Sharing his love of unique design and his Italian heritage
Passionate about design and relentless in pursuing excellence and refining detail, Chaz DeSimone does not subscribe to the statement “perfection does not exist.” It does, and he proves it.
Scribbling “logos” since he was a child and adding serifs to letters since he could hold a crayon, Chaz has been a progressive thinker and creator in many areas of advertising and graphic design. He specializes in his very first loves: lettering, typography, layout, and above all, brand identity. That last category, of course, takes in all the elements of the first three.
Within the scope of brand identity (also called corporate identity or visual branding), Chaz creates the nucleus which is the logo, customizes the fonts for the identity program, and assembles palettes of color and visual elements to visually support the brand in every aspect: stationery, signage, collateral, and beyond…way beyond. Chaz stops at nothing to project the image that will serve his client.
Chaz also designs book covers, book interiors, posters, collateral and packaging. On the personal side, he paints vibrant abstracts, creates custom greeting cards, and practically lives at Disneyland.
He began to take a love to the design of the ampersand symbol, and began creating masterful pieces incorporating it. The ampersand, that curious & curvacious symbol that’s as much art as punctuation, is celebrated in a new & stylish poster series by Chaz DeSimone, called AmperArt. AmperArt™ is a series of posters featuring the ampersand & common phrases. Chaz creates each poster as a work of fine art within his field of professional graphic design.
He has created artistic AmperArt posters for just about any occasion, event, holiday or person – including one to pay tribute to the late Steve Jobs.
His latest creation is a special AmperArt edition called “Challenge & Spirit,” which honors our physically challenged society. The ampersand is set in a wheelchair in the poster and is designed to be having fun; which Chaz says is the mood of many incredible people he knows whether blind, deaf, crippled or otherwise debilitated. The ampersand represents their happiness which seems to always be present in spite of their handicaps. Periodically Chaz will customize this poster to honor a specific person’s life who faces such challenges, yet maintains their shining spirit.
In his first edition of “Challenge & Spirit,” Chaz customized the piece specifically as a tribute to Raymond J. Michelli’s life.
Raymond is the brother of Italia Living Founder/Executive Director, Richard J. Michelli. Raymond passed away in October 2011.
Every single word on this piece is taken verbatim from his obituary, friends and family. The ampersand symbol itself is designed in the colors of the Italian flag to represent Raymond’s beloved heritage.
Be sure to visit the website of AmperArt to view many other posters, learn more about Chaz and order prints, along with getting helpful tips on framing. Also sign up on his website to receive the entire AmperArt series by email as they are released.
If you are interested in logo design and brand identity; package design; advertising design; or book design among other graphic work, you may view some of his creativity and contact Chaz through his website: http://chazdesimone.com
An Interview with Chaz DeSimone
Do things inspire you easily to take on a particular project?
Most of my “projects” are assignments from clients, which leaves little time for personal projects. I’ll take on most projects, as each has its challenge and reward. But the inspiration for the creative is sometimes instantaneous and at other times takes days or weeks to develop, especially logo design and book cover design.
But I assume you are referring to my personal project of AmperArt. I keep writing down phrases that contain ampersands as they pop into my head. Some of the most logical, such as bread & butter, don’t show up until I’m, well, eating good Italian bread and butter! This list is my mainstay to create the art pieces when no holidays or special tributes are on the horizon. Phrases such as black & white, up & down, or cats & dogs are generic and can be released at any time. Other topics such as sunny & hot may be created in May but not released until summer. Themes drive the ideas as well. I’ll do a series on food (bread & butter, peas & carrots, fish & chips, and of course spaghetti & meat balls). I’ll also do a series on health (health & fitness, fruits & vegetables, cardio & strength) and other topics such as automotive, music, art, and animals. The ideas are endless.
My most profound AmperArt topics are those that are inspired by great people, such as Steve Jobs and your brother Raymond Michelli.
What made you decide to do artwork incorporating the ampersand symbol?
I have been wanting to get into some sort of fine art for decades–paint large abstracts, create outdoor sculptures, even get back into photography. But I always seem glued to the computer. In mid-2011, as a marketing campaign for my graphic design business, I mailed a postcard with a huge ampersand representing a searing sun, flanked by the words “sunny” and “hot” to show off conceptual, design and typographic talent. I planned to follow up with several more postcards using the ampersand concept. One pivotal response was a request for a poster-size version of the postcard art so it could be framed. That was when I decided to make the ampersand-within-a-phrase concept an ongoing project, and rather than send out postcards, release each edition as a poster-size pdf. That also eliminates postage and induces viral growth in spreading these designs (hopefully) around the world. Now it’s a fun project for me, which combines my design talent with the desire to create fine art, and any business it generates for my graphic design work is simply a bonus.
To more succinctly answer your question–why the ampersand–I have always been intrigued not only by the many styles of ampersands, but the evolution of the word “et” into the ampersand symbol (which is an “e” and a “t” turned into a ligature) and, further, the almost “slang” version of the ampersand which is the plus sign. (This gives me an idea to create an evolution chart of the ampersand–watch for that!)
The word “ampersand” is also interesting. The symbol used to be the 27th character of the English alphabet. The alphabet was recited “a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z and, per se, ‘and’.” Which meant that last symbol, per se (by itself) stood for “and.” Eventually “and per se ‘and’” was slurred into “ampersand.”
Okay, to really answer your question–why the ampersand–it’s simply because I’ve always been a little weird.
What is your Italian background or family history?
I’m half Sicilian (dad) and half German (mom). (To those snobs who say Sicilian isn’t really Italian, all I can say is we make the richest and tastiest succo on the entire continent!) I love having the personality of both extremes. The Italian in me is passionate and the German is analytical. I believe my artistic talent on the whole is from the Italian side but the structured design sense is from the German.
Both my parents were very loving and nurturing, and I deeply admire and love them. My father showed his love by spoiling me, and I loved him for that (which led to me being a spoiled brat who could throw the best tantrums). My mother showed her love in a much more difficult way for her–by restraining me and trying to bring me up with solid values. I actually hated her for being so strict, until I got older–then I realized she had the more difficult role, and turned to really appreciating, admiring and of course loving her for it.
My mom, born Leona Linda Brands, was first generation American; her parents came from Germany.
My dad, Andrew Joseph DeSimone, the oldest sibling, was born in Sicily but sailed to Ellis Island with his parents and one brother when he was 11 months old. The family settled in Chicago, and five more siblings were born. This is a fascinating fact about my dad: He was born December 31, 1899. I used to say “the last day of the last century” but now it’s the last day of the century before last. Born on that particular day, Daddy’s age was always the same number as the year, to the day. For example, I was born in 1951, and my dad was 51 years old. (Yes, I know, his Italian blood was still going strong at 51! And to top it off, he had 3 more kids–at 54, 55 and 57 years old.) Unfortunately, especially for my younger siblings, he passed away when I was 10 and the youngest was only 4. My dad was a great man, and I wish we all could have known him better. He was a barber, and I believe that’s where I get my affinity for being an entrepreneur. I sensed even at 10 years old that it was my dad’s generosity and personality that won over his customers, for even though his haircuts were getting shoddy towards the end, the customers would have no other barber cut their hair–or be their friend.
Have you ever been to Italy?
No, although it’s on my bucket list. Running my own business since right out of college has kept me from taking much time off. I do plan to visit Sicily, the rest of Italy, and Germany in the next few years, though. Maybe take a crash course in Italian first.
Do you cook Italian food?
I guess one thing about me that’s really Italian is the olive oil running through my veins. I love to cook, especially Italian and barbecue. I imagine my dad made sure Mom hung in the kitchen with his mama, because my German mother could sure cook true Italian dishes. My favorite is braciole (rolled with egg). I had not had it in years, and on New Year’s Eve 2001, shortly before my mother died, she surprised me with this wonderful dish. I’ll always cherish that dinner in my memory.
I don’t attempt the fancier Italian recipes, but the ones I do are from scratch and they’re good! I like to experiment also, sometimes too much!
Is there any particular Italian artist or architecture of Italy that gives you inspiration?
I’m a modernist, and it’s Italian product design that I admire the most. Also, some of the finest type designers were Italian.
Strangely, I’ve just never been much into impressionistic and renaissance art.
You seem very busy…what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Spare time? What’s that?
I enjoy my “work” so much that creating logos, ads and book covers is like being on vacation all the time. However, for diversity and true relaxation, I like to just lie on the beach or near a pool (see, I’m still “working”–on my tan). Several years ago I stumbled–literally stumbled–across a person wearing nothing on the beach, and it took a split second for me to realize that makes total sense. So I’ve been a nudist ever since my early 30’s. I think I always have been at heart, just like I know I’m a musician at heart but just haven’t had time to learn an instrument. My favorite saying is “If God had meant us to go naked we would have been born that way!” I believe I have a deep sense of European lifestyle in me. America is way too inhibited and prudish. But don’t get me started on that!
I love ballroom and swing dancing. As for music, just about anything except country. Jazz is my favorite–straight ahead raw jazz, not that watered down soft mush. My favorite instruments are drums and the Hammond B3 organ. I’d love to learn to play that machine but the closest I’ll probably ever get is tickling the ivories on an electronic keyboard or piano. I love listening to Jimmy Durante, Mario Lanza, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Henry Mancini, Joey DeFrancesco and Ray Charles–hey, 6 Italians out of 7 ain’t bad.
My favorite movies are hilariously funny (anything with Jerry and Dino) or tear jerkers (Mr. Saturday Nite, The Elephant Man).
I have the Ultra Premium Annual Pass for Disneyland–and used to practically live there when I was closer. Now it takes an hour, so I go less frequently. And when I do go sometimes it’s not even for the rides and attractions. I just watch people having fun and enjoy the architecture and sounds. Or even open my laptop and get some work done. (Work again–even at Disneyland!)
I also enjoy teaching, and once in awhile I’ll throw a seminar or workshop on graphic design. Once I taught a class of gifted 5th graders, and did I feel old, slow and stupid! But it was fun and rewarding.
And if I really have an extra few hours of spare time…create another AmperArt edition!
Where would you like to be in 10 years?
Italy–creating AmperArt in Italian!
Seriously, I’d like to accomplish my dream–COISIA. It’s primarily an institute to enlighten, enable and encourage personal growth, artistic talent and free thinking. COISIA would allow those who have never had a chance due to lack of funds or lack of encouragement, to find their passions and talents–as well as living au naturel if so desired. The place would also be my residence. It would most likely be located somewhere in the dessert, on a platform above ground, with my home in the center, housing and studios on one side for residents and visitors, and a gallery and offices on the other side. [see attached rendering] The acronym stands for Clothing Optional Institute for Sensuality Intellect and Art.