Jon Contino '05 made his mark with branding strategies and logo creation. Now he's branching out with a new book, new business ventures and designs for the future.
Jon Contino ’05 made his mark with branding strategies and logo creation. Now he’s branching out with a new book, new business ventures and designs for the future.
Jon Contino ’05 is a product of his environment. His sometimes rough, sometimes cartoonish illustrations have in their DNA graffiti and tattoos and logos for sports teams and punk bands, a sense of humor and a spirit of rebellion.
It’s a style he developed growing up on Long Island, playing baseball and music in punk bands, designing logos and album covers, becoming obsessed with iconography and learning to turn the symbols he saw all around him into a personal aesthetic. And 14 years after earning his degree—with a new book compiling his design work and a studio with a small staff of artists working in the brand and style he developed—Contino has proven his punk aesthetic is more than viable.
It took his professors at Adelphi to help him see logos and branding as a tenable option. And it took a campus visit to convince him Adelphi was the right fit.
“When you think about art school, you think about fine art and schools in Manhattan and what that lifestyle means,” he said. “I wanted to live a creative life but I didn’t think I had it in me.”
Still, he made the rounds, visiting colleges and flipping through catalogs. He wasn’t aware of graphic design as a field—to him it was a passion and a hobby—so he was considering studying architecture. But while visiting Adelphi’s campus, he saw a course for “communication design.” He asked an admissions counselor what it was and “They said, ‘designing posters.'”
“I was like, ‘Oh, is that a thing?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, that’s a thing,'” Contino said.
In Adelphi’s Department of Art and Art History, Contino found a small program that would make a big difference in his life. His style was in place, but here he learned the basics of drawing and color theory as well as skills he’d later call upon in being not just an artist but an entrepreneur.
“You could run from one end of the building to the other in 40 seconds and stop and say hi to everyone and see drawing and photography along the way,” he recalled. “But once I got into the graphic design department, Dale [Flashner, M.A. ’84, director of the school’s graphic design studio] and I became friendly.” Contino would bring in freelance work he did for clients, and he and Flashner “would talk about the business,” he said. “I had a great relationship with all the [professors] and could talk to them about how to further my career.”
Building a Brand by Hand
The ad world is a natural fit for Contino. Like punk bands and sports fans, advertising has a way of screaming for attention, and that’s a language Contino is comfortable with. Compiling the work into a book had long been on the short list for the accomplished artist. Brand by Hand (Abrams, 2018) is more than just a portfolio. Contino gives context to his ideas and designs in conversational text that makes for a readable memoir.
Flipping through the volume feels far more like scanning a slam book or a graphic novel than an art book—or a collection of campaigns for American Eagle, Coca-Cola and AT&T, for that matter. Contino deliberates on tattoos, insomnia, community, New York City, DIY business practices, werewolves, fatherhood and, of course, design.
“We grew up with an extremely social and emotional culture that doesn’t question whether it’s okay to yell at someone from across the street or give them a smack to ‘knock some sense into them,'” he writes of his Italian American Long Island upbringing. “The dinner table is a shouting match where no one ever wins. The kitchen is the heart of the home and host to hours upon hours of conversation, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. As a kid, I soaked this all in and aspired to carry on the ways of my family. There was a way of doing things, a tradition, and I loved it.”
Reticent as he was at first, Contino found that writing came naturally to him.
“Working on logos is no different from telling short stories,” he said. “You try to say a lot with a little, like a decorated outline. I have storytellers in my family, so it’s one of those things I grew up on, hearing people frame out stories like that.
I’ve never been a reader. I’ve never had the patience, but at this point I have a lot of opinions to share. When you go through so many things, the only way to get through it is to make light of it and try to make a positive out of it.”
Contino has made more than a few positives in his life and career. He’s opening his own print shop and has expanded his studio, taking on more designers and broadening the scope, looking to work with hotels and restaurants as well as getting into the world of smartphone apps.
“Working with the Nikes of the world and the 20th Century Foxes is great, but there’s a whole ‘nother world out there where you can inject excitement,” he said. “We’re going to be doing a lot more branding projects from companies that people might not expect from me.”
Pencil, Not Pixel
[pullquote]“I stopped trying to make my work perfect and started leaning into crooked lines and crude illustrations.”[/pullquote]
Always on the run, Contino was back on campus in April 2019 to give the keynote—titled “Destroy the Machines!”—at Adelphi’s annual Research Conference. Using his characteristic colorful language and a PowerPoint featuring his work, Contino gave an honest account of his post-grad struggles to establish his career as an artist. “You think you’re going to get that job right away but that’s not how the world works,” he said. “I’ve suffered and tried and failed so much. Bad stuff can happen. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
What continues to thrill Contino is creating the hand-drawn art he’s stayed true to. “I understand [the saying] the cream rises to the top, but it’s something I never subscribed to,” he said. “I realized rejected stuff had a place. I stopped trying to make [my work] perfect and started leaning into crooked lines and crude illustrations. When you try to fix it, it loses life. People who experience your work are able to feel that emotion, that human aspect.”
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