The following post introducing CWEnder Jef Ebers, above, has been languishing on the "shelf" for months while I've played with many different scenarios to give it all that it deserves. There's so much to share about this illustrator, designer, teacher, and author that it's been hard to know what to keep and what to leave on the cutting room floor. I hope you'll find Jef as interesting and inspirational as I do.
Jef, his wife, graphic designer Liz Sullivan, and son Truman, a student at St. Michael's School of Clayton (where Jef teaches), have lived in the CWE for four years. I first met Jef when he tagged along with Liz to retrieve a credit card that fell out of her coat pocket at Pi following a coffee there. That serendipitous meeting led to the following post.
Jef has been working as a designer since 1996; an illustrator for the last six years. He started as a sculpture major at SIU Carbondale, but the influence of his professors who had studied under renowned architect Buckminster Fuller (geodesic dome) led him to seek a degree in product design (industrial design). After graduation Jef landed a job in the graphics department at HOK, an architectural firm he knew nothing about until he looked it up in a local bookstore. Since then he's worked for a variety of firms including Kiku Obata & Co., Environmental Design Firm Cloud Gershan in Philadelphia, Werremeyer Floresca Inc in Webster Groves, and later commuted to Boulder, CO for eight years while working for Idie & Tim McGinty (McGinty Studio). He is especially proud of the environmental graphics he helped design while working for McGinty Studio on the stunning Clyfford Still Museum in Denver (see copy of CSM book in photograph).
Currently Jef works not only for himself, but freelances for local companies such as Ten8 Group, as well as firms based in California, New York and Colorado. Jef explained: "I love working with graphic designers taking their two-dimensional designs and turning them into 3-dimensional products."
The bookshelves in Jef's studio are filled with his father's toy collection, vintage cigar boxes, books and art supplies. Everything is meticulously organized - he says he cannot work unless everything is in its place. That sense of organization extends to his illustrations. When Jef senses his drawings are becoming "overworked," he pulls out books by his favorite illustrator, the late Richard Scarry.
In the photograph above he's reaching for another favorite book, The Monster at the End of the Book. When I asked what he found so inspirational he replied, "Because it teaches you how to interact with a book." A statement like this is another reason why I love doing these posts. I would have never thought of this in a million years, but now am anxious to find a copy of the book again (ours is long gone), and see what Jef is talking about.
Jef has several book ideas he's been mulling over, and hopes to finish one of them, The Moon and a Spoon (a work in progress shown on the wall above), by year's end. The photo also shows a book Jef has completed, The Things I Haul.
The artist keeps a collection of his grandfather's stubby pencils, above, not only because they remind Jef of him - his grandparents raised him - but they've become his favorites too. In his opinion pencils are at their best when they get down to the "stubby" end.
The illustrations of bicycles in the photo are samples of ones Jef gives to friends who contribute to his annual charity ride for MS. This year he was joined by Liz and Truman, who biked an impressive 40 miles each. Jef, who bikes everywhere, reached his 200-mile goal.
Meet "Mr. Dog" above, a paper sculpture of the family pet. I understand he isn't as threatening as he looks.
Last year Jef applied for a performing arts job at St. Michael's School of Clayton. He thought it would be fun to work where his son is a student. When asked if he had experience in the field he said no, but was willing to learn. Instead, the administration made up a job for him teaching kids to be problem solvers and to think outside the box. He teaches 5 to 12 students at a time lessons on graphics, typography, stop-motion animation, perspective, architecture and illustration.
When the kids sometimes balk at using a pencil and triangle - all you need to draw anything Jef says - instead of their ipads, he tells them his story of once sitting at a table with Bill DeWitt of the Cardinals organization sketching out an idea for what became the clock at Busch Stadium.... using the same simple tools. Many designers, he says, don't know how to draw, and he thinks it's important for the kids to learn both basic drawing skills along with digital art.
As the saying goes, pictures are worth a thousand words...in this case, how about grocery lists? While most of us scratch out a list on a scrap of paper, Jef draws his in tiny pictures (click on photo to enlarge). When checkers see Jef's list at the store, they frequently ask if they can keep it...and he's happy to oblige. He says his illustrated lists take no more time than writing them out.
Jef continued: "I like to do things the hard way...in fact, I'd probably make my own paint if I had time!"
If you have any questions about Jef's work, or could use his many talents on a project, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.