Feature Friday: Steve DeCusatis

I’ve always admired clean, simple design that is still visually stunning. So, I was thrilled to find the work of Steve DeCusatis as the recent PHILA MKT. I was doing my usual, wandering around the event not looking for anything in particular and that’s when I came across DeCusatis’ work. His work is so clean and delicate, it’s pushed by the vivid color choice, and whether it’s simple font work, logos, or more image based design, it’s all so beautiful. It’s really amazing how DeCusatis manipulates the colors and print techniques that are used in his work to add levels of depth and intricacy to what seem like relatively simple images.

Even though the event we met at was winding down, DeCusatis was nice enough to have a lengthy chat with me about his work, relationships with other local artists, and so much more. It was such an excellent conversation that I knew we had to push it a little more and bring it to the wonderful Plebeian audience. So we did, and DeCusatis gave an amazing interview that is a great peek into his work and style. Enjoy!

1. I always begin by asking about background, so what got you started in art? Any schooling? What swayed you towards design in particular?

I grew up in NEPA and always liked drawing although didn't do it a ton. I feel like the combination of being inspired by my interests such as music, skateboarding, snowboarding, and BMX combined with the work ethic of the Hazleton area really helped drive my career. In high school I used to screen print custom t-shirt to see at Phish shows. Later, I went to community college for a year and really was sold on graphic design as a profession but I knew I needed to move to a larger city. I then transferred to Tyler School of Art in the Philly area to focus for four years on school to really try to "make it" as a designer. I worked really hard until I became good enough to compare to my fellow classmates and compete as a designer entering the "real world". I then worked at a variety of studios and agencies before starting my own company in 2011. I specialize in identity design and branding work.

2. You've got a very clean, simple, and bold design style, What is your process like? Does it begin with sketching and then it's refined digitally? Are you all digital? Or does it vary piece to piece?

Stylistically I do tend to go more simple and clean but first I try to get to the roots of a concept or subject. I research and sketch a lot (small, rough thumbnails) until I hit on some strong ideas, and then typically refine the designs in Illustrator. I do a mix of custom typography and hand-drawn lettering and create lots of logos professionally. I also do create t-shirt designs and limited screen prints.

3. How does working with a client alter your design process? Do you make it clear that your style is going to be evident in their design or is that something that they know when they come to you?

I think I have a fairly fluid style allowing me to work in a variety of styles, although I know I have my preferences and strengths. This adaptability allows me to design for my client (in a variety of industries) and for their audience. This is very important to me and for being a successful designer. Sometimes clients see a project or two of mine and like a certain aesthetic which could help drive a particular style.

4. You've made designs for a laundry list of products (prints, shirts, mugs, pins, etc.), does the design process change when you're making something that you know is going to be, say, a shirt? Or are you trying to make something that will sort of universally fit whatever it's put on?

It's good to be aware of how and where a design will live in the world. I ask clients how a design will be used (print, online, apparel, signage, etc.) and definitely keep that in mind for production purposes. If it's something like a t-shirt, metal signage, something that will be letterpresses or embroidered, I'm very aware as I'm designing that I need to keep certain methods in mind... Keeping some colors a little more limited for things like screen separations, or break certain lines/images in specific ways for something like a neon sign or a stencil, let's say. Some of these factors I'm considering as I'm designing the artwork will absolutely effect pricing (how many colors, set up fees, size, etc.), timing, and even whether something can or can't be produced. Lots to keep in mind and having nearly twenty years of experience helps here.

5. We had an interesting conversation about your relationship with printers, you made it clear that this relationship is important to your work. Do you find that your design process becomes more of collaboration when working with a printer or how certain things are going to be displayed? Or do you lay out clear cut instructions? Does this change or vary depending on the printer or how often you work with them?

I really like designing for print or anything tangible that will be produced. I love working with different printers depending on a specific project. It's more of a clear path rather than a collaboration although I do find it to be somewhat of a collaboration. You may get some surprises of how a color may lay down or how something looks on the actual paper, etc. You have to be OK that it might look a little different than initially imagined. Many factors go into sourcing the right printer for each job - cost, timing, capabilities, personality, materials, etc. Every project shown here was done with/by a different printer.

6. Going further into print, you work with a variety of different paper stocks, printing methods, etc. How have you developed your work in print to be so visually interesting beyond just the image (i.e. ink that shines or embossed prints)? Is this a product of the potential collaborative experience that I alluded to in the previous question?

The more the world goes digital, the more important it is to make print work unique. It needs to feel special when you see it or hold it in your hands. This is something that was instilled in me even in my first design experience at SK Designworks. Paper and printing were just as important as typography choices and color palettes. I always try to recommend, if budget and time allows, using unique papers and some sort of print technique. Some common techniques I utilize from printers include foil stamping, varnishes, embossing/debossing, die-cuts, letterpress, silkscreening w/ metallic inks while some more uncommon production methods could include things like sign painting, and neon bending.

7. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows or events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share and wherever people can find your work, fire away!

My site is https://www.stevedecusatis.com and I use Instagram often as well: https://www.instagram.com/stevedecusatis/. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn, and Dribble. Every fall, along with fellow creatives Josh Carter and Mario Zucca, we run an event called PhilaMRKT (instagram.com/philamrkt) which is a pop-up artist market held on Small Business Saturday. The three of us collaborate on the branding and promo every year.