Second Helpings: Lunch with Marshall Mckinney, Garden & Gun

Second Helpings: Lunch with Marshall Mckinney, Garden & Gun
By Ed Roberts

Thanks for coming back for second helpings with Garden & Gun art director Marshall Mckinney, the creative soul at the center of the new south. Pull up a chair, dig right in and enjoy!

Your typographic and photographic choices at G&G are incredibly clean and provocative. As an art director what do you look for in a photo, a photographer and a designer?
This may sound hokey; so I apologize. What I look for in a photograph is a quality of “being-ness.” I want the photography in G&G to feel authentic. A photo shoot is a moment. I want each moment captured to speak the truth and have genuine presence. So, I look for shooters who can capture those things—a profound moment that feels connected yet familiar and fresh—that’s what I crave. I resist the urge to jump on the “hot new shooter” train or whomever is “trending.”

I hate anything that feels fake or injects too much of the photographer’s “technique.” I want the viewer to have a visceral reaction to the photograph. I want to heighten their senses and have the viewer feel as though they could walk right into the moment. To achieve this I rely on a small stable of shooters (whom I know personally and trust) that can harness natural light. These shooters have my best interest at heart and they know I’ve got their backs. We’re committed and it comes through in the work.

I’ve never worked at a magazine that had a budget for an experienced art staff so I’ve always worked with very young designers. For me it’s been a great opportunity to help them develop. Working with young designers reminds me of all the mentors I’ve been lucky enough to have who impacted my career. I just hope I can pay it forward and try to do my best to instill in them an appreciation and respect for the craft I so love.

Is it important for designers to be adept at writing?
It’s important insomuch as they need to be able to express themselves clearly. Being a reader is just as important and to be a truly effective designer one needs to be a great listener. I believe there’s too much emphasis placed on young creatives in art school to sell their ideas to potentially … blah, blah, blah! Rarely [straight out of school] are they able to render those “big ideas” at a high taste-level.

Honestly, what you want is a designer [at any level] who will read the brief, read the copy and listen to their art director or client.

Look, when I was young I convinced myself it was all about acumen and not experience, but the hard truth is if you close the mouth and open the ears you’ll get to where you want to go in your work and career a helluva lot faster. I’m pretty sure my dad told me that in high school—I can’t remember, probably wasn’t listening.

That’s intriguing. What would you say to a young creative who’s preparing for graduation?
The journey is going to be hard and weird. It’s real work and you’ve got to be committed, tenacious, a great listener, reader and remember to breathe through the grind. Trust the process. It’ll make the journey toward a long-lasting career far more enjoyable.

Which designers do you look to for inspiration or simply admire?
Without hesitation Tom Brown—he’s my Mr. Miyagi, the indomitable Fred Woodward and John Korpics. I used to buy all their magazines and study them. Another hero of mine is Dr. Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni. I made it a point to become his T.A. at Ole Miss just so I could study with him. Husni’s love of magazines and Brown, Woodward and Korpics’ craft inspires me. I’m also inspired by several photographers, illustrators, artists, architecture, and most definitely travel and nature. I’m constantly amazed by when and where inspiration strikes. If you’re ever short on ideas or enthusiasm just go to a flea market. BOOM!

You choose to work in-house, specifically focused on publication design. Why?
Publication design is all I know. I like being surrounded by creative people in a magazine setting. We’re focused on one goal: attempting to achieve the perfect issue. It never really happens but you believe it can. The highs, the lows, the drama, the photographers, the illustrators, and the editors—it’s enlightening and I relish being in the middle of it all.

Are printed magazines dying a slow death? How is the publishing industry staying fresh in the age of social media?
Magazines are full of vetted, reliable information that state the facts and offer deep opinions. Social media generally presents cold, chaotic buzz that often suffers from a lack of accountability and reliability.

I think magazines will become retro like vinyl. Honestly, nothing sounds better than music spun on a turntable, warmed through a vacuum tube amplifier and spit out of big box speakers. Same thing with magazines, people will always clamor for them but not before turning their backs on them for a while.

That said, an iPad version of a magazine could leverage social media and offer a space for meaningful public debate at the end of an article or smack dab in the middle with a video and some crazy infographic that dazzles. Publishers must realize that printed magazines and versions created for iPads are two very different animals. In my mind you need two distinct staffs.

Personally, I don’t really get it. The most precious commodity we have is time. I can’t think of anything more luxurious than whiling away an hour or two with a printed magazine on the sofa, by the beach, by the pool, or on the back deck, with some North Mississippi delta blues on the stereo and three fingers of bourbon chilling on ice in a glass by my side—and yes, far, far away from a computer or anything resembling one.

If you could grab a bite with anyone in our industry who would it be and why?
I’d probably pick David Carr or Jann Wenner. David because his frankness and the way he sees the world tickles me and Jann because he’s sat next to so much history.

Marshall you are without a doubt the genuine article. Thank you.

Ed Roberts is Creative Lead at ElectriCities of NC, Inc. and manages a team of creative superheroes. Follow Ed (@InHouseObs) on Twitter for more inspiration and insight.