Even if you don’t know artist and creative director Jon Contino, you’ve probably seen his work. His illustrations and typography have appeared on everything from Miller High Life cans to movies for 20th Century Fox to the ultimate Thanksgiving football. The upcoming Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue will even feature his work, so between flipping through pictures of body-painted models, be sure to pay careful attention to the typefaces.
We caught up with him to discuss collaborations, sneakers, his style and what it’s like to see someone drinking a beer with his design on it.
Playboy: How would you describe your artistic style?
Contino: Raw would probably be a good word for it. I tend to just go for it when I’m making things. More times than not I’ll sit there and try to plan out an entire composition, and after an hour’s worth of messing around with it, I’ll scrap it and just draw from scratch. Usually that’s the one I end up going with. I like to keep all the weird marks and imperfections in the work. It gives the piece a personality that planning could never give it.
Playboy: What are the projects you’re most proud of?
Contino: Honestly, I’m proud of all of them pretty equally. It’s just insane that I get to do this for a living. But if I’m going to pick a few that really left a lasting impression on me, then I got a few. I did a T-shirt for a New York hardcore band called Indecision a few years back. Probably one of my smallest clients to date, but growing up, they were my favorite band, so it was pretty insane to be at the point where they came to me to design something for them. When you’re a kid, you put all these people and things on a pedestal, so coming around full circle on it is kind of a dream come true in a way.
I also loved working on The Book of Life with 20th Century Fox. I can’t say enough good things about that project. Talk about living in another world for a year and a half. I got so deep into that script and concept art during the branding process of that film, that when the trailer came out, it was like watching my kid being born. The first time I saw it, I was like, “Holy shit, they’re moving.”
Playboy: What makes for a great collaboration?
Contino: I really appreciate working with someone that has ideas as opposed to leaning on me to do the whole thing. That sounds lazy, but hear me out [laughs]. If we’re gonna work together, I really want to hear what’s going on in your head so I can understand an environment to work in. A lot of times clients will tell me to do whatever I want and that’s pretty much the worst thing you can say. Any project should have boundaries, because without them, you have nothing to exploit.
Playboy: Can you describe the feeling when you see someone riding a snowboard or drinking a beer with your graphic on it?
Contino: It’s weird [laughs]. There’s really only a small part of me that gets excited about it. Most of the time, I look at it and think that I should being seeing people using stuff with my work on it a lot more. I get pretty competitive in general, but my biggest competition is always myself. If I see something I designed out in the world, I instantly think that I should have ten more of those things out there that are designed a hundred times better. I never let myself enjoy anything [laughs]. Playboy: What style trend are you hyped on right now?
Contino: In terms of clothes, I feel like we’re in a good place right now. I kind of don’t want the trend to go away. The 2000s sucked. The 90s sucked. The 80s sucked. It goes on and on until you get to the mid-60s. I love when clothes fit how they’re supposed to. I hated when stuff was super tight and I hated it even more when stuff was super baggy. Nice and plain. Neat. Well-kept. Structured. It doesn’t get any better than that.
In terms of general artistic style, I’m really into this neo-folk style right now. Kind of taking classic American, Japanese, and European folk art styles and modernizing them. There’s a lot of tattoo influence in there and a lot of art deco thrown in for good measure. I don’t even know if that’s a thing right now, but that’s what I’m currently obsessed with.
Playboy: Which one needs to go?
Contino: So many things need to go [laughs]. But that’s always the case really. Once something gets popular, a bunch of idiots always jump on it a couple years later to try and bank off it and completely drive it into the ground.
I’m a hand-lettering guy to the core, but all these people who are jumping on the bandwagon need to go do something else. It’s great that people are finally paying more attention to it and appreciating it, but the amount of ill-informed amateurs trying to pass themselves off as seasoned veterans are really getting on my last nerve. It’s getting to the point that I almost try to avoid seeing it because the pros are being drowned out by the wannabes.
I’m looking forward to when the trend dies down a bit and the cream rises back to the top. Eventually these people are going to find something else to try and pass off as passion and the ones who were always doing it right can shine a little brighter.
Oh yeah, I’m also fed up with the whole hipster thing, but who isn’t? Irony is dead. Let it go already.
Playboy: What is your “uniform’”?
Contino: T-shirt, jeans, brown leather boots, and a Yankees hat. With a little effort, I think I can make people forget what hat Jay Z wears. Maybe a lot of effort.
Playboy: What is the best style advice you’ve ever received?
Contino: This goes for anything really, but just be yourself. If you feel comfortable with yourself, then anything you do will look good.
Playboy: What are three items that you have on you at all times?
Contino: I’m guilty of being totally obsessed with my iPhone, so that’s number one. When I was a kid, all I ever wanted was a little portable computer that I could watch TV on. The fact that I’ve had one for the better part of a decade blows my mind. I also have my wallet and a pack of gum with me pretty much all day. If I have those three things on me, I feel pretty comfortable going anywhere and doing anything.
Playboy: How many pairs of sneakers do you own? What is your favorite?
Contino: My sneaker consumption has dropped considerably over the years. I’ve become more and more obsessed with a good pair of chukka boots, so that’s replaced a lot of my go-to pairs of sneakers. I’ve got two pairs of PF Flyers, a black and a white, that are my favorites to wear with jeans or khakis, and then a handful of Nikes that I wear to the gym. I used to be pretty big into being more casual with some New Balances, but the boot obsession kind of kicked those to the curb.
Playboy: What other projects do you have coming up?
Contino: The new year is already shaping up to be pretty nuts. I’m currently wrapping up work on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue for 2015. I can hardly complain about that project. There’s an awesome menswear capsule collection I’m working on with the guys over at Stock in Chicago. That will be coming out Spring 2015 I believe and should be a nice little twist on your normal day-to-day wear. I’ve also been working with my wife and her brand, Past Lives, to do some really cool and interesting limited edition pieces. I’ve got another project with 20th Century Fox starting up soon that I can’t talk about yet, but I promise it’s a good one. I’ll just say that it leans towards the scarier side of film.
To learn more about Jon Contino, visit his website