Anderson Design Group is a Nashville-based design firm that also runs a gallery store selling prints and other products based on their own artwork. CEO and founder Joel Anderson tells us how selling vintage art prints saved his company and why he’s interested in the emotion behind an image.
Music packaging design was our big start
After graduating from Ringling School of Art and Design, I was recruited by an ad agency in Nashville. After seven years there, a co-worker named David Thomas and I started Anderson Thomas Design in 1993. Nashville is a big music city so we started by focusing on music packaging and book covers for the city’s big publishing houses.
Universal Studios got us into products
We created artwork and licensed products featuring characters from Universal Studios’ movies like Jurassic Park 3, The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat. That’s how we first became interested in product development. In 2004 we created a calendar as a promotional gift for clients and friends. The following year we did a poster calendar showcasing Nashville, but people started asking to buy the individual posters. So we started the Spirit of Nashville collection.
Selling our own products helped us stay alive
By the time my partner David retired, the economy had become volatile. Designing CD packaging paid half as much, which suited freelancer designers working from home on a laptop with no overheads. We couldn’t compete with those rates. When I took sole control of the company and renamed us Anderson Design Group, we began to focus more on illustration design and product development. We still serve clients but posters became our area of growth.
We turned our building into a public gallery
We gutted the downstairs and created a studio store to display and sell our 500+ poster designs. Doing research for clients meant we had spent a lot of time in retail stores understanding how products sit on shelves and how shoppers browse. We were able to apply everything we’d absorbed into our own space, from colors and lighting to layouts and finishes.
The early 20th century is my sweet spot
I’ve always been interested in that advertising style from the golden age of posters. Illustrators like Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth, who told stories with their artwork, also influenced me as a kid. Fortunately other people love this style as well and want to decorate with it, whether it’s a modern loft or a traditional house that contains actual vintage stuff. We want our posters to look like they might actually be a great antique store find.
I’m like a conductor of virtuoso performers
I come up with the direction of a new piece then give the different design and illustration requirements to the right person on the team. One person may be really good at rendering people or someone else does architecture or animals well. They take it pretty far down the road but I’ll put the finishing touches on it. Every poster has my hands on it, which helps maintain an overall consistency.
Our business would not be possible without Hightail
As well as the designers and illustrators that are under our roof, we have a team of freelancers working outside the office. We’re constantly sharing photography, sketches, paintings and drawings with them and creating Photoshop files as large as 3GB. Hightail helps us deliver final high res poster file to the printers who produce the art. We also send files to licensees that use our artwork on their products.
You can sell great art a hundred different ways
I know a lot of musicians who were on the road performing all the time. About 10 years in, they’d get tired and want to settle down, so they become songwriters. They license their music and get mailbox money so songs written a decade ago continues to generate revenue. But when you’ve finished designing a logo for a client, you have to start all over again with the next client. Selling our own products and licensing our designs to other businesses gives us more ways to turn our art into gas for the tank and bread for the table.
Our work communicates on an emotional level
Whatever the image, we’re interested in the emotion behind it. This is why we’ve been so successful working with artisan clients. They’ve put their heart and soul into the product so we need to convey their passion, craftsmanship and attention to detail that allows small businesses to complete with global conglomerates. We always ask if we can carry their product in our store, as part of our Music City Makers Market section.
Nashville attracts all kinds of creative people
Strong music and publishing industries means that anyone in the visual arts – letterers, typographers and designers – can find work here. The economy in Nashville is now more robust and diverse. The food scene is exploding with a lot of top chefs coming to open restaurants and develop food products, which is another boon to illustrators, designers and agencies.