When did you first think about art as something you wanted to do? Were you encouraged or discouraged by family, friends, teachers, mentors?
My biological family played only minor roles in my development as a designer, though I do credit my Dad, who was a builder, for giving me a foundation for taking risks. It’s not common that a 24 year old would start a business three months after graduating college. That tenacity and drive can all be traced back to my father.
I met my business partner when I was 19 years old, a sophomore at Western Washington University. He was an early and important influence. At that time, I was studying to be a high school art teacher. I didn’t really have a clue what graphic design was about, and Mike introduced me to the field. He was, and continues to be, my biggest cheerleader.
And like many others, I surround myself with creative people I respect. My husband is a musician and a video producer, and he’s also a very good graphic designer. My best friend lives next door to me and she’s also a talented musician. I enjoy being around them, and trust their opinions on my work.
What kind of kid were you? Where did you grow up? What were your influences?
My family is originally from Southern California, but I moved to Washington state when I was a child. My biggest influence growing up was Dr. Seuss and P.D. Eastman. My favorite book was Go Dog Go. I would sneak off with a copy and read in private because I thought a 12 year old was too old to be reading a kids book.
As a child, I was an introvert. One of my favorite memories growing up involved the celebration of May Day. On May 1st I would pick flowers, ring the neighbor’s doorbell, leave a bouquet, then run away and hide.
Your style is very unique. Did you work on developing a style or is that what naturally came out of you?
My work came together very organically and quite naturally. Of course, when you start you have so many influences and “heroes” in your mind that you would like to emulate. That can create a lot of confusion. It can take a little time to finally focus and embrace who you really are. In my case, it actually happened quite early in the game. But you never stop developing your skills and expanding your visual vocabulary … that’s what keeps you interested, focused, and open to discovering new ways to express yourself.
What markets does your work appear in? Newspapers, magazines, galleries? How did that come about?
My income generating work tends to be packaging, branding and illustration. In the past couple of years I have done work for the New York Times, Hillary Clinton, Shout! (packaging for blu-ray videos) and the Seattle based retailer Nordstrom.
I also create posters for various arts organizations. Since museums and galleries tend to collect posters, many people see me as a poster designer.
How has the advent of the computer affected your work? Do you work traditionally and digitally? Which do you prefer and why?
I still start the design process with pen and paper. Of course everything I do ends up as a digital file.
I’m fascinated by why you only create posters and no other artwork? It appears as if posters are fine art to you. Is that your market or do you do commercial work as well (magazines, ads, magazines, etc)?
It’s true that I do create and love posters, but currently I’m doing branding work for a small Seattle hair salon and a rebrand for an area local real estate company. That work tends to be less visible, and mostly that’s my fault as I’m terrible about updating the Modern Dog website.
I can’t imagine my career without a Mac and software, but
Many people see me as a poster designer. And it’s one of the reasons I created a separate website promoting that work. Posters are often collected by museums so it tends to be the most visible.
How did you get into working with galleries? Was that always your intent?
Most traditional print graphic design is instant garbage. The only work that transcends the garbage pile or recycle bin is work that is collected. Posters are one of the only items that are collected and displayed in galleries. I don’t think that was an intent, but I certainly have benefited from it.
Does teaching and holding workshops give you a certain tone to your work? Does it keep you fresh?
I really love mentorship. I think teaching has made me more patient with others, as well as more introspective of my work. I get as much from my students as I give to them.
What does your process entail? Start to finish. Can you give us a short step-by-step?
I always start with asking questions, listening to my client and doing separate research.
If I need to work fast, as in the case of doing editorial work, I get as much info from my client as possible. One of my favorite quotes, and I think this is from Mirko Ilic, is that design is 90% thinking and 10% doing. I really need to talk out my ideas, and I will do that with anyone within earshot. More often than not, these days that responsibility falls on my husband.
After I have a clear idea, I start sketching. I usually try several approaches before I show my client. Then I like to give them at least 2 or 3 options, and more if I am working on a logo or identity,
What do you do to promote yourself and get more work?
I used to do self promotion, but embarrassingly I don’t do
"The only work that transcends the garbage pile or recycle bin is work that is collected. Posters are one of the only items that are collected and displayed in galleries."
(continued) anything beyond interviews like this one with you. I am the laziest designer on the the planet in that regard. I just try and keep my Instagram current - but even that is a mix of puppy and flower photos, and pics of my travels with my husband.
After producing work for several decades, I’m lucky that people just know my work.
What’s the future hold for Robynne? Any ultimate goal?
Some day I would like to study in France and become a perfumer. I have a fascination with scent, and have amassed a small collection. Mostly niche and hard to find scents, though I don’t discriminate and have $15 bottles sitting next to $400 bottles. I would design the branding and packaging, and live happily thereafter..or something like that.
Here are some facts about Robynne...
Co-founder, Modern Dog Design Co. Affiliate Faculty, Department of Design, Cornish College of the Arts Adjunct Instructor, Seattle Creative Academy
Robynne co-founded Seattle based Modern Dog Design Co in 1987, an internationally acclaimed design and illustration studio. Her posters have been exhibited internationally, are in the archives of major libraries, and are collected by museums worldwide. Robynne has lectured extensively about design and design issues, as well as led workshops around the world. She is the coauthor of "Modern Dog, 20 Years of Poster Art" and "Inside the World of Board Graphics: Skate, Surf, Snow" and author of "1000 Dog Portraits."