No Ax to Grind or Design

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Mark Andresen, best known for his typeface “Not Caslon,” is a designer and illustrator who, in his early years, worked on Madison Avenue during the pre-computer “Mad Men” era of art departments, marker comps and client presentations. After advertising he headed to Atlanta to work on alternative newspapers and magazine art director jobs. Later he worked at PR firms, ad agencies and then freelance illustration. After being offered a magazine redesign job in New Orleans, he moved his family down and became immersed in the authenticity of the city (“Voudou priestesses, Mardi Gras Indian chiefs and restaurant chefs”). Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on his life and he returned to Atlanta to start over. These days he freelances, does occasional jobs as a contract art director, but mostly works as a professional illustrator for a number of national publications. He has long taken issue with the partisanship of designers (like me) and I wanted to learn more about what makes him “an independent.” Here is a brief conversation and a few examples of his work. As he says, “not everything is political.”

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You call yourself an independent, but many of your posters lean “left.” Would you say this is an incorrect classification?I don’t think my posters “lean left” at all. Interesting that you’d perceive that. I guess I didn’t send any incendiary anti-Hillary Clinton examples. I have one or two that are awful. The Clinton Crime Family is right up there with the Bush Crime Family in corruption, as far as I’m concerned. Trump: I don’t think we have a Lincoln or Kennedy in this guy either. Scary times as we wait for the coming Trumpocalypse.

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How difficult is it for you to aim your posters at the right target audience? What is that audience?I don’t aim these posters at anyone but the public at large. Some printed posters I did put up, and then most were online as visual commentary. I left Facebook a long time ago. I don’t do Instagram. And Google and Twitter are getting repressive about free speech issues.

There is no target audience. Things are too polarized and acrimonious now. Even comedians are getting ugly, not funny. George Carlin, on the other hand, and his brilliant social commentary, were aiming at waking people up from a narcoleptic trance. Bill Hicks was never mainstream. But his dark and jaded observations were true and unapologetic. That’s how I see independent design. It’s still about putting ideas into design, just not group-think.

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You have called yourself “invisible” because of your stance. How so? A poster is a poster and a message is a message.I have a so-called career in design that has not been mainstream. Living in New Orleans influenced me a lot about staying with my own vision. And my typeface with Emigre—”Not Caslon”—is evidence of that creative quirkiness that I like. I wish I wasn’t so invisible really, I work well with others. Really I do. I want to find new work without losing my own voice. Posters are like throwing rocks at the moon. But we do it anyway because of some deeper need to say something. I see some posters and I completely disagree with them. It doesn’t mean I can’t admire the use of sans serif type.

What are you ideally saying to people through your poster work?Hope and truth are worth believing in. Falling for political lies and fake news just swallows up individuality.


How would you define being independent? What are the pitfalls and perks?Well, I have a lot of free time to clean the cat box and do laundry. Then when it comes in: rush work, so it’s feast or famine. (No, really, I’m a care-giver to my wife who is disabled and it’s not easy.) I should have caved in and gone to work for some big company as an art director but it didn’t happen. As an independent designer I work for hospitals, universities, corporations and entrepreneurs. Mostly through old friends. Fresh new projects are challenging and fulfilling when the client is grateful when we finish. That’s the best part.

The 2017 PRINT RDA: Final Deadline TODAY!

Enter the most respected competition in graphic design—now open to both pros and students—for a chance to have your work published, win a pass to HOW Design Live, and more. 2017 Judges: Aaron Draplin / Jessica Hische / Pum Lefebure / Ellen Lupton / Eddie Opara / Paula Scher. Student work judges: PRINT editorial & creative director Debbie Millman and PRINT editor-in-chief Zachary Petit.

Draplin image: Leah Nash. Hische: Helena Price. Lupton: Michelle Qureshi. Scher: Ian Roberts.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →