Designer of the Week: Jacob Escobedo

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Atlanta-based Designer of the Week Jacob Escobedo has been with Cartoon Network & Adult Swim since 1999—nearly half his life—and as VP of creative design has played a lead role in each brand’s ever-changing visual aesthetic. On the side, he pursues his own passion projects, and is the man behind a number of iconic album covers, including Broken Bells, Vampire Weekend and The Shins. You might’ve seen his illustration work in The New Yorker, and chances are you’ve seen his work in many other places without even realizing it—which says a lot about his versatility and vast experience.

Read on to hear about his dream projects that came true, his most challenging work at Cartoon Network, and his best advice for designers today. Plus: Catch Escobedo in-person at HOW Design Live 2016 this May, where he’ll be delivering a fun session in the Design & Creativity track called “GOAT HEADS, OSTRICH EGGS and RAINBOW UNICORNS.”

Jacob-Escobedo_WEBJacob-Escobedo-1Name: Jacob Escobedo

Location: Atlanta, GA

How would you describe your work?
An infinitely evolving mass of controlled mistakes. Fictional.

Where do you find inspiration?Growing up in rural Nevada made me pull inspiration from my surroundings. So, everything became inspiring. Natural formations, bleak environments, discarded records, old books, comics, and tv. I learned to mentally organize, gather and collect things that seemed different. Like I was on a search for something else, anything that contrasted the ordinary, things that didn’t act normal. The basis of this search has not changed as I’ve gotten older. I came across this quote by Walker Percy recently while reading “The Moviegoer” :

“What is the nature of the search? you ask. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

It really speaks to me.

[Want to see what inspires other designers? Check out the Damn Good Design Inspiration Value Pack.]

Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?

I’m biased about my favorite artists, currently they are the people surrounding me. Kerry Escobedo, my wife paints incredibly detailed paintings of raw meat filled with hidden psychedelic imagery. They get snatched up so fast, I can’t secure them on my own walls. My daughters are starting to enter an age of gaining their own styles and it’s fascinating to see what they make with their tiny hands. We’ve filled our house with their artwork which is proudly hung next to David Lynch photographs and Keichi Tanaami art. I love the painter Neo Rauch, and Jean Giraud Moebius’ comic work. I love Michael Deforge’s ‘Ant Colony’.

I’m also really enjoying conceptual uses of social media right now Craigslistmirrors is a curated collection of photos of mirrors being sold on Craig’s List. The everydayness of unwanted mirrors reflecting portions of the scene from behind the camera, awkwardly abstracting the composition and letting you into more than what they intended on revealing, that’s interesting. Sadtopographies is a funny collection of Google Map screenshots of the world’s most unfortunate sounding places. I also love Scorpion Dagger’s work. He animates old religious paintings with funny modern scenarios. We just had him work on some Adult Swim stuff that you can check out on the Facebook.

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Escobedo’s illustration work for The New Yorker

Do you have a favorite among all the projects you’ve worked on?
Working on the science fiction issue of The New Yorker was a highlight. Illustrating a series of short stories by my favorite science fiction authors, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood, Karen Russell, China Mieville, William Gibson. It was like one big self-fulfilling dream project. The art was due the same day as my daughter Paloma’s birth. So, my wife was laying there having contractions all night in a hospital bed while I was clicking loudly on my laptop beside her, giving birth to my own babies. At some point she yelled at me to shut it down. I had tears.

Broken Bells and The Shins projects are also a couple of my other favorites. Working with Danger Mouse has opened me up to a wide range of music projects that align with my aesthetics.

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Is there a project that stands out to you as having been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
I’ve been with Cartoon Network for 16 years, almost half my life now. Which meant, I was able to get in at the beginning of Adult Swim. Giving visual direction to that beast has been the largest thing I’ve ever worked on. Helping establish that as a brand over the years, trying to give it an authentic tone has been challenging and rewarding. I’ve sort of grown up in that role and have given a lot of myself to it. I’d say it’s my biggest accomplishment so far. Cartoon Network On-Air and Boomerang have more recently been added to my plate, so I’m busy trying to keep everything fresh. I’m super passionate about the content being created here, which makes the work I’m doing feel extremely worthwhile. Of course, I have to mention my incredible design teams who work hard every day to make these things amazing.

What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
It’s kind of funny that I oversee on-air packaging for Cartoon Network all day, but don’t know how to animate any of it. I’d like to start animating and working with motion more.

I’ve also started working on some children’s book projects that I hope get published soon. That’s one area I’d like to explore more.

What’s your best advice for designers today?
Try Hard. And if that doesn’t work, Try Harder.

More work by Escobedo:

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