Jo Contino created this art.


Photograph of Jon Contino




Samples of art by Jon Contino

1. Can you describe yourself and your work?

I was a huge Nirvana fan growing up. I played the drums, and everything I did mimicked the way Dave Grohl played drums in Nirvana. He was so aggressive—very minimal with just the right amount of style. Nothing was ever perfect or clean.

Now when I watch videos of the band 20 years later, I realized that my creative style is still based on the way Dave Grohl played drums. I always want that raw, intense human emotion in what I do — I want to show that off in who I am and what I put on the page.

I’ve always loved Swiss design, but even though I design with that in mind, that’s just not what comes out of me. Things come out in a more raw, emotional way. 

Samples of art by Jon Contino

2. How did you get started?

I come from a long line of creative people. As soon as I could pick up a pencil I was drawing. I was in love with copying baseball logos and designing alphabets in different styles. It was an intense obsession that I spent a lot of time on.

By the time I reached middle school, playing in bands became a huge part of my life. I accidentally realized that my love for art could translate into designing logos, t-shirts, demo covers, and flyers for my bands and my friends’ bands. As I got older, the bands and the designs got more serious and became actual paying work.

Around the time of the dot-com boom, I taught myself web design and created sites for local businesses. I got my first payment for a website when I was 14, and $400 meant a lot back then. I ended up freelancing through high school and college, doing design work for bands and local businesses.

In 2005, I opened my own studio, then founded a clothing company called CXXVI in 2009. That became a bit of a behemoth, so I ended up going back to my own studio, just doing things a little differently than the first time around. 

Samples of art by Jon Contino

3. What piece of work best represents you and why?

Every piece represents me in a different way, so it’s hard to pick just one. The work that other people seem to identify most clearly with me is from Nike’s VCXC event in the Bronx. I did all the branding, including t-shirts, bus wraps, environmental design, and the mural painted on the wall across from the park. It has that quirky humor I like to inject into my work, but it’s also raw and edgy. And it’s New York-centric.

Samples of art by Jon Contino

4. What are you into currently?

I started trying to sell hand-lettering years before it became a trend. I was passionate about it, but no one really wanted anything to do with it. When it finally picked up and people started paying attention to it, I got nervous right away. It’s become watered down and bland, so I’m turning my sights to other things.

I want to push my style so it evolves—or devolves, going back to a more elemental, primitive state. I’ve been really into combining traditional American tattoo styles with Asian vase decoration with Mayan and Aztec illustration and architecture. Anything having to do with old folk cultures that has its roots in something that’s more than just things. It’s a little more spiritual, but in the most raw way possible. Almost bordering on cultish.

Samples of art by Jon Contino

5. What are three things you’ve learned that young creatives should know?

Focus on what you love to do and show people you care about it. As technology, the economy, and everything that goes with them gets crazier and crazier, we start to lose the soul that was once part of our society. If you show that you’re passionate, you’ll bring back a little bit of the soul that people are missing.

Whatever you do, put 1,000 percent into it. Work hard to keep making yourself better. You’ll learn through trial and error.

To live in the world that we do and all the shit we’re dealing with, to be a creative person for a living, you should be kissing the ground for that. It’s such an amazing thing.

Samples of hand-lettering by Jon Contino

5¼. Favorite color?

Black. All kinds of black. Cool black, warm black, matte black, glossy black. It’s so powerful and intense, yet so subtle.

5½. Favorite website?

Uni Watch, Paul Lukas’ blog dedicated to uniforms and sports branding design. Sports fan are the most passionate people. Throw design people on top of that and it’s absolute chaos.

5¾. Pet peeve?

People who clearly don’t care about what’s happening or people who care too much. Anyone who’s not being a moderately reasonable person. Actually, anyone who just isn’t being honest is probably the best way to describe that. Get out of here with your fake nonsense.    

May 19, 2015