Dave Swartz met Alex Bogusky—and Alex’s father Bill—when Swartz was 12 years old. Bill was his first mentor and gave him a summer job at age 17. Now 49, Swartz has worked on and off at Crispin Porter + Bogusky since 1990 and is being promoted to be the agency’s director of art and design. The role is an expanded version of the director of design position vacated in March by John Kieselhorst, who left CP+B with two other alums to form agency Made Movement—a new Boulder, Colo.-based agency that, incidentally, announced today that the younger Bogusky will join as a partner and “creative adviser.” Adweek caught up with Swartz to talk about his new role, his affinity for an old-school approach to art-direction and his several stints escaping the advertising industry to study sculpture in Italy.
Adweek: What were you doing before the promotion?
I was creative director on Applebee's recently and transitioning now into the role, so I'm still on Windows Phone.
What's the new role?
There was a design director here. That person left, and when I started talking to [CEO] Andrew [Keller] and Rob [Reilly] about it, it seemed like a good fit. I'd been on the designing side of advertising, and it felt like that's where I could really help the agency. So I will preside over the traditional design stuff, but I'll get into the ad side and work with art directors on their normal day-to-day designing needs…
What's that comprise?
[Overseeing] the stuff that we seem to push over to designers, like logos and websites and apps and things like that. At the same time I'll work a lot with the art directors on what they're doing day to day. So if they need help setting a look for their film or working on their end cards…
What's this about working on sketch pads?
Coming from the fine art world I tend to sketch a whole lot. I work in sketchbooks a lot, and I try to work things out before I hit the computer because I have some theories on how limiting that is.
I've used [sketching] through the years to help me visualize things. I still use the computer obviously, but I stress the importance of that beginning phase so what I want to do is work with these art directors on any assignment…and coming at it from a little bit more of a tactile approach first. I want to get back to the roots. Whether they're up to it remains to be seen. I'm excited…In the end I'll be doing a lot of it with them. A lot of sketching, a lot of thumbnails…
It literally probably used to be the size of a thumbnail. It's just a little sketch that you'd use back in the day that'd be proportionate to an ad size or a poster. You draw a little square and indicate where you're picture or copy would be. It's how you'd do layouts in the old days.
Clients these days want to see stuff comped out though, no?
Yeah and we comp on a level that's crazy, like everyone. Today, art directors have to have a lot of skills, and I can of understand why that old-school craft went away in the schools…They had to change their curriculums and didn't focus on that side of it, and they focused on the connecting of all these different [digital] mediums…[But] what makes a great art director is if he has a very strong design background.
[Drawing] helps your vision. You can see things easier. When you start to draw, you're able to visualize things in your head. Sometimes with the time lines we have we don't give the ideas their...due diligence by exploring on the front end...by sketching it [and] figuring it out visually.
What about sculpting?
I never really imagined how it would help me long term but it did. I tried to get out of advertising and just wanted to be a fine artist. So I left when was 31, sold everything and quit my job. I went to Italy and immersed myself in this town that had a rich history back to the days of Michelangelo, and got a little space in a studio...[None of the artisans] talked to me for the first eight months. These guys had been carving since they were 4. They had these hands massive hands, carving this marble out of the mountains. After eight months they decided, "You're a hard worker; we'll talk to you now." I didn't know I was getting put through it. I was just like, “Wow, they don't like Americans.”…I met my wife in that town.
When was the last time you were there?
Five years ago.
Going to go back?
Yeah, for sure. I hope to die there, I think.