Life & BusinessQ&A

Q&A: Good Company Art Director George McCalman

by Kelli Kehler

There’s a nimble team working behind Good Company magazine, a small handful of us who put together the biannual print magazine celebrating the intersection of creativity and business. Under Grace‘s direction, we aim to tell stories of underrepresented points of view, and the person bringing the vision and spirit of those stories to life is our Art Director, George McCalman.

George is brimming with a skill set in his artistic journey that makes him a Jack of all trades in design, and his varied projects — including a monthly illustrated column with the San Francisco Chronicle — season his work at McCalman Co. and make his eye for unique and smart design sharper by the day.

Today we’re thrilled to have George sharing a glimpse into his process for designing and art directing Good Company, as well as his creative path and how it’s influenced his work over the years. And I’ve already picked up a new favorite tip from my fellow collaborator: “Try: all of it.” —Kelli

Photography by Alora King Villa LeMalu

Image above: “The wall of my studio is a mood board of past, present and future projects. It keeps me motivated to outdo what I’ve done before and reminds me of what still is yet to be finished.”

It’s been a revelation to me to be able to put into practice the desire to see these communities represent their own stories.

Tell us about your work and what you do - what does a typical work week look like for you?

I’m a creative director and artist based in San Francisco. My typical day is typically atypical. None of them resemble the other. I work from one end of the creative spectrum to the other. I’m a former magazine creative director who opened my own branding studio (McCalmanCo) eight years ago. I took a sabbatical three years ago and started obsessively drawing and painting, then decided I wanted to keep doing all of the above. It’s culminated in a varied and rich (and sometimes frenetic) week of overlapping projects and deadlines.  Everything from magazine art direction to graphic design to branding strategy, to handmade illustrations to fine art paintings.

Image above: George shares, “An array of works in progress, including the (not final) cover of Good Company Issue 3, and a cover for a catalog for Gabriela Hasbun, who photographed a story for issue #2.”

Was there a moment or experience in your childhood that informed your creativity or inspired what you do now?

Try: all of it. I was born and raised on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean in the 1970s. The setting, the culture and the people have influenced everything I do. I’m inspired by bold colors, graphic solutions and political dialogue. (Bold, graphic and political. That describes me pretty well).

Image above: “As long as I’ve been designing, I never get tired of holding the magazine once it’s printed. I feel like I have a new child out in the world. (Is that weird?)”

Walk us through your process as Art Director at Good Company - how do you go from design concept to assigning illustrators, photographers, etc.?

I came on for Issue 2, and I had the green light to think openly about how to redesign the issue from Grace Bonney (Good Company’s founder). We had many conversations about her philosophy about the magazine, about its celebration of self-identifying women, people of color, queer and non binary communities. That felt revolutionary to me. I wanted to provide some structure to the issue, have the type choices being slightly restrained and design a new logo with personality.

But I also wanted to provide a foundation for the portraits and the stories to stand out. I wanted the subjects to feel like the most important part of the magazine. I have to credit Grace for being open to my ideas and process. The process of the magazine really opened up for me in assigning the writing, photography and art to the same community. I come from a conservative publishing industry that found bullshit reasons to exclude women and communities of color, both as subjects and as creative collaborators. It’s one of the reasons I left the industry. It’s been a revelation to me to be able to put into practice the desire to see these communities represent their own stories. That’s how I felt about it then, and now.

Image above: “One of [my] favorite parts of Good Company is that it shows creative people making mistakes and sharing what they’ve learned. That’s really important information when you’re trying to figure out your value in the world.”

Is there a certain place where you feel most inspired to do your work? Where?

I have two studios: a graphic design space for digital work, and painting studio for analog work. But I also work on-the-go in cafes, my dining room, and any space that has Wi-Fi and natural light. I’m always working in some capacity, and I’ve adapted to being in various locations as I’m producing work.

Image above: “The production process that falls in between when the layouts are designed and the files go to the printer is detailed and not for the faint of heart.”

What is the most memorable project you've worked on to date?

I’m grateful and fortunate to have an interesting range of projects and clients. It sounds lame, I know, but I really do enjoy all of it. I’ve worked hard to define this path for myself. This magazine project (one of two publications that my studio is currently designing on a biannual basis) has brought an immediacy to my desire to have relevant and cultural work in the world. I’m grateful that Grace asked me to join this publication. I also have a monthly illustrated column called “Observed” for the San Francisco Chronicle that I’m pretty proud of. But all of that said: a project that will be overtaking my life this year: my first book, an illustrated guide to 400 years of black history, titled Illustrated Black History (to be released in Aug 2020). I cannot tell you how excited I am about this.

Image above: “I’m drawn to bold colors and I dress often the way my works looks.”

What have both successes and failures along the way taught you about creativity in both work and life?

The failures have taught me more. They’ve helped me appreciate the incremental successes. The next issue of Good Company covers the theme of “Money” and it’s one of those taboos that creative folks don’t talk openly enough about. I made a good living before I took my sabbatical and once I did, my financial life changed drastically. I struggled financially, and it took a lot of internal work to make sure that my motivation and my belief in myself wasn’t diminished by not making the money that I was used to. It was, and has been, a real education. Talking openly about it with my community was pivotal to me having a healthy frame of mind while I moved through that process. I have a better relationship with money, and its role as a motivator, for that experience. I make better choices, and have learned what money is, and isn’t, good for.

Image above: “A story on author Blair Imani for Issue 2 of Good Company.”

How do you want a reader to feel when they open up Good Company magazine?

I want them to feel like they’re reading about interesting and admirable people. Folks who have struggled and triumphed and learned from circumstances out of their control and their own mistakes, and are now sharing what they learned. That those people are representative of communities that are overlooked by the mainstream is pretty powerful. And it looks beautiful. Even if you don’t care about what I just said, the magazine looks gorgeous. There, I said it!

Image above: “A portrait of me and my design associate Ali Cameron. She was one of my former students who interned for me in 2016 and became invaluable to my studio practice. She’s amazing. I would not able to do all of the things I do without her help and design support.”

With Good Company, you have the ability to assign work to creatives from all types of backgrounds - how rewarding has that been for you? What feedback have you received from this work?

It’s been one of the best parts of this experience! Getting to call on artists and writers, who happen to be of color, and invite them to be collaborators in this larger journal of badass humans, who also happen to be of color, or women, or non binary, or trans… how amazing is that? I just love it. I feel like a shepherd who is fortunate to walk this publication out to the world. I hope that’s not obnoxious, but that’s how I feel. It feels good.

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  • Love this! George is so talented and I love his perspective. “It’s culminated in a varied and rich (and sometimes frenetic) week of overlapping projects and deadlines” really stuck out to me as I’ve been trying to balance the business side of my work with the artistic personal work I want to create and feeling like I need to choose one or the other. Feeling renewed with George’s ability to add instead of subtract and find a way to make it work! Loved getting a peek behind the scenes of Good Company.