It's been said that Milwaukee has a bit of an image crisis. We might be living in the shadow of Chicago. We're associated with the industrial failures of the rust belt.
The topic of the Milwaukee's atrocious flag has popped up within my circle of friends on more than a couple of occassions and earlier this year we formed a task force to research the city's image and use that to rebrand ourselves.
Milwaukeean Jeremy Pettis, perhaps independent of any of this and at the urging of CitID, decided to take matters into his own hands and give his opinion on what Milwaukee represents. I have to say it's hard to disagree.
The result is a thrilling illustration that is a little fun (I had an "OMG" moment when I noticed the letters MKE hidden within the imagery), a little classic, maybe a little cliched but maybe also true to what makes Milwaukee recognizable without being too degrading.
It's less about re-branding and more about enhancing what we know Milwaukee to be. Pettis shows his work at Jackpot Gallery this weekend on Saturday, May 8 from 6 to 10 p.m..
Recently, I had a chance to talk to him about inspiration in our city.
OnMilwaukee.com: So what are you up to these days?
Jeremy Pettis: Currently I work at DesignScout, a small graphic design company at 9th and National. I also try and keep busy with personal projects and freelance outside of my day job. There is also a drawing group that my friends and I started that meets on Wednesdays called "Doodleday." It's great because then I have a dedicated time each week to just draw something non-work related and also get out of the house and mingle a little. I'm mostly inspired by classic design, Herb Lubalin, Milton Glaser and Paul Rand.
Also seeing modern day creatives making amazing pieces definitely pushes me to try to create and to try harder. Creating is something I have always loved to do, that paired with my ability to draw decently made me realize that graphic design was definitely the career choice for me. Design is always in need and a lot easier to sell than any weird paintings I'd make.
OMC: What do you want to get out of type design?
JP: Type design is just another outlet for creative thinking and application. I like typography because it has it's own structural rules and guides. Working within these predetermined sets of guides and rules is a challenge that I enjoy. How far can you push something but still have it retain it's initial integrity as a letter form? Not to mention it's a very powerful aesthetic foundation, people can't help but read words, so it's a great way to connect with your viewers.
OMC: What was the inspiration behind creating this image?
JP: CitID had seen some of my other works and e-mailed me asking to contribute a typographic illustration representing my city. I decided I wanted to create the letters MKE ( Milwaukee was a little too long to have a solid impact ) out of vague representations of Milwaukee. Things that most people think of when they hear about us.
OMC: You made a conscious effort to use preconceived imagery (beer, cheese) of what outsiders think about Milwaukee. In light of the recent Milwaukee re-branding task force and the excitement developing around the water industry do you feel this imagery still represents Milwaukee?
JP: It's great that the water industry is being hyped. I'm sure better water means better beer right? At least for right now, I still feel that cream city brick, beer, cheeses, sausages, and heavyset people are a good consolidation of what Milwaukee is. Maybe I will have to make another version in a decade or so with magnificent waterfalls and sausages riding jet skis.
OMC: The biggest landmark you chose to feature was the Allen-Bradley clock tower. How did you come to that choice?
JP: Honestly, I was trying to stay away from any tangible landmark and stick with the vague ideas of Milwaukee but I just needed something to complete the K. Originally I was going to make it some sort of German sausage man but it was just way too goofy. The Allen-Bradley clock is pretty well-known and it resembling a rectangle made it an easy choice to complete the K. Milwaukee used to have a few other clock towers that have since been torn down. So maybe by showing appreciation we'll get to keep this one for a while.
OMC: What is the biggest challenge you had in creating this imagery?
JP: The biggest challenge was not making it too detailed. It's always very easy to over do it, especially when the subject is something you're so familiar with.
OMC: How do you feel the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) positioned you after you left. How did it change you (if it did)?
JP: MIAD introduced me to the idea of graphic design. Before that I was planning on doing something art related, but when it came time to declare a major I just figured graphic design made the most sense career-wise. At the end of my sophomore year I was offered an internship with DesignScout and have been there ever since. MIAD definitely changed my life for the better and I made some of my best friends there.
OMC: So you're participating in a show this weekend. What's that about?
JP: The show is called Super Collider. It's going to be a great time. It's mostly friends from Doodleday and we're just smashing a bunch of our work together in Jackpot Gallery this weekend. There will be quite a plethora of different medias and styles so be sure to stop by and see what's up. Should be a great time. There will also be posters of my Milwaukee Illustration for sale, too.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.