OLD-SCHOOL RURAL ARTIST MEETS SHASTA VENTURES

MICHAEL SCHWAB

A Q&A with renowned graphic artist Michael Schwab about creating Shasta’s new logos—and his creative process.

Chances are, you’ve seen Michael Schwab’s work.

From his studio in Marin County, Schwab’s simple, bold, often silhouetted icons have defined the public images of Amtrak, Major League Baseball, Coke, Comedy Central, and Gap, among many others. Schwab’s posters have been exhibited at museums and universities across the world for the last three decades and are part of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection.

Schwab’s latest project involved working with Shasta Ventures to create two corporate logos consistent with Shasta’s theme–epic, unwavering products.

In a wide-ranging conversation, the prolific graphic artist discusses creating Shasta’s new logos, blending old-school techniques with next-gen tech and finding inspiration to keep creating.

SV: You’ve worked with a wide range of clients—from Robert Redford and Muhammad Ali to Amtrak and the National Parks System. What were your thoughts about working with Shasta?

MS: I was very happy to get the call but, truthfully, I was a little concerned.

SV: Why?

MS: Because I still work with pencil and paper and pen and ink and here I am with one of the most cutting-edge venture firms in San Francisco. They’re in the eye of the hurricane of tech entrepreneurship and startups. Shasta is about tech advancement, and I’m here with some ink and blank pages.

SV: So you don’t use any tech?

MS: I do. My work is kind of a combination of old-school style meets hyper new.

My illustrations aren’t perfect computerized lines. You still see hand-drawn line work, so we scan the ink drawings and really start doing some technical magic.

It’s all about communication. If the graphics don’t communicate something to the viewer, it doesn’t work. Graphic design is about communication.

But it all starts with sketches, paper, and pen.

SV: When you created Shasta’s logo, what were you going for? What did you want it to communicate?

MS: From the beginning, I wanted the logo to evoke a journey or an adventure—and tell a story. I wanted an icon that would convey that moment when you’ve been hiking through the trees and you get to that point where you can finally see off in the distance this summit, a mountain that symbolizes strength, beauty, and stability.

There are two shades of green and a light purple mountain. Everything becomes lighter as it goes back into the distance. The sky is blue and safe.

Shasta is a goal off in the distance that now appears within reach.

SV: Where’d the inspiration for this come from?

MS: Inspiration for me comes from so many places, but with a name like Shasta you can’t help but think of Mount Shasta.

Mount Shasta looks like Mount Fuji to me. And ever since art school, I admired Japanese woodcuts of Mount Fuji. Those woodcuts meant a lot to me, so to be able to do Mount Shasta truly sparked those old inspirations of mine.

I didn’t do a woodcut here, but the style was like those old Japanese woodcuts.

SV: How did your logo for Shasta evolve from initial conception through delivery?

MS: Doug Pepper had the idea of moving the trees toward the foreground where it felt like something of an adventure moving toward Shasta. This is actually one of those times where the client helped improve the product!

SV: When did you start working on the Shasta Camera Fund logo?

MS: We were just finishing up the Shasta logo in late September and Shasta gave me another commission to create a graphic icon for their Camera Fund.

SV: Did creating the Fund’s new icon come easily for you? What was the process?

MS: I just immediately ended up having ideas for it and started creating thumbnail sketches. For years, I’ve been wanting to create an image that’s very surreal and not unlike a Rene Magritte painting–a human merging with a camera.

This was the right project to turn that dream into reality and maybe turn some heads. You’ve only got a second or two to capture people’s attention, so I really try to add drama to it.

If I weren’t in graphic art, I’d be in the theater.

SV: What advice do you have for companies thinking about creating a new corporate icon?

MS: Be brave. Trust yourself and be open to anything.