Jeffrey Everett of El Jefe Design

Jeffrey EverettJeffrey Everett of El Jefe Design.

Ever since DC area’s Jeffrey Everett started his design firm, El Jefe Design (pronounced L-Heff-A), in May of 2003, he has been making waves with his creative well-designed products. You may have seen his concert posters in rotation on the homepage of the Black Cat website or on the walls of the club itself. He has created posters for Supersystem, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Low, be your own Pet (he designed this one for us), Lee Rocker, The Gossip, Wolf Parade and many more. You can see some of his posters on our Poster Blog, and even more on his own site. Or perhaps you may remember what he calls his “biggest thrill,” his design for the cover to the January 8th, 2006 NY Times Book Review.

El Jefe Design was created to be a punk rock company that wasn’t just about the music but would include art, politics, humor and everything he and his friends were in to. Everett relied on word of mouth and previous clients to keep him busy for the first few months. But, as taken from an Everett post on the design blog CRIT, “I wanted to grow, not just business-wise but portfolio-wise. I wanted to start attracting clients that I could relate to more and show off what I could do, be it music clubs, book and magazine publishers, huge multi-million dollar film houses, rock and rollers looking for merchandise, anyone really. I also wanted clients I liked and who would appreciate what I do, who would collaborate with me for a final incredible end product. In truth, I want that college-ideal client that designers whisper about in the dark of night when no one is looking. I know they exist, I have had a few before, but I wanted more, damn it, and I would hunt them down.”

El Jefe projects have ranged from annual reports, posters, logos, t-shirts, CD Packaging, invites, and advertisements and have worked with clients including The Black Cat, Girl Scouts of America, The Fred Rogers Center, Columbia University, Jetset Records, and even Dreamworks. Everett’s work has been published in STEP and CMYK magazines, his t-shirt company, Lorem Ipsum, was featured at the AIGA GAIN Conference 2004 and he was even nominated for Best Young, New Designer 2004/2005 in PRINT magazine.

Everett is one of only a few concert poster designers in the DC area. When asked how he made the jump into designing concert posters, he replied, “Firewater was doing a show in NYC where I was getting my MFA from The School of Visual Arts. I was taking a silk screening course so it seemed like a no brainer. They are one of the best live bands ever that not enough people know about. The band loved them and I actually made some money off it.” He also finds that, “doing concert posters a good way to take a break and have some fun with design. It makes me love design every week.”

Jeffrey Everett resides just outside Washington, DC in the town of Rockville, MD with his wife and 4 cats. “I love DC,” Everett replied when asked if DC has helped or hindered his advancement as a graphic designer. “I have always thought I was born in Worcester, MA but raised in DC. DC has a vibe and culture that I have yet to see duplicated anywhere I have lived. It is a progressive town with southern hospitality that changes cultures every two or four years.” His only problem with DC is not being able to make enough money doing what he does best. “Because of the nature of the DC scene, with everyone helping their friends, I found it very hard to make a living as a designer because no one can/wants to pay. Maybe it is because DC has never really had a scene like NY or Boston where people sell posters and people pay for cool music related design. I get a lot of, ‘why should I have to pay for it, you can put it in your portfolio?’ which annoys me to no end.”

When asked about future plans for El Jefe Design, Everett replied, “I hope it will stay around and be full time so I can keep doing cool work for great people.”


The full Interview >>

How did you get started in Graphic Design?

I realized at a young age that the artists I really liked were more like designers than “fine artists.” People like Edward Gorey really influenced me into being a designer with a fine arts background. I always loved the classic posters that Toulouse-Lautrec did, old jazz record covers my Dad had, and the multitude of cool book covers my mom showed me. I realized that it was art but also it was more about design, the use of illustration, type, material to convey a message about their client.

What is your education background?

I have a BFA in Design from American University in DC and a Master’s Degree in design from The School of Visual Arts in NYC.

What’s your feeling on college level design schools?

Where as I do not feel it is essential to get a degree (I have seen way too many good non-schooled designers to say that) I do think in today’s market it is good idea. The one thing I avoid is a school that teaches a style, be it the swiss style or whatever. I feel a school should show you a variety of ways to design, give you the technical skills to get a job, and focus on concept as the highest priority. Any school can teach you the power of a grid but if what you put in the grid means nothing, who cares?

I also think that designer should step away from the computer so that they can learn to trust themselves and play with their hands. I can really see a difference in designers who are hand trained instead of just on the computer. I am an adjunct professor at AU and I see a great crop of students there because the professors there place such an importance on these principles.

You have numerous design awards listed on your site, do you have one that you are most proud of?

It is always an honor and a privilege to get recognition for my hard work but as nice as it is to get an award, I have never gotten a new job because of it, never paid a bill with them. So I don’t really care to enter every contest that comes along. My goal is to make the client happy and if that works, great. My biggest thrill was doing the cover to the NY Times Book Review. I am more proud of that because I had non-design people emailing me about them tacking it up on their wall.

That being said, winning a Pinewood Derby when I was in Cub Scouts was pretty cool.

What’s a typical day for you like?

I get up early, feed my cats, clean the litter and then sit down to check emails for an hour until 8. I then work out, shower, eat breakfast, and get to work around 9. For the next 7 to 8 hours I listen to music, NPR, or interviews I find while cranking away at the work, be it; doing illustrations, layouts, concepting, talking to clients, emails, sketching, scaling tall walls and walking on fire. I occasionally stop to play with my cats, get the mail, and go to the bathroom, which happens frequently due to my excessive water drinking.

Being very paranoid I hate being away from my email too long because I never know when some emergency will pop up that will need to be taken care of. My wife calls me a work-a-holic but I blame it on my baptist work ethic which I am still coping with.

How many projects do you work on in a given week?

1 big, 2 small, 1 medium.

Why did you make the move into designing gig posters?

Firewater was doing a show in NYC where I was getting my MFA. I was taking a silk screening course so it seemed like a no brainer. They are one of the best live bands ever that not enough people know about. The band loved them and I actually made some money off it.

I find doing concert posters a good way to take a break and have some fun with design. It makes me love design every week.

What was the first gig poster you designed?

see above

Is there a difference in your creative process when you’re working on a gig poster vs. a corporate/association design?

Doing corp. work is a bit of a challenge only because you have to jump through X amount of hoops. I enjoy doing it because, if you have a good client, there are set standards and goals that must be reached so it makes designing easier. Usually there is a creative brief that sets out five or six things the client wants to see; be it a safe citizen, green environment, clean fuel, etc… So as long as my cover and design show all these principles and look good, than the client will be happy.

Plus you get paid more.

With a poster there are so many options and endless possibilities that get in the way. With no perimeters it often gets intimidating. It must look more cool than tie in 100%. I also get paid nothing for it. If I recoup cost I am lucky. However, designing poster gets my name out there and occasionally lets me feel like a rock star.

Is there anybody now whose design work you totally admire?

Art Chantry… always. Locally I like Xero Project. and though not really a designer, Steven Heller.

What’s the average time it takes you to design a gig poster?

Roughly 10 or so hours. If I really like a band I usually have an idea in my sketch book for awhile so it goes quicker. If I like a band but the new album just came out I’ll get the album and see if there are any new images in it.

For example, the new Low album just came out when I was doing the poster. Low has so many great lyrics and visions they create but they have a new album to promote so why not tie it in. So instead of doing the typical rainy clouds and dying birds, I did a tie in with the song “Monkey” and the lyric of turning the radio off. Simple but more memorable.

Do you have a favorite out of the posters you’ve done so far?

Um… the last one I did was my favorite. I am always looking forward and get excited about the next project, I don’t really think about the last ones. My wife loves the PGMG one the best.

What’s the process of working on gig posters?

1. Either be a fan and request/be asked to do a band poster for a club.
2. Listen to their CD multiple times and read the lyrics over and over.
3. Visit the band site and see what their image is, how they wish to be portrayed.
4. I usually do only three sketches. I don’t have time to do any more. Most times I get one cool idea and run with it.
5. Scan and tracing any hand sketches onto the computer. I hit the “design” button and it gets done.
6. I show the end product to my wife who gives a very good crit. Her not being a designer gives me an outside view of it.
7. I work with the wonderful “Grand Palace Silkscreening” to do my printing. http://www.printtennessee.com/
8. I get the posters back and send some to the venue to post.

Do you ever get feedback from the bands themselves?

All of them so far have liked them a bunch. Pretty Girls Make Graves loved my posters and were excited to get them for themselves. The bands realize that I am a fan of what they are doing and I am only trying to help the “scene” and them get bigger. Nobody buys one of my posters unless they already own all the CDs, shirts, beer cozies, etc… I have had non-band members make fun of me or accuse me of riding off the band. Whatever, at least I am doing something.

How do music and art interact in your life?

I listen to way too much music. It influences how I feel and react with people. Some would say design is not fine art but those people would be wrong.

Is there anything you can think of that design software companies need to invent or improve on to make your life easier?

No, I am doing pretty well right now. I am very low tech. My brother owns a better machine than I do but only uses a tenth of the capabilities. I have features on my machine I have no clue what they do or how to use them. I am very straightforward. I want my cell phone for calls, not games, a camera, or email. I want my computer to work easily and not be a hassle.

Has being in Washington, DC helped or hindered your advancement as a graphic designer?

I love DC. I have always thougt I was born in Worcester, MA but raised in DC. DC has a vibe and culture that I have yet to see duplicated anywhere I have lived. It is a progress town with southern hospitality that changes cultures every two or four years.

My only problem is not being able to make enough money doing what I do best. Because of the nature of the DC scene, with everyone helping their friends, I found it very hard to make a living as a designer because no one can/wants to pay. Maybe it is because DC has never really had a scene like NY or Boston where people sell posters and people pay for cool music related design. I get a lot of “why should I have to pay for it, you can put it in your portfolio?” You can only have so many portfolio pieces and no money. When I do get hired by very nice people, it is usually for more conservative pieces.

What’s your worst experience ever with a client?

I never have had an awful experience with a client outside of normal squabbles over small things. The biggest problems are when doing work for friends or family.

What are your design related pet peeves?

Script fonts and “grunge” fonts. I hate it when it is obvious that the “dirty” font someone used is just off the computer instead of actually photocopied and scanned. It just seems lazy.

What are your future plans for El Jefe?

Right now I am at a crossroad. I hope it will stay around and be full time so I can keep doing cool work for great people. I think the next few weeks we shall see.

Superman or Batman?

Batman, of course.

Team Anniston or Team Jolie?

Aniston I guess, only because I like Vince Vaughn.

Mac or PC? (Had to throw that in)

Mac. Period. End of Sentence. This question insults me.

Band I would like to do work with?

Henry Rollins and Girls Against Boys. I have been into them for close to 15 years and I would love to do a poster for them. It would almost be scary because I admire them so much.