bomb made sense at the time, but the thin outline and tiny black dot at the point of the bomb screw it up. The poorly drawn, poorly placed crown in the City of Caterpillar piece ruins the rather nice flames in the back. I missed both of these shows.

In early 2004 I decided to start drawing more in the work. i also had a thing about metal posters, that they could use no black and no skulls and still convey a sinister look. So this Mastodon poster is my first statement in all three of those aims. I also was learning about design history, so pulling in this art nouveau, Beardsley meets comics look seemed appropriate. Those hands are terrible!

It's fun to look back on your work and reflect on how your practice changes over time. I'm still driven by many of the same interests and ideas, and I'm still learning about design and communication with the same curiosity and energy.

New Habits

Earlier this year I made a series of screen prints for a show with Shawn Hileman over at Trinity Framing. We worked together on three large collage panels, and produced prints for bags, pillows, and paper. Take a look.

 

Show at C&P Brewing

I had a show of recent work at Crime & Punishment Brewing this past month as a part of  Brewerytown Social. Here are a couple pics of the install.

I also debuted a new screen print, Fourteen Flowers. You can get it here.

The opening was great, full of excellent strangers, students, friends and fellow artists. Thanks to all who came out and supported!

Society of Illustrators 58

The Society of Illustrators 58th annual exhibition is up in New York, and I was lucky to land one of my experimental collages in the damn thing. 

There I was, in a room full of illustrators and art directors, and I spent all my time schmoozing my wife, savoring a second plate of meatballs. Actually, it was exactly what I wanted to be doing, sharing a bit of success with my favorite person and biggest supporter. I'll bring an empty dance card next year and look forward to rubbing as many elbows as possible.

The experience was inspiring and humbling, not only because of the amazing art and artists represented, but also for the building. It was not lost on me that my piece was hanging directly across the room from NC Wyeth's "Black Arrow". Yeesh!

Inktober

Here are all of the #inktober pieces I did this year. I had a ton of fun making these and I learned new things about my work and my process. If you are an artist you should consider doing a project like this where you make a pile of quick pieces in a short period of time. It's a great exercise. 

As a nice reward I landed this next one in The Society of Illustrators Annual 58. Sweet!

That's all! Oh wait, here is one late entry, and a pic of another one that got taken apart and reused for some other stuff.

Thanks for looking!

Greatest Year in Music

Check out this fun series I just wrapped up for WXPN, in which I collaborated with recent UArts grad Kuba Jennes to create baseball-card styled postcards for a radio promotion. Kuba did most of the watercolor drawings, and I did all the graphic stuff.

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration/Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration/Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration/Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration/Design: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Lettering: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Lettering: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes

Illustration: Kuba Jennes

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Lettering: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Lettering: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Lettering: Kevin Mercer

Illustration: Kuba Jennes; Lettering: Kevin Mercer

Xponential Music Festival

Since 2009 I have been working with Philly radio station WXPN on a great many projects, the centerpiece of which is their annual Xponential Music Festival. What began with an intrepid edition of posters led to entire campaigns of branding, collateral, advertising, product design and illustration. Here are a few highlights and details from last year's project, to give you an idea how it comes together. 

The project typically kicks off in January with some logo options. This year we weren't reinventing the wheel; the previous year's logo was pretty sharp and well-received. This will be an evolution of sorts, not a teardown-rebuild. My first round of proofs contains a quick look at the previous year's logo, some very rough ideas and a swipe of inspiration images and colors. This is just a conversation starter.

As I mentioned, we decided at this point to do a refresh more than a complete redesign, so I put together another round of proofs that hit on that, with a couple side roads in for good measure. 

The client ended up liking 3B and 4B, and asked for another round of proofs to test out colors. We ended up landing on the final design below, which I then prepared for use in a number of formats and situations (CMYK, RGB, grayscale, Facebook profile, optimized for small and large placement).

SBC-advert-poster.jpg

While the logo is still in process I am working on graphic treatments that will run throughout the campaign. This includes and textures, patterns, icons, imagery, and overall concepts that can tie the whole project together.

An early request for a co-sponsored web ad yielded a direction that I would later refine into a simple treatment. Though the imagery is pretty raw, I've landed on some textures, colors, and stacked stripes that work well.

This is about the same time when the t-shirt needs to get moving for an upcoming fund drive and the announcement of the headlining acts. The shirt design does not need to closely relate to the festival brand, which offers a nice opportunity to make something fun and engaging to wear. After two rejected options we hit pay dirt with this wacky bus illustration, something that the old hippies and young hipsters can agree on. Below is the initial illustration, and the design converted to two colors for screen printing.

Because it develops in dribs and drabs over several months, a project like this requires some big picture thinking to maintain a cohesive look. The good news is that it's clear in my head, the client understands what I am shooting at, and they trust me to communicate their message. I'll follow up on the rest of the project in the next post. 

The Last Road Trip

We woke up in Tucumcari, New Mexico. This shitty roadside dive was run by a shirtless weirdo who woke us up to the sound of AM news radio chatter in the stone parking lot where he was doing his morning bench presses. I was laying on top of the covers. I flipped on my camcorder and recorded a bit of the moment, then turned on the TV to see what the racket was all about. Soon after, we were making a straight line east towards home. Our trip was over.

In August of 2001 I set out on a three week road trip across the United States with a friend of mine. Our plan was to camp in as many national parks as possible, see the sights, and look for the unexpected. I had graduated from college the year before but had not yet clicked in to exactly what I was going to do next. I also was in the midst of personal and family turmoil that I was most happy to escape for a little while. This set the stage for what became an important turning point in my life. Little did I know that it would become something much larger than that.

I brought a camcorder along for the ride, one of those brick-shaped cassette recorders that was just a pain to carry anywhere comfortably. I dutifully filmed small clips throughout the trip, just to capture small moments along the way. One of my favorite moments was when we pulled into Rocky Mountain National Park and parked for a bit overlooking this amazing valley. We patiently avoided herds of elk in the road on the way up, and I remember sitting on a rock looking quietly down, feeling the weight of everything I left behind me lift away and this new road open up before me.

The trip moved along much in this way. We hiked out over mountainsides; dove into frigid streams from rock cliffs; camped on beaches; drove across the desert at midnight; We experienced the wide landscape of our country, from Yosemite to Grand Canyon, San Francisco to Santa Cruz. Joshua Tree. The Great Plains and the Southwest. We filled ourselves with cheap food and beautiful weather, met strangers and memorable characters at every stop. It couldn't have been any better. Until 9/11.

That day, heading across North Texas on what would be a 30-hour drive to the east coast, I shot more film footage. Most of it was incidental, except this one long clip that has stayed with me for 13 years. It shows the Texas landscape, shot from the window of a Volkswagen moving at over 70 mph. The farm buildings, grass and road move by so quickly that it is hard to focus on anything for a moment. The wind whips by, but the music in the car blends in as well to create a haunting scene. 

I edited the footage into this film. It means a lot to me, not just because it shows the evidence of my trip, but it captures, for me, the feeling of the before and after of 9/11, some of the character of the day, and a little perspective of how the landscape of our country was forever changed.

Note: The music in the film is incidental and is used without permission in the interest of keeping the original context intact. The song in the end section is Twenty by Labradford, off of Fixed::Content. 


Trip Data

Trip Duration: 22 days
August 23–September 13, 2001
Miles Travelled: 6700+
State lines crossed: 22

1991 VW Golf Average MPG: 35.3
Approx. Gas Consumption: 190 Gallons
Gas Prices 2001 avg: $1.49
Est. total trip gas cost: $283-$300

Navigation: Rand McNally Road Atlas
Number of times lost: 1
Cellphones: 0

Rest areas slept in: 3 (Ohio, Reno, Lake Tahoe)
Motel/Hostels slept in: 2 (both closed now)
(Sanborn Park Hostel, Saratoga CA / Redwood Lodge, Tucumcari NM)

Trip path, totaling over 6,600 miles. Interactive map here, via Google Maps

Trip path, totaling over 6,600 miles. Interactive map here, via Google Maps

Ryan Duggan

I was just checking out the print work of Chicago artist Ryan Duggan (Dooo-gan). He is currently making a poster every week of this year, and I can tell you people, it's not easy to do, even in editions of 15. Ryan's work is smart, irreverent and honest, and I recommend that you take a peek for and buy a darn print yourself.

But first, check out this sweet video about the dude.

Here are a few posters from the year-long POTW series. Snatch em up!

potw17.jpg
POTW11.jpg
potw5.jpg

Drawing investigation

Here are some faces that I made as a drawing exercise.

I'd been looking at The Golden Book of Myths and Legends, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provenson and liked the way that they build figures out of rough shapes. Below is an example. 

I made 30 or so quick line drawings and scanned them. Usually what happens after this is that I ink out piles of background shapes and scan them, but I wanted to try something different. I bought a Wacom tablet recently and this seemed like a perfect chance to take it for a spin. I had also just found a few bundles of Photoshop brushes from Kyle Webster that seem to nail the kind of inked line that I like to make. Below are the sketches.

Below is the sketch and the "inked" versions. I like how the Photoshop brushes worked out, I'm going to keep playing with them. Next up I think I'll work on some bodies for these folks and put them in a scene of some sort. Lots of fun!