Interview: Adam McCauley


Die wunderbaren Monster-Briefmarken von Adam McCauley hatte ich unlängst hier schon gefeatured, fand seine Arbeiten insgesamt dann aber doch zu interessant, um es bei einer einzigen Erwähnung zu belassen.

Hier also ein Interview, daß ich mit Adam per Email führte.

The Past

I eventually went to Parsons in NYC and much to my mother’s chagrin majored in illustration. She wanted me to be a fine artist!


Diskursdisko: Hi Adam. To start things off, what’s your background? When did you start doing illustrations?

Adam McCauley: Both my parents were/are fine artists and arts educators. Nancy, my mother, was an art history slide librarian (at Stanford) and an artist in the tradition of Judy Chicago. Gardiner McCauley, my father, is from the abstract expressionist group of artists that came out of the San Francisco Bay Area in the 50s, a painter, teacher and arts administrator.

They always encouraged us kids to draw and make art from day one. Although really talented, my sister Caitlin (born in Heidelberg btw!) was the rebel – she didn’t want to be an artist. My older brother Kevin was a young star in town (we lived in Columbia, Missouri in the 70s), he was an accomplished artist as a young boy and painted murals downtown and stuff. He was also a big Dungeons & Dragons guy, so he made Conan comics and paintings of wizards and Star Trek and historical figures…he was a nerd. The mayor lived on our block, so Kevin and I painted political signage and stuff for him. Kevin passed away at 19 from cancer, otherwise I’d wager he’d have gone on to be a big star.

I eventually went to Parsons in NYC and much to my mother’s chagrin majored in illustration. She wanted me to be a fine artist! She passed away before my career took off, she did worry about my future back then. But that’s what mothers do.

The Art

I used copy machines to make my promos, developed a style that would easily xerox well.


Diskursdisko: How do you mainly produce your art?

Adam McCauley: Analog. Sometimes, processed later digitally.

Diskursdisko: What inspires you?

Adam McCauley: Great writing. Visionary and/or easygoing art direction. Making light of the darker things, allowing the strange and ridiculous in the front door whenever possible. Avoiding trends, like antlers and ironic bunny rabbits. Making it personal.

Diskursdisko: Much of your artwork fuses a 50s vibe with modern, often quite geeky references – how did you develop this style?

Adam McCauley: I stumbled out of art school into the streets of NYC in the late 80s depths of Bush #1’s recession. Quite poor, bartended, waited tables. I actually sort of majored in collage in my last years at school, but collage wasn’t at all marketable at the time.

Back then you couldn’t buy cheap post cards for promos like now, and computers weren’t really in the mainstream at all. So, I used copy machines to make my promos, developed a style that would easily xerox well.

I learned that high contrast b/w would xerox the best of course, so the promos were made with india ink and zip-a-tone. I’d try and personalize them with some well-placed exacto-knife cut-aways.  I concentrated on NY Times and newspapers. It eventually worked.


I also worked part time as an assistant to illustrators, mostly Peter de Seve. I learned a lot from Peter, from basic practical stuff like stretching wc paper to business methods and protocol.

In time I got color work, but learned a lot from keeping it basic. After a few years I moved back to the Bay Area because my Mom was ill with cancer and I wanted to be around her to help out. I ended up getting a staff illustration job at the Oakland Tribune. There, I had to produce 4-color artwork using ruby and amberlith. More good hard-core education on keeping stuff basic. In time, the early computer programs arrived and I started using Freehand, so I was able to learn on the job there some basic computer skills.

As for the 50s vibe, not sure what to say. I’m drawn (no pun intended) to a lot of graphic work from the 40s,50s,60s. Maybe it’s my Dad’s influence, he’s sort of a beat generation guy, without all the drugs and irresponsibility.

Diskursdisko: When working for clients like magazines or companies, how do you keep up the balance between clients’ wishes and concepts and your own need to produce art? Do you feel there actually is any difference between “commercial” artwork and other art?

Adam McCauley: Yes, with commercial work one can easily become a monkey with a pencil, hands strung to some marketing department or editor. I do my best to please a client, and sometimes become a prima donna, but every situation is different. Ideally I only take on work where I know I can make a great image, but I’d be lying to tell you that I don’t make crap, especially when someone is over-directing me.


Diskursdisko: You’re also a musician, currently playing drums with Bermuda Triangle Service. Do you feel that your music and your visual art cross-pollinate? does one inform the other?

Adam McCauley: Absolutely. Literally, Bermuda Triangle Service’s music will be the soundtrack for an upcoming YouTube book trailer for “The Monsterologist”, whose endpaper “monster stamps” were recently featured on your blog.  I’ve also composed a Guaraldi-esque piano piece for another upcoming book trailer for “June and August”.

More abstractly, playing music for me has always been free of commerce. I’ve always looked at the record industry as ludicrous, and the idea of tailoring my music to please the pop music system is completely uninteresting. Not to pooh-pooh those who do that, it’s just not me. So, music is a place where I can have a lot of fun (especially playing drums!), and it gets me out of the lonely studio and into social, sharing space.

I’ve also recently been drumming with a kid’s music band, Me3, which is a whole other great experience. Little kids running around rocking out! We get to dress up in blue capes and I wear a chicken hat and it’s a good time for a crusty old illustrator.

The Web

Honestly, I’m trying to stay away from the computer more these days. It’s a time suck.


Diskursdisko: You’ve obviously got the website at, any other presences on the web you’d like to publicize? Social networking?

Adam McCauley: I haven’t really responsibly championed the blog thing yet. I occasionally put up a half-baked blog post at, but other than that I have work up on a few industry websites, my rep’s website, etc.

Diskursdisko: As you use the internet to showcase your art, are there any other websites you feel have influenced you, opened your mind or shown you new ways of creating art?

Adam McCauley: Not really. Honestly, I’m trying to stay away from the computer more these days. It’s a time suck. What’s opened my mind most is going out on the street and talking to people, laughing with friends, exercising. I get a lot of good ideas on the treadmill.

Diskursdisko: Of all the work you’ve created, or at least the ones showcased on your website, can you name a couple that you have a special love for or connection to?

13Adam McCauley: The upcoming book “The Monsterologist” came out awesomely I think, I’m quite proud of it and can’t wait to see it in my hands come September.

It’s not on my site yet because it’s not yet published, but those monster stamps have already garnered a lot of attention, won a gold medal at Society of Illustrators and stuff.

The book is meant to look like a scrapbook/sketchbook of a retired scientist who studied monsters. My wife Cynthia Wigginton did the incredible design work on it; it’s quite a production, die-cuts, gold foil, etc.

The creative director, Scott Piehl, is one of those amazing and rare directors who just trusts the artist’s vision and fight the battles with marketing and editorial to make sure it happens.It was inspired by my sketchbook work, which is my favorite way of working – just straight out drawing.

Scott, Cynthia and I are set now for an upcoming book about UFOs. That’s going to be fun!

I also love to paint abstractly. I’d make more of an effort to do it if I wasn’t so turned off by the fine art world. Who knows, maybe some day. I make little paintings that people love but no one buys!

The Future

Sometimes making a living as a creative is the best job in the world, and other times it’s so hard and scary and defeating feeling.

19Diskursdisko: Do you have any specific plans for the future direction of your artwork?

Adam McCauley: No. I suffer through periods of antipathy, boredom and laziness. Sometimes I wish I was just a gardener or something. Sometimes making a living as a creative is the best job in the world, and other times it’s so hard and scary and defeating feeling.

I definitely don’t have ambitions to put out lines of toy sculptures or becoming a merchandising tycoon like many illustrators seem to be wanting today.

And I definitely don’t want to make my illustration into “fine art”, painting it big with giant robots stomping around or whatever.

If anything, animation – specifically character design – seems of interest to me.  I was recently given a personal tour of Pixar and it was mind blowing. The talent within those walls is dumbfounding, and everyone there is so open and positive and energized. Inspiring.

But my idea of animation isn’t a 3-D alien or whatever. It’s more like a story where Dick Cheney gets wheel-chaired off to a big hole in the ground and dumped into the bowels of the underworld.

Diskursdisko: Adam, many thanks for the interview – is there anything you’d like to add?

Adam McCauley: Thanks Vincent. Feel free to chop out 90% of this babble! I’ve attached an old comic cover of my brother’s if it’s of any use…just give him a copyright!


Vincent Wilkie hat diesen tollen Beitrag verfasst. In seiner Freizeit ist er Musiker, Webdesigner und DJ.

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