December 13, 2016

Jon Contino ’05: Portrait of the Artist as a Brand

by Dan Rossi '16

Contino HeadshotSketching skulls, soaring eagles and fancy fonts. Not many artists are able to stay true to the signature style they created when growing up and turn it into a brand that has been featured on everything from film titles to clothing lines. But this is exactly what Jon Contino ’05 has accomplished.

“If I go back and look at drawings I did as a kid, they don’t look much different from what I do now,” Contino chuckled from his sophisticated, modern-industrial studio just an hour upstate from New York City, where he grew up. He acknowledges that his work has been about reflecting on what he’s always been good at and refining it into something all his own.

From Coca-Cola to Sports Illustrated and American Eagle Outfitters, Contino’s portfolio contains an impressive variety of clients. He’s often recognized for his work on the 2013 animated film The Book of Life, for which he designed official movie posters, merchandise and the font that was used throughout the film’s marketing. He was also responsible for branding, illustration and font design for Nike’s “We Run” campaign, and so many more.

No matter what the assignment, his work maintains the rough, hand-drawn, all-American quality that defines the Jon Contino brand.

Before coming to Adelphi, Contino said he “didn’t realize that illustration and graphic design were legitimate professions.” It wasn’t until his portfolio review with Dale Flashner, M.A. ’84, director of graphic design in the Department of Art and Art History, that his career potential was laid out for him. He credits Flashner as a prime influence in his work.

Two posters Contino designed for "The Book of Life"

Two posters Contino designed for “The Book of Life”

Even though he may not have seen it as a career path, Flashner explained that he “came in having a Jon Contino style.” “I knew from the get-go that Jon was going to be his own entity,” Flashner added.

She said that a point of pride of the art department is their attention to each student as an individual. They arrive with their own identities and artistic merits and depart with a better understanding and refinement of their work.

“There’s a lack of pretentiousness in the art department,” Contino said. In addition to Flashner, he pays respect to the late Tom McAnulty, who taught traditional drawing courses at Adelphi and showed Contino “a lot about how to draw organically,” he said, an important step for any artist.

At Adelphi, Contino learned the foundational skills necessary to refine his craft in his own way. But through the guidance of the professors, he also learned the important business side of being an artist.

“I was learning how to become a designer as a businessman—what it took to get paid, how to price things,” he explained.


“Mind Your Business” heather red T-shirt, part of Contino’s latest clothing line.

After graduating, Contino quickly got to work forging his path as an artist, and within a year had opened his own design studio for freelance work. At first, the work consisted of standard design tasks, such as business cards and flyers. But as time went on, the work evolved into clothing design. He and his co-founders “ended up becoming a clothing company ourselves,” he explained.

Since then, Contino opened and currently operates out of his independent studio. His hand lettering and vintage Americana feel have spawned various collaborative projects with indie clothing companies across the country, and his work appears on designer T-shirts, hats, phone cases and more. He also recently released a new series of t-shirts and accessories from his own, self-owned clothing line.

Today he lives in upstate New York with his wife and daughter. He frequently visits the boroughs for business and to provide lectures to art students. He also keeps ties with Adelphi, providing group critiques on occasion. In 2015 he participated in the Alumni Artists Panel and Encore Series, where he and several other alumni shared their journeys and experiences with current art students.

“When I came to Adelphi, I wasn’t sure if I would get what I could be getting from a major art school,” Contino said. “Since then, I’ve realized that an art class is an art class, and what matters is what you take from it and how open to discussion the professors are. That’s the most important part.”


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