An Interview with Phil Yarnall - Summer of Love Designer
Monday, July 17, 2017
With $1500 stuffed into his cowboy boots after completing his first ads for a music trade magazine - Phil Yarnall knew he was hooked on design.
In his own words, Phil Yarnall is the owner and "chief guy who makes things happen" at SMAY Design. He is an established art director/designer with over twenty years of design experience with some of the biggest names in the entertainment world. Recently, Phil partnered with us to design merchandise to complement the new Summer of Love Turns 50 exhibit. Check out his interview below on his design process and what made the Summer of Love worth celebrating!
How did you get into design?
I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to getting into music, but once I discovered bands like The Clash and X and the Replacements in High School, and started rummaging through record bins at record stores, something clicked. I’d always been an artistic kid growing up and when those 2 things came together in my head, I knew what I wanted to do. I went to art school (Tyler School of Art – part of Temple University) and made some great connections with alumni and former teachers, including Peter Corristan (who designed Some Girls for the Stones and Physical Graffiti for Led Zep). He gave me my first job designing ads for some music trade magazines and I was hooked. I remember cashing my first check and limping down Broadway in NYC with $1500 of cash stuffed in my cowboy boot (I was new to NYC and paranoid of muggers). I stood there with a huge grin thinking, “I can do this."
What are some of your favorite moments in musical design?
There’s been so many pieces of amazing art created for the music industry over the years that it’s hard to know where to start with that. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the classic Fillmore psychedelic posters by Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, and those guys. I love London Calling by The Clash with that amazing photo and typographic "shout out” to Elvis Presley. One of my favorite covers is “Black Moses” by Isaac Hayes…It folds out to a huge cross with Isaac H. dressed as Moses. And it’s hard to ignore Ike and Tina Turner’s Outta Season with the two of them eating watermelon in white face makeup…I don’t think that would get past the record company lawyers today, but it’s gutsy and bold. Super cool. I could go on and on and on with this stuff. Dangerous question!
Do you listen to music while you work? If yes, how does it inform your work? Were there albums you listened to a lot while designing the summer of love merchandise?
I ALWAYS listen to music while working. If I’m working on something for a band, I’ll immerse myself in their music and marinate in it. It becomes almost meditative for me and helps me make connections to the band. For the SOL67 I listened to lots of Janis, Mama’s & the Papas, Dylan, Yardbirds, Jimi, etc. I found a few great Summer of Love playlists while I was working on this project and discovered some pretty weird stuff from back then that I was unfamiliar with. Always cool to find new old stuff!
How did you approach this project?
When I started in on this project, I found myself inspired by things like Cream’s Disraeli Gears and many of the psychedelic posters from back then. It gets tricky developing art for products at so many different sizes and dimensions, especially when the art is fairly complex. Fortunately, I was already “in the groove” as I’d recently finished a book design for 1967: A Complete Rock Music History of the Summer of Love and had my head in the right place.
How long were you working on this project?
These days, everything moves pretty fast and this job was no exception. Fortunately, when I get in the right headspace and the wheels are rollin’, I work pretty fast. From start to finish, I think it was 2-3 weeks of pretty intense work. Lots of late nights and coffee to get to the finish line, but I think it was worth it.
How did you balance staying true to the Sixties aesthetic while creating something fresh and new?
This is often an issue for me in my work, as I also handle all the design and branding for the Hendrix Estate, creating everything from box sets and singles for Record Store Day to tour bus graphics for their Experience Hendrix Tour. I even designed Jimi’s Gravesite Monument. But work for them definitely requires walking the line of retro and contemporary, so I’m pretty used to that. Once I did some singles for a Janis Joplin 45RPM box set and was told some folks at the label thought they were original vintage designs from back then. That made me smile.
What were your sources of inspiration for this project?
I kinda touched on this earlier regarding inspiration, so it was really a combination of Cream, my 1967/Harvey Kubernik book, lots of music and lots of staring at what I call “Vibrational color combinations.” Definitely gotta feed your head on something like this.
What do you think made the summer of love special, visually or otherwise?
The Summer of Love was a pretty amazing time (granted, I was born in ‘68, so I don’t have firsthand knowledge) but the clash of politics/art/drugs/social issues really stirred up some amazing music and art and expression. It’s definitely one of those times I’d time travel to if I could. It was a time of people rebelling from the buttoned-up world around them, questioning authority and rejecting conformity. Which I try to do on a daily basis. I’m a freak.
Artist Phil Yarnall's original artwork celebrating the Summer of Love 50th anniversary.