Doug DaSilva is exactly the type of person I had in mind when I started this interview series -- a deep ocean of creativity once the ice is broken and the surface scratched. We worked together for seven years, and in that time, I had no idea he's such a creative polymath! I should have asked long before now. - CC What did creativity look like for you in childhood?
My earliest inspiration was the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Schulz. In the 3rd grade, we had an “art” contest, and I drew a poster of Charlie Brown and Snoopy for a school event, with some words surrounding the images. (Voiceover of documentary filmmaker: “Here we see Doug’s first attempt at combining imagery with typography…”) I ended up winning an award for the drawing, and also won a penmanship ribbon. I collected all the Peanuts books, reading them at night, marking my favorite cartoons. Beyond the signature minimalist drawings, looking back, I think I was subconsciously pulled in by the sarcastic wit and insightful banter between the characters. I couldn’t recognize it at the time for what it was, but there was a wisdom behind the simple dialogue. The Peanuts strip typically had 3-4 squares, and there would often be one square without a dialogue bubble, a pregnant pause, for the reader to think about what was happening. I loved that. Schulz trusted that kids would get it. Of course, a main theme was also the unrequited love between Charlie Brown and Lucy. Who can’t relate to that?
Schulz really did make the most of dialogue. I didn't realize this until Doug pointed it out, but I rely heavily on points of ellipses to create drama and rhythm in my daily writing, via text, Slack, email...you name it. I'm quite certain I picked that up from Peanuts. - CC
The real moment for me was my first trip to Yosemite. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. My sisters and I were friends with kids in another family that we attended grade school with. They had 5 kids of their own, and they would take us each summer for several years to Yosemite (8 kids and 2 adults piled into a big station wagon). It kind of had a National Lampoon Vacation vibe to it. It seemed like it took us 10 hours to get there from San Francisco, with lots of pit stops, but what an adventure. I remember getting out of the car the first time in the Valley, looking up in absolute amazement at Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls. The silence, only the sound of the Merced River rushing by. Nature providing its own potpourri with the summer heat warming the pinecones and pine needles layered on the Valley floor.
Homage Doug DaSilva, 2019
The gift shops were filled with those touristy, saturated color postcards with the picturesque views of the Valley. But the first time I walked into the Ansel Adams Gallery, that’s where the fire was lit, where my love for photography was ignited. Those black and white photographs of the Valley, compared to the kitschy color postcards, were a portal for creative possibility that I couldn’t imagine. Each time I returned to Yosemite, I would buy some postcards with Ansel’s iconic scenes, and pin them up on the wall for inspiration.
Uprising Doug DaSilva, Yosemite, 2017
How did your relationship with creativity change as you became an adult? How has that relationship changed in the last twenty years?
When I began studying photography in earnest, I shot a bunch of black & white 35mm film with my first camera, a Minolta, trying to recreate those famous Ansel Adams images. After I bought my first car, I drove to Yosemite every chance I could during the spring and summer, camera in tow. I’d park my car off the side of the road and just wander into the meadows and woods. I ended up taking a few summer extension courses at UC Berkeley, and studied with John Sexton and the brilliant Ray McSavaney. At that time, Sexton was working as Ansel Adams’s darkroom assistant. (If you look at his body of work, it is unquestionably influenced by Adams.) I was excited to learn about the technical side of Adams’s photographs, how his images REALLY came to life in the darkroom. That’s where the magic happened. The Zone System. Jerry Uelsmann was another major inspiration and influence. His photo montages were incredible. At that time, photo manipulation was all done in the darkroom, pre-digital photography, no Photoshop!
After the Storm Doug DaSilva, New Mexico, 2019
Designer and illustrator, Paula Scher, said: “It took a few seconds to draw it, but it took 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.” (So true. I remember the moment I came to that awareness for myself. I was awash in client work, and realized I had to become more efficient. Over the course of a few months, I made a concerted effort to conquer my production challenges, and I managed to get the average time for a job down from 20 hours to 4. It's served me very well in my corporate creative life. - CC) At some point, I realized that, whether you’re a photographer, illustrator, dancer, writer, musician, etc., the importance of building the technical/production foundation that allows for creativity will reveal itself eventually, like it or not. I just wanted to take photographs all day, every day. Why weren’t my photos coming out the way I saw them in my mind’s eye and through the viewfinder? I needed to learn more about the different types of film, shutter speed, F-stops, the paper I was exposing on. Hours and hours, developing film in my apartment kitchen, exposing prints in the darkroom, dodging and burning. I can still smell the fixer. On the flip side, one day I had a breakthrough: when I looked through the viewfinder, saw an amazing visual, and DIDN’T take the photo because I knew I wouldn’t be able to recreate what I was seeing. I just let it go. That was huge for me. (Another great point. I came to this conclusion for myself fairly recently. I realized there are some visual experiences that can only be fully appreciated in the moment, or represented via expressionistic work, like painting. I've started to let some moments go uncaptured, and in doing so, appreciating them even more for their specialness and ephemerality. - CC)
One day my beloved Canon A-1, with all my lenses and filters, was stolen from my office downtown where I was working as a print production manager. Since I already had a keen interest in graphic design as a creative expression (did I mention the Charlie Brown poster?), I shifted toward that medium and was fortunate to begin learning from, and was influenced by, some very talented designers: Annemarie Clark, Linda McKenzie, Thurlow Washam. San Francisco had a vibrant graphic design scene then, mid 90s. The Michaels (Schwab, Cronan, Osborne) Craig Frazier, Jennifer Morla, among others. I eventually joined Annemarie at the Clark Creative Group, where we worked together for over 15 years, collaborating with so many other creatives… designers, illustrators, and printers who all expanded my view about what was possible, creatively. We did some great work together. Of course, photography has continued to be a constant through the years.
Growing up in San Francisco, a city known for its creative output, were you influenced by the different creative cultures to which The City has been home? If so, how?
Umm... YES! So, let me just say that I’ve always been grateful that I was born in San Francisco, CA. It wasn’t Kansas. (Sorry, if anyone from Kansas is reading this.) (Kansas has a bleak beauty all its own. Plus...barbeque. Toto. The state fair in Omaha. Oh, wait...that's Nebraska. - CC) I grew up in the City at a time when there was so much going on, not just creatively, but culturally, politically, socially, all of it. If you look back at pivotal times in our country’s consciousness in all those areas, San Francisco in the late 60s, as well as the 70s and 80s, was ground zero. If I were to summarize it, from my vantage point, and looking back, EVERYTHING was a creative influence. The music scene was unrivaled. Every week a Who’s Who of rock, punk or jazz royalty was playing at any number of venues throughout the City. The surroundings: Ocean Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge. The Haight. North Beach. The Castro. Sunnyside, where I grew up, a hidden gem. Berkeley. Marin Headlands. The Redwoods. A little further out, Big Sur. Monterey. Yosemite. For someone just starting out in photography, it was a candy store of creative possibilities. (It must have been fantastic. I think of it as a hazy, romantic, wonderland of active talent. How grand to have been there! - CC)
The Conversation Doug DaSilva, San Francisco, 1979
“I used to be different, now I’m the same.” Like any big city, San Francisco today has its share of problems, it will never be what it was. But it’s still beautiful looking at it with fresh eyes. (Give this Instagram a follow: @sanfranciscoist).
Positively 4th Street Doug DaSilva, San Francisco, 1979
In your professional career, what opportunities for creative thought do you see in your daily work?
Talking to people. Finding out what they’re up to outside of their jobs. You and I worked together at RH for about 7 years, and although we didn’t collaborate closely very often, our teams crossed paths. We were tethered, working to produce creative content in a crazy environment. I count you as one of the many incredibly talented individuals that were lurking around there. (Thank you! I concur. I regularly marvel at how much creative talent RH manages to attract. That was the first job at which I felt at home with the people around me. - CC) Artists, writers, musicians, creative beings. A lot of you were sequestered in that dark room where the retouchers worked their magic. You wouldn’t necessarily know unless you struck up a conversation with someone that revealed something about them. Some creative endeavors, like photography, painting, writing, are individual expressions. You are by yourself, in your own world, for the most part. But collaborating and talking about shared interests with others always spurs that opportunity for creative thought. (Precisely. That's exactly why I started this series. I have a thesis that the people in our daily lives are more creative, and more creatively active, than they are given credit for being. As a society, we spend so much time and energy talking about our jobs, about politics, about subjects that tend toward negativity and fear. We don't talk about our creative selves enough. What might change if we started seeing each other as creative beings? - CC)
I moved to Atlanta in early 2019. I love history, there’s a lot of it in my family, really fascinating history. Like your own. Our townhouse is situated in a historical area where several Civil War skirmishes took place near the Chattahoochee River. When I’m in my office at home, I can look out the window across the street, less than 100 feet away, to a wooded area where Confederate soldiers had dug a trench to defend their position. The trench was eventually abandoned as the Union Army advanced. Around the corner, near the mailboxes, is another small, wooded area where Union soldiers built two earthen forts. They just look like mounds of dirt to my untrained eye, but there are documents. (The developers who built the homes here were required to leave those areas untouched.) This area is steeped in Civil War history. Coming from the West Coast, it’s new to me. When I’m sitting at my desk and I need a break from “work”, from time to time I look out the window and imagine what was happening in that spot 160 years ago. That sort of imagining often spurs my creative thoughts. It’s kind of a weird answer your question, but it’s true for me. Aside from that, I love the artwork hanging on the walls in my office, and books, so I just need to remind myself to get up, look around and get inspired! (I don't find that a weird answer at all! I'm an ardent student of history, and regularly take much inspiration from it. That kind of palpable history is even more inspiring; when you can place yourself in some physical situation that was purpose-built for protection, for defense, for camouflage, for subterfuge -- it can be a profound experience to connect with the humanity and emotion that was responsible for that place existing. Highly recommend. It's sobering. - CC)
Office window, Civil War view
What about impediments to creative thought?
Not getting enough sleep. (Truth! I learned this the hard way. I don't think I slept that entire seven years we were at Resto! - CC)
I love your photography on Rust & Glory. I, too, have long been fascinated by, and attracted to, the 'perfection' of products from bygone eras which is now elevated further by the patina of age and decay. What inspired you to start this series? How long have you been shooting into it? Of all the photographs in the series, what's your favorite, and why?
I’ve always loved the old classic cars, and old rusty things in general, as a subject for photography. Whenever I’d be driving around the City with my camera, if I spotted an old classic, I’d stop and take some photos. There’s an old car junkyard about an hour north of Atlanta where I’ve been photographing for a couple of years. As you described, the patina and decay, along with the colors, lighting, and shadows, draw me in. The beauty is truly in the details. I love the thought of Mother Nature taking over and adding her touches. Equally fascinating is imagining that car rolling off the assembly line, shiny and new. What’s the story behind it? Who owned it? Where has it been, and how did it end up here? I want to know.
Take Flight Doug DaSilva, 2020
I have almost 1,000 photographs in this series. My personal favorite, which is not on the website yet, is a photo of a Borgward Isabella. One of our family cars we had growing up was an Isabella station wagon. It wasn’t until many years later that I appreciated how cool that was to have as a family car. It was ORANGE! How did my dad come around to buying that car? Where did he find it? I never found out. All the other families in our neighborhood were driving Fords and Chevys. We had a Borgward Isabella! Fast forward. I’d never seen another one until about two years ago, in the junkyard. I came across an Isabella sedan. It was a moment, and brought back some great memories.
The Borgward Isabella
In addition to photography, I know your creative work also comprises a history with screen printing. How did you get into screen printing as a medium, and what do you love about it?
My professional background is in creative production. During my time as a print production manager and then designer with Clark Creative, I would oversee press checks for the various print jobs we were producing for our clients. I think I’ve been to over 200 press checks in my career, from San Francisco to Minneapolis to Vancouver and in between, working with some fantastic printers who really know their craft. Letterpress, sheet-fed, and web printing, all of it. I love being in the press room. The sounds of the presses, the smell of the paper and inks. I thought to myself that someday I’d like to have my own letterpress print shop. How did I get into screen printing? A few years after my stepson, Charles, moved to Sweden in 2002, he asked me to design some surf T-shirts for him and some friends. I made a few cool designs, and then uploaded them to an online shop to have them printed. I didn’t know much about screen printing at the time, but started looking into it, and decided to give it a try. After experimenting a little bit, I ended up buying a 4-screen unit which I still have. To answer your question, what I love about it is the process. It’s my version of the press room, albeit a lot quieter. The beginning is creative. The rest is all production. The best of both worlds. You know what I’m talking about, Casey! (I do! Creativity without Production doesn't adrenalize me the same way as when that chocolate and peanut butter is combined. I find plenty of creativity to be had in production and process. Sure, you can conceive of a creative idea, but how are you going to bring it into the world? How are you going to make it accessible to people? How are you going to execute? How are you going to 'ship'? I'm a nerd for creative logistics. - CC)
Not Kansas Doug DaSilva, Knoxville, 2020
I love that you've memorialized the city you adore with hyper-cool and wearable graphics on the Only Echoes website! Tell me about some of your favorite designs. (Bonus points for stories about The Cucaracha Club!)
As I mentioned, I moved to Atlanta in 2019, and have been exploring the creative vibe and community here. But San Francisco is and always will be part of my DNA. I was looking for a way to express my love and connection for the City and my roots there. I really like the new City logo/design with the icons… Sutro, the Pyramid, Coit, the Fountain. One of my personal favorites is Half Full. That was the first graphic tee that I designed and printed. It’s a great conversation starter. Some of the designs may not be original in concept, but they are my spin and are personal to me. I originally started printing them for myself and some family and friends to wear, but then decided to launch Only Echoes (a line from an Arcade Fire song). It’s a labor of love. I get stopped frequently here, by ex-pats from The City, complimenting the shirts.
I was shopping at Costco recently, wearing the “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” shirt. There was a middle-aged woman in line next to me, mid-to-late 50s. She kept glancing at my shirt, and when we finally made eye contact, she blurted out, “Beastie Boys!” with a big smile. I loved it, made my day. La Cucaracha Cocktail Club was based on a matchbook graphic I saw once in a book on Mexican graphic design from the 40s and 50s, and I thought, “That would make a cool T-shirt.” There’s no shortage of inspiration out there.
Find more of Doug's screenprint work on Only Echoes.
What medium are you jonesin' to tackle next?
Screen printing on paper. There’s another level of precision and detail on the technical side, exposure and registration, that I need to gain more experience with. I’m excited about what’s possible. I’d like to also get back into collaging. Going back to your earlier question, collage is a great and fun way to experiment with your daily creative thoughts. And writing. I have a screenplay idea that’s been rolling around in my head for years, a family comedy/drama that revolves around the days following my dad’s passing (working title, “Isabella.” ).
L-R Forbidden Fruit | The American Dream Both Collage, Doug DaSilva, 1997
What's inspiring you in this moment?
Family. Here, in Sweden, and back home in the Bay Area. My current muses are my granddaughters, Avery Kathryn and Harper Rose. My wife, Jody, has done a great job of creating a playroom space for the girls to be creative when they come over for a sleepover. Avery is a budding artist. I help her pick colors.
Kitty Cat by Avery, 2022
Books. I love graphic books for the visuals. Give me anything that Taschen publishes. I’m trying to read more, and I do create pockets of time now and then. I finally got around to reading “Just Kids” by Patti Smith, about her relationship and collaboration with Robert Mapplethorpe. (I recently read Just Kids myself and was so enthralled I had to re-read it all a second time before I could put it down. What a story those two shared! - CC) I don’t idolize many people, but the few I do are mostly artists. Patti Smith is at the top of the list. I met Robert Rauschenberg once. That was mind-blowing, but a story for another time.
Music is a constant source of inspiration. I listen to mostly jazz these days, but still put on the headphones occasionally and crank up my rock/punk favorites. I always have music going when I’m sitting at my desk working. I listen to a playlist on Spotify called “State of Jazz” to discover new, young artists that I otherwise wouldn’t know about, many from Europe and Scandinavia. Music keeps that door cracked open for creative ideas to wander in, unannounced. (So well put. It has always been that for me, too. - CC) I love that some of my longtime favorite artists are continuing to create, newly. Patti Smith. John McLaughlin is in his 80s now and still killing it! Herbie Hancock. Pat Metheny. David Byrne, Bryan Ferry. I think Chrissie Hynde is still out there performing. (Yes, and I have so much respect for each one of them! I've developed an adoration for older musicians and artists. They are my beacons of light, hope, and truth; saints in my religion. As I get older and am now, myself, an 'older' musician and artist, I take so much comfort and inspiration knowing they are out there creating, still plying and developing their crafts, and doing so with a seasoned wisdom and (often) humor. I fervently believe that keeping our creative selves alive, and our creative fires stoked and tended, is THE secret to living well at all ages. - CC)
Is there anything else you'd like to tell our creative readers out in wonderland?
Practice mindfulness. Have fun. Art and music are everything we need right now. (AMEN and So Mote it Be! - CC) Thanks, Casey!
L-R The Creative Team Delta Mall, Doug DaSilva, Alabama, 2022 Mare Island Mystery, Doug DaSilva, 2016