Visual Arts

Graphic designer Phil Normand finds success in an evolving industry

You can find art all over town -- not just on gallery walls. In this series, we'll be looking at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.

"The thing is, I don't usually hang my work in coffee shops," says graphic designer Phil Normand. He doesn't like being labeled, and it's no wonder. Normand, who started out doing puppet theater in 1970s, has done it all; he's been a cartoonist, artist, painter and designer. And when it comes to graphic design, he's seen it all, too. From drawing ink cartoons for Hanna-Barbera Studios to launching a web design firm, Normand's key to success has always been to evolve with the cathartic ease of a cuttlefish.

See also: Optic Allusions from Colorado native Linda Gleitz

"I could see where everything was going, so I tried to keep up with the technology," Normand says, explaining his "checkered art career."

After a decade as a puppeteer, the jack-of-all-trades slowly transitioned into graphic design, where he did commercial work. Before long, Normand was teaching at the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. "That was when Phil Steele still owned it, and they were over on Ogden," Normand recalls. He taught production, "which is obsolete now," he says, and offered archaic classes in layout and lettering for sign painters.

Another decade passed, and Normand found himself at the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News doing promotion before transitioning into the advertising department and eventually taking over as art director. A few years later, around 2002, Normand was freelancing again, and today he owns his own graphic and web design business, Normand Design.

Normand says he's seen "continual change" in the graphic design industry over his career. "For five hundred years, printing didn't change much," he says. "But since the '80s, the whole biz has changed radically." To keep up, Normand's trained himself to use new software as it became available. "I came up using a drawing board, a knife and ruby-lith," he remembers. (The latter was an adhesive film used as overlay for color print.) Continue reading for more on Phil Normand and his artistic endeavors. That's all changed, though, and his "Steampunk Zombie" poster, currently on display at Coffee at the Point, was created on the designer's computer. "All of the inking was done in Photoshop," Normand says, adding that the process was "completely different than what would have been done forty years ago."

"I actually like the Photoshop stuff because it's not messy, and you don't need a lot of space," Normand continues, before admitting "I still miss doing cartoon work on paper, to a certain extent." It's the tactile experience he (occasionally) feels nostalgic for: that sensation of ink and the brush scratching paper.

Normand hadn't been interested in displaying his work in galleries or retail settings, and he's never gotten into gallery art because, he says, "It is people doing stuff on canvas and hoping somebody will buy it." Involved with art since high school, Normand managed to make a living doing what he loves and never had time to hope somebody might buy his work. "That's too much of a long shot for me," he says.

While art has always been Normand's career path, he points out that "it hasn't always been an easy one." And as a result, he offers this kernel of wisdom: "It's not like you work a long time and become rich and famous -- sometimes you work long and hard and you're lucky to make a living."

Recently a friend approached Normand about putting together a collection for the Comic Con, and the artist -- who, by the way, drew a comic for Dark Horse Comics -- couldn't resist. "We are a group of old guys who used to do a small press comic book back in the '80s," says Normand of the contributors to the comic series currently displayed work at Coffee at the Point. "We ended up doing three new comics to sell at the Comic Con. And it turned out that we were able to get large color prints of the pages, and some of the guys actually had original art, so we set up a show."

This is technically Normand's second show at Coffee at the Point. A few months back, his wife, a writer, talked him into showing several paintings, including the eerie piece above. "Now, I don't do paintings for sale," cautions Normand.

"I don't feel myself as being an artist you can categorize," he adds. He recently finished an illustration for the Colorado Department of Transportation's Colorado Shares the Road campaign. "It was a much different style than the comics," says Normand of the flat color illustration.

Another project that has kept Normand busy -- a "very niche product" that the artist says he really enjoys -- is restorations of old dust jackets. "I just handle one author: Edgar Rice Burroughs," Normand says. He digitally restores first editions for collectors worldwide, basically reconstructing the entire jacket by using its original art and then resetting the type.

Normand says his story "is really the story of a guy who has tried to adapt as much as possible in order to make a living." It's an honest story with an inspiring message: If you work hard enough, you might make a living wage doing exactly what you were born to do.

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Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase