INTERVIEW : JAMES VICTORE
James Victore is a man of action. He believes that learning about free jazz and liquor fermentation and speed-racing can make you a better designer, that graphic design is about experiences and stories and using your hands.
Distilling wisdom from decades down in the beautiful muck of making ideas happen, he’s produced a stunning series of aphoristic posters on the nature of art, design and the creative process. His Aphorisms on Art & Idea Execution is on display in the gallery space at Ace Hotel New York through May 25. The installation is in partnership with the 99U Conference. Jocelyn K. Glei caught up with him recently.
What’s a normal day for you?
I like to think we’re like the army. We get more work done by noon than most people do in a full day. Chris [Victore’s sole co-worker] comes in at 10:30 or 11am. We decide on what needs to be done. We rarely work past 5pm. We’re pretty efficient. We make decisions. I look at the agency system and it’s such a waste. That’s why people like Time Magazine come to us. They know they can give it to us on a Wednesday and it will be done on Friday.
You mentioned ‘making decisions’ earlier as part of the way you function efficiently. Do you think a lot of people get bogged down by that?
Part of the problem these days is there’s so much choice. At some point, someone just has to say: We’re going to do it like this because I want to do it this way. Because, if you don’t, you’re going to be churning out oatmeal. You look at some graphic design today, and you can tell that nobody is in charge.
You’ve been doing a few little films for the book release. Is that new territory? How did they come about?
The publisher wanted a little flat, static image for the book for the website. We weren’t really feeling that. So this is a great example of how we work. We had five minutes to think about it. So we said let’s get out of here. Let’s go under the Bodhi tree where genius is. So we went around the corner to the Italian restaurant, had a pizza and a bottle of wine, and halfway through we said: “You know what would be really funny? A book with chickens walking around on it.”
So we come back to the studio, and Chris calls Iowa. “Do you have chicks? Yeah, we have chicks. How much are they? $34 for a dozen. Excellent, we’ll take a dozen chicks.” So that’s Thursday afternoon. They say they’ll be hatched by Tuesday, and then they’ll ship them. The next Thursday I get a call from the post office, “You have a perishable package here.” So I’m standing in line, and I hear “cheep cheep, cheep cheep.”
So I called Chris and said, “Chicks are here, we need a tripod, a video camera and some barbeque sauce.” So we shot the thing in the afternoon. I kept them one more day, because I wanted to be with them. And we learned how to feed and care for them. Then Saturday morning we took them to McCarren Park and handed them off to a farmer who will raise them. That’s how we do stuff. We just make it up.
Do you do all of your sketching and writing on paper?
Paper, and not in the studio. I’ll go to a bar or a restaurant. When I did the book, I left the studio every morning and I went to the park and sat for an hour, hour and a half. I brought an idea, and I wrote longhand in one of these big sketchbooks. Then I would come into the studio and work during the day. Afterwards, at 4 or 5, I’d go to my bar, sit with a beer or two, and refine it. Or write on a new idea. So it became this really nice process of every day. And it became a habit. I can’t do the think-work in the studio. The studio’s for putting stuff together — for work-work. And if we’re not doing work-work, then we leave. How many great architecture ideas have been drawn on napkins? Because they’re free, they’re not thinking about work. It’s the work you do before you ever put pen to paper. That’s the important part.
Excerpted from the 99u blog