Something Hit Us

"Something hit us...the crew is us, please, please help us!"

I like helping people. Often, another designer somewhere in the world will send me a note requesting advice on a color issue. This could be attributed to three books I’ve written about color, or the fact that I typically wear a bright pink or blue golf shirt while everyone else is in their summer black. I appreciate the compliment that I might be of some help or expertise.

I could say I spend hours deconstructing Josef Albers’ work in the 1930s or tirelessly mix gouache paint for the perfect combination to create a palette. Both of these would be half truths. Like my dining palette, I have rather plebeian tastes. Last weekend, while changing channels I stumbled onto one of my primary color inspirations, Airport 1975 (see, low-rent taste).

Twenty years ago I had two back to back epiphanic experiences. The first was watching David Hockney paint in his studio with confident and broad strokes. The second, was, of course the genius that is the palette in Airport 1975. Who cares about the plot with the standard issue of Love Boat guest stars in peril after their 747 is struck by another plane. The number one flight attendant is required to fly the plane. There is a singing nun, played by Helen Reddy. She spends time and songs with a dying girl, suspiciously cast with Linda Blair after her film, The Exorcist, when she was possessed.


Not Airport 1975, Linda Blair possessed and flying

The wall shag carpet

And the glorious palette

The colors are completely wrong and go against every tenet of good taste: fuchsia and brown, purple and ochre, red and avocado green. But it’s a marvelous mash-up. How wonderful to be so bad. While I have not spent days studying the late career geometry and color paintings by Herbert Bayer. I did spend an eccentric amount of time on the strange shag carpet wall colors.


The full palette

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Missionary Position

AIGA article, U&LC magazine 1975

Some of you are probably aware that AIGA has been working on some primary issues for the last several months. The future of the organization, whether the headquarters building should be sold, and a multitude of other issues have been debated vigorously across 67 chapters and 23,000 members. Many of you have sent me kind notes, worried that the stress is getting to me. In all honesty, and this is probably not something I should divulge, I'm not that stressed. First, I know we'll end up in a good place. Second, between the national board, advisory board, and chapter leadership I have the smartest people in the industry working on this. And, third, genetics must be at play. Yes, it's important, but it's not founding a nation.

I found an old issue of U&LC from 1975. It has an interesting article from AIGA about typeface copyright protection. I like that it's set in justified, tightly leaded Tiffany. If a typeface needs protection, it's Tiffany. It's sort of the fat friend who dresses a little too glitzy. I'm also struck by the extreme niche subject matter. It was a time when AIGA was primarily a small New York club with 1700 members. An issue like typeface protection merited a whole page. And I now believe AIGA should drop the current clear and classic logo and go to the Tiffany solution.


AIGA article, U&LC magazine 1975

U&LC magazine 1975

Spray and Pray

On my first day at art school, a student two years ahead told me emphatically, “You need to know how to airbrush.” As freshmen, we used colored pencils and gouache. In the junior level studio, they all used the airbrush. The sound of the spraying and chug of the motor was often interrupted with, “sonofabitch!” I was frequently concerned that my career would never happen because I couldn’t use an airbrush.

For those of you who only know the spray paint can symbol in Photoshop®, an airbrush is a machine that is like a fancy can of spray paint. A compressor runs a stream of air through a nozzle that has paint. To make an image, you mask off the areas you don’t want painted, and smoothly spray. Then you take off that mask and make another one. The airbrush sounds easy. I’m sure you may be thinking, “so what, I can use spray paint.” But it clogs, splatters, your masks pull off other paint, and you shout “sonofabitch!” a lot.

My inability to use the tool only makes my admiration for the masters of airbrush greater. Digital perfection and high-definition may be in vogue today, but I think it’s time to celebrate this great work. It was a southern California art form that screams Venice Beach, roller-skating, Xanadu, Sunset Strip, and palm trees. And even better, the guys who were the airbrush kings, such as Charlie White, were the most laid-back, down-to-earth, and just plain nice people I’ve ever known.

Caviar Breakfasts and Champagne Dreams

If you've never seen Tommy directed by Ken Russell you are missing the cultural equivalent of landing the man on the moon. And Ann-Margret is unbelievably beautiful. I still don't know what any of it means, but it looks great. I used to think the writers on Brothers and Sisters based the family names on my family. We have Tommy Walker, Kitty Walker, etc. But, as it turns out, they used Tommy. The original Nora Walker is Ann-Margret in Tommy. I think Sally Field should use the Ann-Margret portrayal as a starting point for her Nora Walker.