The ART of Storytelling By inSpire with Ed Guthero

Photo: Ed Guthero
A graduate of Andrews University, Ed Guthero has been working professionally in graphic design for 30 years, including 22 years as an art director and creative director. He spent five years working in advertising design in Canada before coming to the United States for an eight-and-a-half-year stint with Pacific Press Publishing Association.

In 1991 Guthero opened his own design studio headquartered in Boise, Idaho, serving a variety of clients throughout the country for over a decade. Currently, he teaches graphic design at The School of Visual Art and Design at Southern Adventist University and maintains freelance clients as well. 

inSpire - Ed, what I remember most about you from college is that you were passionate about making good art. Where did this passion come from?

Guthero - When I was a very little kid in Winnipeg, 4 years old or so, my Dad Joe and I would break out the crayons and draw together.

He got me started. Dad had a real flair for cartooning, though he never pursued it himself. Pretty soon I was trying to draw everything around . . . the mailman, policemen, animals, story characters, whatever. I guess have always been rather shy, but observant, and art gave me an identity, a way to "speak up" and communicate with people. It has always been the way I get my feelings out, still is. My Dad and I would always draw from our imagination, make up stuff. That really influenced me.

When I was 5 years old, the western actor Hugh O'Brien from the television series "Wyatt Earp" came to town as the guest star of the Shrine Circus. The Winnipeg school system held a big drawing contest to portray Wyatt Warp and fortunately I won the primary division. It was a major event for a youngster to experience and a vivid memory. "Wyatt Earp" gave me a whole mini-Earp wardrobe . . . black jacket. black cowboy hat, gray pinstripe pants, holsters and two white-handled six guns. We had dinner together and I still have a copy of the photo of Wyatt Earp and me that was in the city newspaper the next morning.

I kept drawing, often with Laurentian colored pencils, entered more contests and picked up a road race set from Kellogg's for drawing Tony the Tiger and a new bicycle from the Winnipeg Gas Company. For a quiet little kid art became a way of interacting. Besides it was just fun, developing your own world on paper. I could get lost for hours just drawing at home. My Mom and Dad didn't have a lot of money, but they encouraged me and signed me up for the Minneapolis-based Art Instruction Schools Correspondence Course after seeing one of those "Draw the Pirate" magazine ads. That introduced me to inks, paint and "commercial art."
Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge

Winnipeg, Manitoba, out on the Canadian prairies, can be a brutally cold place during the long winters and the vast prairies stretch out under an endless sky. Art and imagination are wonderful allies. I think I spent most of my young life outside on the ice playing hockey and inside with those Laurentian pencil crayons drawing at the kitchen table.

Early on drawing and storytelling were always linked in my mind. Later on when I ended up doing art for a living as a graphic designer/creative-director, it felt very much the same. Designing books, magazines, posters, ads, illustrations, photographs, video, coming up with concepts, etc. are all ways of telling stories, communicating messages. In graphic design the synergy of concepts, words and images is like a symphony. It's getting your feelings and beliefs out into culture and society, then seeing how people react. In graphic design for commercial purposes if you are behind the product or message there is no reason the passion to make a strong creative statement can't be there. It involves trust on the client's part and it involves creative integrity on the designer's part.

As an art student I was highly influenced by the quality of work I would see in the Society of Illustrator's Annuals or Communication Arts magazine, it gave me something to strive for. I watched my teachers like painter Greg Constantine and designer Peter Erhard and how hard they pushed themselves to do innovative work on their own projects. One night it seemed to me that Erhard filled an entire sketchbook with logo concepts for a furniture company logo and Constantine was always coming up with new ideas for painting approaches to show in New York.

When I worked in Canadian advertising design studios for veteran ace art directors Ed Rost and Tom Powell I learned a lot. They were passionate about the integrity of the work they did for clients and they demanded much, but you grew and began to understand what being a professional artist really was all about. I will always be grateful to these and other veteran working professionals I have met along the way. I have a great respect for experience in the arts. One thing has been a common denominator in these types of people — you cannot separate them from their passion and integrity as artists. It is who they are.

Whether you are doing secular or Christian-themed art and design that passion/integrity connection needs to be there to really communicate. There is no reason Christian publications cannot be every bit as good or better in quality as secular publications. The visual statements made in that arena can carry precious weight, intimacy, and power.

inSpire - Wow! That’s interesting. Sounds like you literally cut your teeth on art. Tell us what you do now?

Guthero - I believe all effective graphic design and art is really storytelling, getting a message across. You try to do it with perception, awareness of society, creativity, integrity, and impact and it's cool to see how people respond. Hopefully you hit a nerve.

I like that aspect of it, whether it is an illustration, a photograph, a video, a book cover, advertisement, magazine, CD cover, identity logo, package, poster, ad campaign, or whatever. That all started with my Dad and I drawing together with the crayons. We were telling stories.

For about five years I worked in advertising in Canada and was really fortunate to work with some wonderful art directors like Ed Rost, Tom Powell, Al Colleran, and Ted Mills. These were really experienced pros and I'll always appreciate the opportunities they gave me and the knowledge they shared.

In the 1980s I was asked to design/art direct magazines in California for Pacific Press Publishing Association. After the immigration work permit was secured it was a big adventure driving across country in the winter, starting out in the snow through the prairies, crossing the winter mountains, and ending up in the palm trees of California. It was really exciting developing original magazines and in many ways that is still my favorite aspect of graphic design. Within a couple of years Pacific Press Publishing Association relocated to Idaho and I went with them, spending almost nine years in publication design/art direction at that company.

I loved Idaho and the wild west and operated my own design studio for 11 years in downtown Boise, serving a variety of clients across the country. The foundation of the studio was magazine and book design, but included photography, advertising design, logo identity, music CD design, copywriting, and illustration. Spending 20 years out West really gets in your system and on the side I began getting deeply involved in photographing the cowboys, cowgirls, and Native American tribes of the West, producing the coffee-table book Fire and Rain: A Portrait of The Contemporary West and a number of western calendars. That is still a passion and I use my cameras as much as possible. Fire and Rain was a chance to tell the story and spirit of the West in images and words.

Working in publishing and advertising design has been so much fun over the years, I'm really thankful for all the great people, freelance illustrators, editors, clients, associates, that I have had opportunity to work with over the years. They are my friends as well.

The past few years I have been teaching graphic design as a professor at The School of Visual Art and Design at Southern Adventist University in Tennessee. We have a cool art school going here that includes graphic design, animation, film making, and fine art. We learn a lot from the students as well as mentoring them. It's an exciting time to be an artist with all the forms of media overlapping and merging together to make statements and tell stories.

We try to encourage the students to mix new media with traditional skills and it blows me away the innovative stuff they come up with.

I still keep some freelance design clients as well and continue to develop personal projects. It's still an open road with collaborations and new stories to tell in different ways. Thanks for including me.

inSpire - Do you have any suggestions for how the church could better utilize the skills of its creative members?

Guthero - This is an interesting question and one that I have felt the full gamut of emotions: joys and frustrations. There are many creative professionals in the church with successful backgrounds in secular markets who are very willing to help. The church needs to utilize these people, and give them opportunity and space/trust to contribute new approaches in telling the greatest story ever: that there is redemption, peace, purpose, and new beginnings in Christ. Right now all media are blending and overlapping. There are tremendous technical advances in communication equipment but creative artists and designers are still needed to conceptualize ideas and really maximize resources. I think the church just needs to ask the creative professionals and be willing to trust and delegate. Some amazing creative things will happen.

Also the talented numbers of young creatives coming out of university art schools like ours need to have the opportunities to work in church communications media. We are sending scores of young, capable creatives out into the workplace; if the church has no place for them then they simply go work in secular advertising agencies and studios that are eager to hire creative talent. The church's publishing and media outlets have a great opportunity to establish internships.

inSpire - This is rich stuff. Thank you for taking the time to share some of your story and your thoughts.

Ed Guthero online  |  The Rain & Fires series  |  Sampler

This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2012 Click here for content usage information.