New York native Jon Contino is an award-winning creative director known for his distinctive illustration style that blends old and new world aesthetics.
His work is influenced by historical New York, contemporary street art, and the lost art of hand-drawn lettering. Honing his craft over the past twenty years, Jon has partnered with influential brands including Nike, Jack Daniels, Sports Illustrated, New Balance, as well as his own line of clothing and accessories.
We had a chance to catch up with Jon to talk about inspiration, his creative process, and how he uses Dropmark to get things done.
A selection of lettering, branding, and design work by Jon Contino
What inspires you?
Life and death. I mean, there’s plenty of visual stuff that’s cool to look at and gives me ideas, but I really draw the most inspiration from thinking about the choices we make as temporary beings. The people we surround ourselves, the chaos we find ourselves stuck in the middle at times, the way we deal with it. To me, there is nothing more interesting in the world than how we choose to live in it. A simple statement from someone is enough to get my brain going for months.
Your work has a really unique and authentic voice, how did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Long Island about 30 minutes from Manhattan. It’s an interesting place because you get all that big city influence within a tight neighborhood setting. There’s also no time for pleasantries when you grow up in a place like that. Say what you feel or don’t say anything at all, ya know?
Jon Contino’s studio
…I really draw the most inspiration from thinking about the choices we make as temporary beings. The people we surround ourselves, the chaos we find ourselves stuck in the middle at times, the way we deal with it.
Somewhere along the way, I ended up getting really involved in the hardcore scene. Probably around 12 or 13. I was playing drums in a few bands at the time and the independent nature of being in a band, being by yourself, and feeling a desire to create something that other people liked was so appealing to me. Plus the fact that it was still pretty underground back then grabbed me like crazy. Everything was about discovery. Sometimes you found the greatest thing ever, but most times it was garbage and you ended up someplace you probably shouldn’t be.
That being said, I spent most of my time designing demo covers, t-shirts, flyers, and posters for my band and my friends’ bands. Eventually we got older, the bands got bigger, record labels got involved, and by the time I was in college, I had already been freelancing for 4 years. I think that was a pretty good foundation to get started with. The names have changed, but I still follow that same track to this day.
Tell me about your creative process, how do you approach the projects you work on?
I really enjoy getting in the heads of my clients and reading between the lines. Everyone’s got a story they’re not telling you in words, but they are with body language. Everything I do needs to revolve around that story, and the quicker I can nail it, the easier it is to design for that client. I look at taking that first big bite as the beginning of any project. The rest is just decorating a structure that already exists.
Sketches by Jon Contino
“Everything I do needs to revolve around that story, and the quicker I can nail it, the easier it is to design for that client.”
How does Dropmark fit into your workflow?
Dropmark is a huge part of my workflow. I use the screenshot function constantly to share quick ideas, but that’s not where my bread is buttered. My favorite way to use Dropmark is through moodboard and reference building. For every project, I create a new collection. In that collection I’ll have stacks separated into design inspiration, font and web references, or even notes from the client. It varies based on the project, but you get the idea. It’s basically a big visual dump so that my brain can soak in the entirety of the vibe I’m trying to nail. Over the past few years it’s grown to become just as important to my every day workflow as my iMac or Adobe Illustrator.
Video: Jon Contino introducing his new custom lettering workshop
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve Dropmarked recently?
I recently did an interview about the history of my old menswear brand, C.X.X.V.I. and the interviewer asked if I could send him some behind the scenes photos or other images that most people might not have seen from years ago. I started compiling a collection and realized Dropmark was an awesome way to share the whole thing. Then of course I went down the rabbit of nostalgia and saved way more pictures than he needed for the article. Whatever, it was fun [laughs].
Here’s the link: http://drp.mk/F83BDVk6WR
See more of Jon’s work at joncontino.com and follow @joncontino on Twitter. For aspiring letter and logo designers, Jon will be sharing his industry secrets in a six-week online course beginning May 1 at continoworkshop.com.