“Our office is on the second floor of an old storefront building in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia. We’re surrounded by Ben Franklin impersonators giving walking tours of the Betsy Ross house and Independence Hall. The studio is pretty jammed packed with our books and paper scraps and ephemera. We have all sorts of design objects around including presidential busts, globes, old books, and a vintage blue-collar thermos collection. We also run our online store from this space so our poster and print archive is stored here as well as our mail room. It gets pretty chaotic at times but it has the great organized chaos of a workshop.”
The Heads of State are Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers. They have been working together in one form or another since 2002. After graduating Tyler School of Art’s militant design program, Kernevich and Summers began making silkscreen posters for Philadelphia’s independent music scene. The graphic and conceptual simplicity of their collaborations made an immediate impact on the burgeoning poster revival in North America. Local clients and small projects paved the way to international acclaim and assignments from the likes of R.E.M., Wilco, and The New York Times. They now run a full-service design and illustration operation, applying their graphic elegance and visual wit to a wide range of clients and projects. They’ve won awards from Communication Arts, American Illustration, Print Magazine, Graphis, and the Society of Illustrators.
THE HEADS OF STATE: Over the years we’ve developed quite a shorthand with one another. Our process is sometimes as simple as a conversation while sketching. We’ve hit on some of our best ideas in a matter of few minutes by just talking through the problem at hand. Sometimes it’s more labored over. Like anyone we’ve had our share of arguments. But we are both always in pursuit of the best idea and that helps move things along.
FROM YOUR DESKS: What was your first paid assignment?
THOS: We were commissioned to do some tour merch for a Philly band called the Dillinger Escape Plan. Shirts, hoodies, and posters. We had been doing some posters around town for a local promoter and the creative freedom was essentially the only compensation. We were both about 22 at the time and working jobs in town at small studios. The band had seen some of our posters and contacted us. After that we started selling our posters and shows and networking and building clients.
FYD: The 2011 New York Times Week in Review was loaded with Heads of State work. How does it work?
THOS: They contact us directly. The turnaround on newspaper commissions is insanely quick. A few days start to finish.
Philadelphia has a tremendous group of illustrators and image makers lurking about.
FYD: Do you tackle each project with the same style and gusto?
THOS: Our work certainly has a look and sensibility to it that is informed by a style, but for us it begins with the idea and we make stylistic adjustments based on the conceptual jumping off point.
THOS: Philadelphia has a tremendous group of illustrators and image makers lurking about. Design-wise, there are only a handful of agencies and shops so it’s fairly cozy in that regard. There are pros and cons that come with that for sure. The cost of living is very affordable and therefore it’s fairly easy to have ample working space. It’s really amazing for that.
FYD: Where are post-work drinks and what is your poison?
THOS: Philly is a great beer town and a great drinking town in general. There are a lot of neighborhood bars that highlight the local suds. Standard Tap. Johnny Brendas. Memphis Taproom are all favorites. Southwark is just about the best straight forward cocktail bar you could ask for.