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Meet a truly monster graphic designer, Stefan G. Bucher. Stefan's projects range from his Daily Monsters, to the Daily Letter on the PBS television show, The Electric Company, to CD designs for Sting and Whitney Houston, products for the Echo Park Time Travel Mart (featuring canned mammoth chunks), to writing and illustrating his latest book, You Deserve A Medal: Honors on the Path to True Love. Stefan is a prolific artist who is seemingly obsessed with finding impressive new ways to put ink on paper. Follow his journey from his first illustrations for The Donaldist (a magazine dedicated to the exploration of Donald Duck comics), through Art Center College, Portland agency Wieden+Kennedy, Madonna's Maverick Records, and finally his own company, 344 Design.
Bonus Feature: Join us at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, where Stefan is interviewed by writer and creative strategist Terry Lee Stone after a screening of his film.
(music playing) Stefan G. Bucher: Well, the last day of school was December 18th, and my first day of work was January 18th.
I was hired by Wieden+Kennedy, and I was recruited off of campus. I thought, "Well, it's not my dream, but it's a lot of people's dream." It was a really--they're a hot agency, and they're really--they do amazing stuff, and all the advertising students wanted to work there. And so I went to Portland, and I just couldn't figure out how to be productive and useful in that environment. I would just churn out comp after comp after comp after comp because that's what I was asked to do. Just keep generating stuff.
I had 600 comps for one campaign that yielded I think three print ads, and there was a new creative director that had come in at that point, and he looked that stack and he said, "What is this?" I said, "Well, these are the 600 comps I did for this series of ads." And he said, "That's insane. Why would you do 600 comps?" And of course, I mean at this point already I'm having a kernel panic because now I have two masters that are telling me two separate things, and I don't know who to please first.
And I went into a slight panic, so my writer, my writing partner Jed, rescued me and said, "Well, you know, in fairness, that's what they asked him." And the new creative director said, "Well, that's just stupid. We hired you for your opinion, and how can you have 600 different opinions?" And I always remembered that, and I think the entire year of dysfunction and not being able to cope with the software of that agency was worth it just for that comment, to say that they hired me for my opinion, which is always what I thought it should be because that's what-- because my opinion is what motivates me to work, is to make my opinion manifest.
Well, and after a year of trying my very best to be nice and helpful, as I was taught to be, I had my performance review the day before the Thanksgiving. And my creative directors asked me to read it all out to them, and they said, "My god! That is well--that is just really nicely done. That is well put, and you seem to have a really clear understanding of yourself, and you seem to have a really clear understanding of what you want to achieve in the next year.
Having said that, we feel that you've exhausted your potential here at the agency and that it would probably be in your best interest to look for opportunities elsewhere." So at that point I picked up my jaw from the floor, tried very hard not to burst into tears because of course I hadn't slept because I was busy writing my self-evaluation, and just exhausted. And so I had to sort of leave with my tail between my legs, but as soon as I drove back across the California border, everything brightened up. The sun came out, and I thought, "This is great!" and I had some interviews lined up with record companies.
And then I got the job at Maverick, and I was designing record covers, and it was just the best time ever. (music playing) CDs for me were the first mini-books. They were the first thing that people would invite into their homes and keep. You'd go back to it, and you'd pay attention to it, and you'd play with it, so it also gave me a chance to design in a lot more detail.
(music playing) When I crack open a book for the fifth time and I find something that I hadn't noticed before, and when I listen to an album that I've had for 10, 15 years and all of a sudden I notice a detail, that makes me happy. So I want to provide that for somebody else.
(music playing) It was the perfect job to have at that time, to just work my fingers to the bone, stay all night at my desk, and design these CDs, oftentimes against the explicit wishes of my boss, who said, "Just, you know, scan some stuff in.
I want to get my hands dirty on this one too." And I wasn't having that. I was just like, "No, no, I've scanned them. Now I have these files." Immediately started retouching them and immediately started putting them into a layout just because I couldn't help myself. And he was pissed at me, often, because he would come in in the morning and it was done, and it was always such a high turnover at the company in terms of the work that then they just have to roll with it.
About a year in, I really wanted to art-direct my own project, and there was a band that came in and they were called Luxe then, and later were renamed Solar Twins, and I listened to their album, and I just fell in love with them, and I thought, "This, I want to work on this." And at the time, I had made myself valuable enough where I actually felt confident enough to say, "I want this album. I need this album. I need to work on this, or I'm out." I made like my--I had my big diva moment of like either I get this or I'm walking away from this, and they said, "All right, all right, do the album." And I was so in love with them, David and Joanna.
I had such a band-crush on them. I loved the album. They were smart, funny, wonderful people. We liked the same music. We liked the same album art. We just had a meeting of the minds. And at that point, I stopped being a professional. I just became an amateur. I did it for the love. So, I had no perspective. I was obsessed with that album. I poured every single free minute I had into it.
I drove to Bakersfield and shot refineries against the wishes of security guards and gave them fake rolls of film so that I could get the footage that I needed for the backdrop that I was going to composite into this space that I was creating for them. I was nuts. I was gone, and it made me hard to be around. But I needed to shepherd my baby, and I needed to get it out, and I basically quit right after I signed off on the press sheets.
That was the end point. That was my mission was I needed to deliver the Solar Twins payload. And as soon as that was the case, I went and I started doing my own thing with 344. (music playing) The name 344 came from the location of the office being at the merge of the 210 and the 134 freeways. And 344 was just a way of getting back to how I had grown up and how I had started getting into art, which was just to make things and to make as many things as possible.
(music playing) I went back to the tradition of doing holiday cards that were my own. It was also the first time that I let my natural visual language get into the work.
That was just my handwriting basically, coming out of school. I was really shy about that. (music playing)
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