dave plunkert interview
dave plunkert interview dave plunkert interview
jan 10, 2014

dave plunkert interview

dave plunkert interview


designboom spoke to the american illustrator and designer dave plunkert about his work.


DB: please could you tell us briefly about your background?
DP: I originally wanted to be a cartoonist but ended up studying design at shepherd college (now shepherd university) in west virginia. there wasn’t an illustration program there but the design program stressed conceptual problem solving using illustration combined with typography. after I graduated I worked as a graphic designer at a now defunct baltimore design firm for about five years before I started freelancing as a graphic designer and illustrator. around 1995 my wife joyce hesselberth and I started spur design and that’s where I’ve been ever since. we purchased and renovated a 10,000 square foot warehouse in baltimore that is now our studio and gallery space.



posters for the theater project



DB: which have been your most satisfying projects to date?
DP: I’ve always had a love for making posters. if I have to choose, the posters for theatre project are probably the most satisfying body of work created for a single client due to their experimental nature.  each series created for a given season is different from the last and operates under a loose system or ‘rules’. I also greatly enjoy the rhythm of the process when it comes to creating editorial illustrations and working with savvy art directors and editors.



mortgage trap for harvard magazine



DB: how would you describe your style to someone who hasn’t seen your work before?
DP: primitive pop surrealism with dust. I usually have something on the page that looks like it’s disintegrating.




left: ATM skimmers for PC world
right: how we became a nation of haters for playboy



DB: are you able to synthesize concepts easily or is it always a process of reduction?
DP: fairly easily, although as I’ve gotten older I do better if I stick to my usual routine. typically that means reading whatever text or brief is supplied and letting that percolate overnight if time allows. if I start sketching the next morning over a cup of coffee at my desk I will usually land on something that I find satisfying in several hours or less. some projects require more or less trial and error depending on their format, scale or scope. once the idea is decided for an editorial illustration it becomes a simple matter of production. a design project on the other hand might require a bit more back and forth and the possible tossing out of fairly completed solutions until the right one is landed upon.



top music start-ups of 2011 for billboard



DB: what mediums do you work with to make your illustrations and which is your preferred one?
DP: I have two distinct illustration styles that I market: block and collage. for print or web production the media involved usually consist of acrylic on paper, pen and ink, found images, and distressed line work that I combine in photoshop. I use a rough sketch on a channel as a guide. for original work created for galleries I forego the digital aspect and work directly on panel or paper. I also occasionally make woodblock and screen prints.



breaking bad for the washington post



DB: is there a medium you would like to explore further in the coming years?
DP: I wish I could improve at everything: painting, printing, inking. the first illustration that I ever got accepted into american illustration was done while reading a ‘how to paint’ guide and while I’ve improved over the years, I wouldn’t consider myself a facile painter. I think my best skill is being able to maximize the stuff I do well to hide my deficiencies… at least I hope I’m skilled at it.



left: avian aspirations for distro magazine
right: 7 lessons for fixing an economy for the wall street journal



DB: what are the main differences between design and illustration for you?
DP: illustration is typically dealing with an idea that’s confined in a ‘window.’ design on the other hand can be a bit more complicated since there are typically multiple components. also… a design client rarely is coming to you for something close to what you did for someone else and they tend to need more guidance than an art director hiring an illustrator… which is a much less open ended arrangement.



how fear affects investing for berkeley-haas magazine



DB: who has influenced you the most?
DP: the primary list would include picasso, paul rand, cassandre, seymour chwast, john heartfield, and jack kirby. I’ve also picked up a few ticks from friends and contemporaries whose work I admire like paul sahre, brian cronin, and gary baseman to name a few.



confessions of a blue collar prof for chronicle review of higher education



DB: how do you think online design resources have influenced the design and illustration being produced today?
DP: on the good side I think its greatly fed people’s devotion to design and has made it more visible to the wider public. you used to have to wait for books to get a slice of what was happening in the design world and those typically only went to working professionals and prior to the internet I think the public notion of design was mostly limited to complaining about it if it didn’t work.  on the sour side the wind has been taken out of the sails of print a bit… and most things viewed on a computer screen lack the impact  and nuance that a printed page or poster can deliver.


a current student of design would need a fair amount of discipline to shut off the faucet at some point so they can develop their own unique voice, and also become discerning since the internet lacks an aesthetic filter. all that said, there’s no doubt that a place like pinterest is a very absorbing and valuable venue when it comes to viewing design.



left: the tin drum for criterion
right: lupe fiasco poster for fillmore silver spring


DB: what compels you to design and what other compulsions do you have?
DP: I greatly enjoy cobbling things together and I love trying to fit some cool old vintage thing into a new solution. a deadline makes me get the work out the door but I enjoy keeping a bunch of projects around that are just for tinkering on long term. a mortgage and kids to feed are also great motivators.



brainy beauty for new york times book review magazine



DB: do you have any superstitious beliefs?
DP: none. the universe has shown itself to be very indifferent to me. I own a black cat and stand under ladders all the time without fear.



left: MICA recruitment posters
right: expanding cultural research for chronicle review



DB: what’s the last thing that made you say ‘wow’ ?
DP: a presentation by the amazing thomas heatherwick that I went to in london recently. the UK pavilion for the 2010 expo in shanghai that he designed looks like something from another world and even defies conventional photography.


  • Plunkert’s work is awesome. What a great look of well executed retro-look technique and typography. His concepts and compositions are on par with all the greats he lists as influences, and it’s a real pleasure to see work by someone who has top-notch ability in both illustration and graphic design. His work has just the right amount of “creep factor”, too.

    Randy Willoughby says:

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

comments policy
designboom's comment policy guidelines
generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

- please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
- please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
- please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
- please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
- please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
(there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
the best 100-200 entries too.)

a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

art news

keep up with our daily and weekly stories
490,388 subscribers
- see sample
- see sample