We customize our lives and the environment that surrounds us every day — from things as big as shaping our own boards to the smallest ones, like adding that little bit of extra milk to our coffee.
In our Custom Spotlight series, we’re exploring the process of some of our favorite artists, musicians, and creatives to learn how they see their world and to find out what drives them to get their hands dirty and bring their ideas to life. We also give them free reign to create their own custom, one-of-a-kind Birdwell gear, and to bring their unique vision of our California tradition into the world.
Ryan Mungia is not your typical curator. Equal parts designer, editor, and writer, Ryan puts to print a point of view that is uniquely his own. Los Angeles based and California bred, he holds over a decade of experience making books with TASCHEN, frequent collaborations with executive editor Jim Heimann, as well as three books under his own name: Pot Shots, Shore Leave, and Do You Compute? Spanning all of Mungia's work is a visual design language that we can’t get enough of, which is why we’ve tapped him to bring his golden-era inspired taste to his own custom Birdwell pieces—and it’s no surprise that someone as steeped in design and pop culture as Ryan busted out the hits. Check it out!
1) How did you get started?
I got an editorial internship at art book publisher TASCHEN in 2008 where I met Executive Editor Jim Heimann, who became my mentor over the next decade. Through working with him, I received an informal design education which continues to this day.
2) Tell us about your artistic process.
It always starts with an idea. In the case of Do You Compute? I was digging through boxes of old magazines when I found an advertisement from the 1950s for a Remington Rand computer, and a proverbial lightbulb went off. I realized there weren’t too many coffee table books out there focusing on this subject matter so I took it upon myself to begin gathering material for a project. One of my favorite parts of putting a book together, aside from research and image gathering, is the early design phase when you are deciding elements such as typefaces. I tend to spend a lot of time in my library going through other books for inspiration.
3) Is your work a collaborative or solo process?
For the book process, it is about 75 percent solo and 25 percent collaborative. The early part of the process tends to be more solitary and towards the end others get involved and becomes more of a group effort.
4) Describe your workplace/studio.
Most days I am at Jim Heimann’s studio, which is packed floor to ceiling with boxes and binders of photographs and ephemera, which includes old maps, psychedelic posters, surf art, and much more. It’s like a mini-museum, tracing the history of graphic design from the early 20th century to present day. Inspiration is not hard to find and even after working there for years, I am still finding new things all the time.
5) Describe your ideal workplace/studio.
My ideal workplace/studio would look not too different from the one I have now. The key components are an ergonomic chair, good light, and lots of reference material.
6) What does a working day look like for you?
A lot of the work I do tends to take place outside of regular working hours, so depending on what I have going on at the time, I will usually wake up around 6 am, make coffee, and get a couple hours of writing or designing in before I have to go in to the studio. If I don’t have any side projects going on at the time, I will use that time to read a book, go on a walk, or have breakfast.
7) Artists/Musicians that inspire you ______.
Too many to name, but here’s a few: Alvin Lustig, Paul Rand, Charles and Ray Eames, Ed Ruscha, Kem Weber, John Lautner, Sister Corita, Wayne Thiebaud, Georgia O’Keefe.
8) What does Southern California mean to you?
Southern California has a very specific feel that is hard to find in other places. There is an openness towards freedom of expression and innovation, which has taken many forms from architecture to automobiles. It also has some of the best light in the world, as well as the mountains, ocean, and desert all within very close proximity to one another. This, combined with the ever-present possibility of earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides, gives those living here a constant state of awareness of the beauty and the dangers of the natural world.
9) How important is the outdoors/surf/beach to your work?
The outdoors (oftentimes the beach) is very important to my work. Since much of my job takes place at a computer screen, trips to the coast, the mountains, or the desert are essential in refilling the well of energy that much of my creative work depends upon.
10) Favorite beach/vacation spot and what it means to your art.
For a quick day trip, I love going to Escondido Beach in northern Malibu. It is somewhat of a trek, especially on weekends when the traffic is heavy, but well worth the effort. A narrow bougainvillea-filled path leads you to a winding staircase that brings you down to the beach. From that perch, the first sight of the ocean is dramatic, almost shocking, with the endless expanse of piercing blue water spread out before you.
11) How important is a connection to the past/classics to your work?
Classics are an essential part of my work. Oftentimes, the work I create is literally based on vintage material. Not to mention, the medium of print itself is strongly rooted in the past. Though digital platforms are ubiquitous, I feel that print is still important in that it provides a different, more sensory way of taking in information. Scrolling through images on a tiny cell phone screen doesn’t have the same impact as holding a book in your hands.
12) Can you tell us one rule that governs yourself/your art?
Always be learning. That is the one mantra I repeat to myself constantly. No matter how long we have been doing as particular thing, there is always some small area of it where we can improve, and if we start to think that we know it all, we are in trouble.
To check out more of Ryan's work go HERE.