“I am a large container of life.”
“That’s how you would explain yourself to someone,” I asked, making sure I heard him correctly.
In a used bookstore more than 15 years ago, Nick Zdon found a Czech comic book with English translations that were a bit rough around the edges. “One of the best lines—I don’t know why, but it stuck with me—this character says ‘I am a large container of life,’” Nick says with a deep laugh. “If I had to explain myself, get rid of all the other small talk, all that other shit, that’s true. I am this collection of molecules, a collection of everything I’ve lived up to this point, and I am just a container of that. And my container is going to go off and do more.”
And this graphic designer’s container—or creativity—began, in part, from music and his father. Nick became tuned in to the compositional branding of music—the photography, typography, and illustrations on albums and CD packagings, from his favorite heavy metal bands to his dad’s collection of ’70s psychedelic rock. “That was when I recognized that how certain bands sound differently, [they] also looked differently through their design and lettering.”
His father, who worked at a Minneapolis advertising firm, would bring home two-inch thick catalogs of stock images. In the front of those books, there were sections of lettering and hand-drawn typography, which intrigued the teenaged Nick to study and copy down the letters. “I was fortunate my dad had that [advertising] background,” he says. “It showed me that there was a path for design.”
With a degree in graphic design from St. Paul’s College of Visual Arts, over a dozen years in the design industry, and a stripped down, minimalist aesthetic, Nick’s artistic path has culminated in a wide portfolio—including Best Made, a New York–based outdoors company; Epicenter, a nonprofit that provides housing and business resources and promotes the arts in Green River, Utah; and just this past summer, rebranding the Minnesota Opera’s logo, amongst other projects.
“I love creating, and creating something out of nothing,” the 36-year-old artist says. “But even more so, I love to teach.” Nick taught various design courses at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and went full circle when he taught graphic design and ideation back at his alma mater during the 2012–2013 school year. “I like sharing these things that I find to be amazing. I want to show you how fucking awesome something is.”
But what’s most awesome for Nick regarding design, is also why The Growler chose him as the cover artist for this issue: his penchant for minimalism.
“I’m lazy,” Nick says. “Not lazy like ‘I don’t want do that,’ but lazy in the sense of what’s the minimum number of parts that I can use to create something. Like in Japanese haiku, there’s a real sense of if you could accomplish anything with a minimum number of pieces, it’s way stronger than if it had a whole bunch of bells and whistles.”
Examples include a piece inspired by Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” speech, which was simply black paper, tiny toothbrush-spattered stars of white paint, and a bitsy blue dot to represent Earth, and a tri-colored poster depicting a minuscule Joseph Kittinger skydiving on one of his Excelsior missions. It’s pared down palettes, negative space, and reduced elements. And it’s Nick Zdon at his best.
“I dislike it when shit gets added to make art seem like it’s more important,” he says. “Just get things out of the way that don’t need to be there.”
Good advice for both art and filling your container of life.
Name: Nick Zdon
Hometown: Coon Rapids, MN
Currently Resides: St. Paul, MN
Medium: Design and screen-printing