Hailing from Kansas City, Tad Carpenter runs his studio, Tad Carpenter Creative with the focus of bringing powerful messages to life through branding, packaging and illustrative based design. Carpenter’s studio has created campaigns for Macy’s, Target, Old Navy, MTV and Adobe to name a few. He is the author and illustrator to over a dozen children’s books in our market today including “Sad Santa”, “Ninja, Ninja Never Stop” and the “I Say, You Say” series. Carpenter has also taught Graphic Design at the University of Kansas since 2009.
HOW DID YOU GET YOUR START IN GRAPHIC DESIGN AND ILLUSTRATION? WERE YOU ALWAYS INTERESTED IN DESIGN?
I WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN MAKING. I was not sure if I wanted to become a painter, illustrator or graphic designer. Like many young kids, I am not sure I fully understood what graphic design was at a young age.
I am really lucky to be the son of two artists. My mother makes fiber work. She dyes her own wool, creating rugs and fiber pieces. My father, Stephen Carpenter, is a renowned illustrator and art director for Hallmark Cards going on 40 years. My Dad really taught me everything I know about design and illustration. He would stay up really late collaborating and working with me. He taught me his skill set. To this day, I still reach out to him for advice. I am so thankful for him. Having my Dad as a mentor from such an early age, really helped shape my voice as a designer.
DESCRIBE YOUR DAY TO DAY PROCESS AND HOW YOUR STUDIO OPERATES.
WE ARE BASED IN WEST PLAZA, in a newly built live/work space that my wife, Jessica and I recently built with our Architects and friends at Kem Studio. Our studio specializes in brand identities and creating memorable brand experiences. Often a client needs a full brand identity. Other times, we might be creating a packaging campaign or an illustration collection. It really changes all the time based on the clients needs. Our studio currently is comprised of myself and two part-time designers. I’m also married to the very talented art director/designer, Jessica who’s always involved in some capacity. Our studio is collaborative, hard working and we try to put a strong emphasis on play. Not that we just sit around goofing off all day, but I have recognized that I do my best work when I am fully engaged in the project and frankly, having fun. I try to keep it light, encourage everyone to experiment, try something totally new and play. We all really do our best work when we are enjoying ourselves and engaging in play. I learned this philosophy from the late, great Gordon Mackenzie. Gordon was one of my Dad’s best friends at Hallmark. He wrote the book, “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” in which he discusses how to survive as a creative in the corporate world. Play was a big part of Gordon’s overall philosophy.
WHAT TYPES OF PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
I WORK ON A REALLY WIDE RANGE OF WORK, which is what I love about what we get to do. Currently, I am working on several brand identity projects. I am rebranding an international freight shipping company and starting a brand identity for a new brewery. I am also working on several book jackets for various publishers, a couple of packaging projects, as well as writing and illustrating a new series of 4 children’s books releasing the end of 2015. I’m also excited about another children’s book I’m illustrating for Harper Collins releasing in 2016. I feel very lucky to be working on projects that I love to work on.
“...WE ACT KIND TO OTHERS, WE AIN’T SHOWY AND WE KNOW THAT TALENT IS NOT ENOUGH..”
WHAT MAKES KANSAS CITY A SPECIAL PLACE FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE?
I LOVE KANSAS CITY FOR SO MANY REASONS. The creative community in Kansas City has always impressed me. We are not a largely populated city like New York or Los Angeles but our creative community is so involved, so engaged and so strong. Having a much lower cost of living in Kansas City, allows us to take big risks. If you were to fail, the fall is not that far and you can pick yourself up and take another swing.
I think Kansas City’s creative strength is due in large part to housing the world headquarters to Hallmark Cards. Hallmark was founded in Kansas City in 1910. For decades, people have moved to Kansas City from all over the world to work at Hallmark. Most had little impression of KC prior to getting here, but then they arrive and quickly fall in love with Kansas City and it’s creative community. Kansas City is just such an easy city to fall in love with.
I think everyone talks about the convenience of Kansas City and that is definitely true. For me personally—with the majority of our clients all over the country—it’s pretty ideal to be within a 3-hour flight of either coast. We’re right in the middle of everything.
HOW HAS KANSAS CITY IMPACTED YOU AND THE WAY YOU WORK?
THERE IS SOMETHING about growing up in Kansas City and living in the Midwest that affects the way you work and think. Kansas Citians really are some of the most kind, caring people you will ever meet. That hospitality has helped shape the way I work with clients and collaborators. To me, being from the Midwest means we act kind to others, we ain’t showy and we know that talent is not enough.
In our blood Midwesterners tend to have an incredible work ethic. I was lucky enough to witness the incredibly hard work ethic of my father and both my grandfathers who grew up in a small town in Kansas. One of my grandfathers was a highway patrol officer and the other worked in the concrete industry. These type of jobs were no nonsense, roll-up your sleeves and get shit done type of jobs. No time for excuses. No time for creative blocks. That blue-collar, get your nails dirty, take care of business mentality has always been part of how I try and approach my work. That approach seems very Midwestern—very Kansas City.
“THAT BLUE-COLLAR, GET YOUR NAILS DIRTY, TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS MENTALITY HAS ALWAYS BEEN PART OF HOW I TRY AND APPROACH MY WORK.”
IF YOU COULD MEET 1 PERSON DEAD OR ALIVE THAT HAS INSPIRED YOU, WHO WOULD IT BE. WHAT WOULD YOU ASK THEM?
I WOULD LOVE TO MEET ALEXANDER GIRARD and talk to him about process. So much of what he created was absolutely timeless. I have always been in awe of his work. Girard’s work was so smart, so well crafted and it all had contains a little wink—I love that. He also crossed over into so many avenues of design. I love the cross pollination of what we do and Girard did it so well. Historically, I would love to meet Abe Lincoln. I’m named after his son, Tad, so it would be hard to pass up meeting honest Abe. I’d ask him “what are you hiding under that hat, big fella?”
“CREATING CHILDREN’S BOOKS HAS ALWAYS BEEN AT THE TOP OF MY DESIGN BUCKET LIST.”
WHY DO YOU CHOOSE TO WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE CHILDREN’S BOOKS?
CREATING CHILDREN’S BOOKS has always been at the top of my design bucket list. Growing up, I loved that a book could transport me into another world. I remember trying to draw like Maurice Sendak and M. Sasek. Those guys were my (and many kids) first real exposure to what art was let alone design and illustration. If I can create that sense of adventure or inspire a future graphic designer or illustrator out there with one of my books, that would be pretty special.
IF YOU WERE A CHARACTER IN A CHILDREN’S BOOK WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
I CAN RELATE MOST TO PETER PAN. The reason is simple, I just love to wear tights! I’m kidding, I’m kidding. I can relate to that feeling Peter has of never wanting to grow up. I know I am technically an adult, working, paying taxes and pretending to enjoy DIY projects around the house, but deep down, I still feel like I’m just a big ol’ kid. Maybe, Peter had been following his passion fighting pirates and saving mermaids, not realizing he was actually growing up the whole time.
YOU DESIGN A LOT OF WORK FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRY. WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENTLY PLAYING ON REPEAT?
I HAVE MAJOR ADD when it comes to music. I feel like I need a new playlist ever day or so. I am really into old Jazz actually. I listen to a lot of it when first start the day. I really enjoy Sidney Bechet, Kansas City’s own Charlie Parker, Jelly Roll Morton, Django Reinhardt. Then I love to mix it up with some honkey tonk like Wanda jackson, Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Woodie Guthrie. Lately though, I have been listening a lot to Bahama’s new album, The Griswolds and Jungle’s self titled new album. I love the uptempo sounds of Lee Fields and the Expressions, Emma Jean, Dan Croll and Mac Demarco. Like I said, I am all over the place.
UNIQUE TO KANSAS CITY, WHAT IS ONE LOCAL RESTAURANT, STORE, OR SPACE YOU LOVE?
ONE OF THE BIGGEST PERKS of living in Kansas City is the food. From great restaurants like Port Fonda and Blue Stem to of course, all the BBQ. When it comes to BBQ, it starts and stops with Joe’s Kansas City (Oklahoma Joes)—the best pulled pork, fries and ribs ever created. I also really love the new BBQ place, Q39. Old classics such as Jack Stack, Gates and Wyandotte BBQ are also hard to beat in Kansas City.
Another gem in KC is the RiverMarket Flea Market. It is 4 floors of amazing treasures. If I am ever in a slump or just need to get out and walk that is the first place I go. Endless inspiration to be found.