Nashville graphic design guru creates the look and feel of the places that we call home
by Nancy Cason
Joel Anderson is a talented guy who not only makes things, he makes things happen, all while balancing his roles as artist and designer, entrepreneur and community advocate, husband and father of four. As head of Anderson Design Group—specialists in illustrative design, branding, and product development—Anderson has become his own best client with the production of a dozen lines of original fine-art posters, including the award-winning Spirit of Nashville series.
His graphic images of Music City legends and landmarks were originally designs for a limited-run promotional calendar, Anderson explained. “I wanted to show my clients in New York and L.A. that Nashville is a hip, creative place with a lot going on.” The images were so visually compelling, clients began ripping pages from their calendars and framing their favorites. As word spread and public demand grew, more iconic images were added.
Anderson and his team of gifted illustrators focused on communicating the intangible: the unique character of Music City that fosters a sense of belonging and a shared community spirit among locals and visitors alike. And while the posters became immediately collectible as art for the home and office, Deana Ivey of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation acknowledges their unexpected civic contribution. “Anderson Design Group has captured the heart of Nashville and showcased it on a national and international stage. The firm’s Spirit of Nashville designs promote our music brand, deep history, and iconic attractions with a vintage and unique twist.”
Is ADG the new Hatch? Not at all, Anderson says, although they do share an innovative approach to design and dedication to craft. Anderson insists that each design begins as a pencil sketch and ensures that the final product, although ultimately produced on the computer, retains a handmade look, with hand lettering or classic fonts and a color palette that appears aged and imperfect.
But it’s his vintage-style aesthetic, with imagery and themes reflective of early-to-mid-twentieth-century posters, that makes his designs instantly recognizable and universally appealing. Like good advertising, Anderson’s artwork communicates on an emotional level, evoking nostalgia for the past. The Belle Meade Theater, with classic film imagery from the ’40s and the signature theater marquee of the same period, brings to mind a time of innocence and excitement (“Fall in love at the movies!”). The Loveless Café recalls the thrill of a back-roads drive in Dad’s ’53 Buick to a favorite café for country ham and scratch-made biscuits. Anderson notes, “There is a hunger in our culture to get back to the basics, to hold onto those things that are timeless, authentic, and that bring us joy. Our artwork taps into these values, while communicating that this is something from another time.”
Anderson has also created destination posters that inspire wanderlust. The World Travel posters boast flat planes of bold color that draw our attention to exotic locales—the Taj Mahal and Venice at sunset—triggering memories of fabulous travels or adding new itineraries to our bucket list. Scenes of national parks and great American cities from The Art & Soul of America series capture the essence of familiar sites—glorious palm trees and mountains framing a concrete L.A. skyline, and the pastoral Great Smoky Mountains where a family of bears might just appear at any moment.
Anderson provides insight into the conceptual challenges of pinning down the distinguishing features that make a place immediately recognizable. “In designing the Bluebird Café poster, we worked through many options. For instance, we found that the physical building is uninspiring, and the idea of a person sitting on a stool playing a guitar could fit any number of music venues in Nashville. Finally, we captured the unique experience of dining and listening to music at the Bluebird with a musical bluebird character illuminated in a round spotlight, with a knife and fork on either side.”
While Anderson’s group continues to design for clients, poster sales now account for 70 percent of his business, and he’s recently expanded the reach of his artwork by licensing the four hundred plus designs in his digital catalogue for reproduction on a variety of gift items. Anderson gratefully gives back to the community that has given him so much. He is deeply involved in mentoring local graphic design students, keeps all his business local, and features the products of other Nashville “makers” in his Studio Store. He also donates 10 percent of the profits from Spirit of Nashville poster sales to several local organizations—folks that, in Anderson’s words, are “doing good and changing lives.”
For a complete look at ADG artwork, visit online at www.spiritofnashville.com or stop in at the ADG Studio Store at 116 29th Street North near Centennial Park.