When Designers Moonlight

Communication Arts
Advertising imitates art
By Tiffany Meyers | 2005

At some point in history, the advertising industry decided to turn an adjective into a noun and formally call its practitioners “creatives.” Aside from bewildering people on the outside, the title aptly describes a type of person inclined to explore diverse forms of expression in a lifetime, and not just those that move product.

More than a few creatives manage to produce a body of art even as they build successful careers in advertising. Invariably, one influences the other.

Creative director Tom Lichtenheld is also the author/illustrator of several acclaimed children’s books, including “Everything I Know About Pirates” (Simon & Schuster, 2000), “Everything I Know About Monsters” (Simon & Schuster, 2002) and “What Are YOU So Grumpy About?” (Little, Brown & Company, 2003). Two more titles, “Everything I Know About Cars” (Simon & Schuster) and “What’s With This Room?” (Little, Brown & Company) are slated for publication in 2005.

Lichtenheld—who began as a fine-art student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, then realized he might want to buy a car one day—served as a creative director for BMW and United Airlines at Fallon, Minneapolis, when he stumbled into book illustration by accident: His young nephew asked if he might draw him a pirate or two. Lichtenheld more than satisfied his requirements as an uncle, completing a pirate book—his first—with Fallon’s support.

“Pirates” is a visual encyclopedia of the rogues of the sea and their habits, such as carrying knives between their teeth in spite of the American Dental Association’s recommendation against the practice. The author/illustrator includes diagrams of swashbuckler fashions, a glossary of information about the pirate lifestyle, and a chart that helps readers devise their own pirate names, like One Boot Kidd.

Fallon, which handled all of Lichtenheld’s PR, makes it a point to support its employees’ moonlighting ventures, showcasing their work in exhibitions curated by the agency’s art buying department. As it happens, creative wanderlust is good agency PR. “You can say to your client,” says Lichtenheld, “‘Look, we’ve got a published author, a director, a painter—we’ve got all of this talent that’s going to be working on your business.’ Smart agencies realize it’s a feather in their cap.”

Having moved to Chicago to write full-time from 2000 to 2002, Lichtenheld is back—this time as creative director at Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, where he manages the creative for the Hyatt Hotels account. In this case, he wasn’t drawn to advertising by the centrifugal force of a steady paycheck.

Rather, he hadn’t fully anticipated the catch: Writing is lonely. “I’d ask the mailman to come up for a cup of coffee,” he remembers. He missed the constant feedback, the process of creating in collaboration. “Advertising just gets in your blood,” he says.

Along these lines, designer Joe Duffy lives out his craft. “It’s not like you ever retire from design,” says the founder of Duffy & Partners, Minneapolis (taking for granted that this is the case for everyone), “because it’s a way of thinking and living as opposed to getting up in the morning and going to work.”

As a twentysomething fine-art student at the Minneapolis School of Art (now Minneapolis College of Art and Design) and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Duffy wanted nothing to do with what was then called “the applied arts.” His subsequent marriage and plans for a family, however, meant that he needed to change course and—heartache—find steady work. He responded by establishing himself as one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the world, creating iconic brand identities and packaging for Starbuck’s, Jim Beam, Minute Maid and BMW USA, among many more.

Four years ago, Duffy started painting secretly on the weekends, and eventually completed a collection of eighteen portraits, which resulted in a gallery exhibition and the revelation that he wanted to spend more time painting, less running a business. His process as an artist intentionally mirrors that of his design. “Deviating from the way you normally create can be refreshing,” says Duffy, “yet it’s pretty scary. Doing a painting is very different from what I do all day, but I want to approach it in a similar way, so that it’s comfortable.”

As if studying a market before introducing a new product identity, he learns about his subjects’ lives prior to the first brushstroke, bringing more than mere physical likeness to the canvas. In some cases, Duffy embeds found objects into his portraits, such as the oak leaves he found on a Parisian boulevard that reminded him of his children–and the Thai tribal headdress that complements Pat Fallon’s small daughter, Tressa, who poses with a regal air. Because it’s the way he does design, Duffy prefers to work with a deadline and on a commission basis.

Even his subjects—including former partner and friend Pat Fallon and Fallon art director/designer David Mashburn—circle back to his profession.
To hear others describe it, outside pursuits are something like extramarital affairs. Many prefer to think of anything but advertising when engaged in a passionate weekend of artistic exploration, where they can show a different—sometimes truer—side of themselves.

Enrique Mosqueda started in advertising when Wieden + Kennedy scooped him off the streets of Portland, where as a young man he was often seen plastering his Xerox-art posters for Portland-area goth and punk bands. Today, the senior art director at Deutsch, New York, creates squeaky-clean campaigns for Starwood Hotels and Tommy Hilfiger.

But Mosqueda recently tapped into his black-lipstick beginnings as the designer of a goth-inspired menswear collection, Haroun + Mosqueda, shown last February at Fashion Week in New York. “The goth vibe has been a part of me for a long time,” says Mosqueda, who designed his line entirely during non-work hours. “This has been my first opportunity to express that gloomy aesthetic.”

It’s true. If the models in Hilfiger’s ads ever came upon Haroun Mosqueda’s scary, gorgeous men eating up the runway with their eyeliner, they’d trip over their Adirondacks in a mad dash to the door. But with the aesthetics of doom and gloom out of his system, Mosqueda makes a better ad guy. He’s more fulfilled in general, while his reading of popular culture is as keen as ever.

“A lot of times, advertising is a byproduct of fashion, art and music,” he says. “And now, it’s strange, because I’m in the position to be part of culture, not borrow from it.” He jokes: “I almost feel like I’m two-timing.”

“Two timers” of all sorts return to the fold. Senior art director Dave Swartz got in the habit of working for a year or two at Miami’s Crispin Porter + Bogusky, then taking off for Pietrasanta, Italy, for about eight months at a time, where he learned the craft of bronze casting from foundry masters.

CP+B welcomed the prodigal son back every time, as well as his newest bronze sculptures, which follow centuries-old casting techniques and tend to focus on man’s relationship to nature. He’s ready to settle for a while.

“When I started in advertising years ago,” he says, “there were very clear lines between art and advertising. Here, they’ve blurred the lines to the point where it would be hard to leave.” In fact, you could make the case that the industry as a whole has managed to do this, creating an environment where increasingly, advertising imitates art.

Leave a Reply