San Francisco is a city of collaborators – which is great if you’re looking to enhance your artistic vision. A few years ago, when the recession gave many of us free time to dream big, I got together with a group of designers to work on an art publication that’s yet to be realized. Our conversations would inevitably turn to our personal work – talk of a new exhibit we were putting up or a new client someone had just scored.
Wanting to catch up with all these good friends, I visited them in their studios. Turns out they’ve all been hustling and putting their special stamp on the local design scene.
George McCalman is a true lover of layouts and typography. He’s also the go-to guy for San Franciscans needing a boost in the identity department. He creates fonts and works in palettes that mirror the personality of his clients. He showed me a box of all the business cards he’s designed, each set letterpressed or screenprinted beautifully on quality paper. George’s own cards are especially memorable. They’re smaller and thinner than the standard, and display his information boldly in two colors. “Each one tells a story,” he says, “and each one, well, has its own personality.”
James Tucker seems to come from another era. Not only does he have impeccable ‘30s style, but he also operates machinery that predates him by nearly a hundred years. I visited him at the Hello!Lucky studio where he works as a printer. He turned on a Heidelberg Letterpress, a machine he’s been specially trained to operate. His work station is lined with pictures, including black and white photos that remind him of growing up on a Christmas tree farm in New Jersey, where he learned to love using old tools. Many of his designs are beautiful symbols of his family folklore.
Jen’s studio, much like her designs, is a study in texture and color. Two walls are covered with her beautiful paintings, which look like morphing Rorschach tests. Along the other walls are shelves stacked with Jenny Pennywood pillows, bags, tablecloths, and boxes of hand-printed stationery and wedding invitations. She named her design company Jenny Pennywood in 2008 as a way to distinguish that work from her portfolio as a painter, and her business took off after she was featured in Martha Stewart Weddings. Jen spread out a beautiful swath of linen and explained, “I designed this for Seth Rogen’s wedding. They couldn’t find the vintage Ikat textiles they were looking for, so they came to me and got a Jenny Pennywood original.”
Josh Duthie finds beauty in old chairs. His business, Chairtastic, transforms worn seating into something original by adding pieces of specially-molded wood. Josh showed me around his collective Woodshop studio, pointing out the different types of wood he uses. He even dug up some stunning quilts he made back when he was heavy into sewing. But when he spoke about all the orphaned chairs he’s rescued over the years, he got really excited. He started collecting them at yard sales and flea markets to study their design. Part of his thrill came from investigating the designers’ histories, mapping out who influenced whom.
I caught up with Matthew and Sandy at their home studio. Between Matthew’s stacks of vinyl and Sandy’s vintage ballet boxes and prints, everywhere you turn is another point of conversation. A neat arrangement of striped pencils, for example, turns out to be a complete set of football team pencils that Matthew had as a kid. It’s just one of many collections that informs the designs for their company Treatzone. Sandy walked me through a display of their goods, such as an album cover displaying their print for their friend’s record company Shelflife, and T-shirts they created for Target. She says the name of their collaboration comes from the fact that “it was a treat for us to work together and we hoped to make treats for others.”
This story originally ran in Volume 3 of The Bold Italic magazine – SF By Design – which is available for purchase as a single issue or with a subscription.