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Pilot and Captain: A New Venture by The Heads Of State

Jul 1, 2012

Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers, both graduates of the Tyler School of Art, wanted to find a way to stay creative after the daily grind of work so they started making show posters together. Their collaboration eventually led to a full-fledged studio, The Heads of State, a self-described, “mom and pop design shop, garage band agency, and startup thats been around for years” that they’ve run in Philly for the past eight years. We talked to Dusty about the ideas behind the work, the entrepreneurial spirit, and making the most of opportunities.

One of their earliest show posters (and one that they have a soft spot for) is a poster for Wilco’s 2004 D.C. performance at the monument. For The Heads of State, this poster signifies a change in the way they thought about their work. Dusty said, “This was the first time we found the opportunity to bring a little social commentary to our work. It really marks the point where we fell out of love with gig posters and in love with illustration, making images that send a message or solve a problem.” It’s this brilliantly simplistic and conceptual image making that has made the pair favorites of the editorial illustration scene. With pieces that range from the politically focused to the playful, they’ve worked with The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Wired, Esquire and many more to create insightful illustrations. Now, with their newest venture—Pilot & Captain, a company that expands on their already successful Travel Series—they get a chance to have a little fun with style.

When we asked Dusty how the Travel Series came to be, he said, “My wife and I have a small collection of 1950s and ’60s travel posters—pieces by Nathan Garamond, David Klein, and others—and this is what I see everyday when I get home. As much as there is a style associated with our work, Jason and I really believe that the root of our work is concept based, and often we don’t get a chance to explore something solely stylistically. The travel posters gave us an opportunity to go for something that we don’t get to do.” The illustrations started as a set of 1-inch spot illustrations for Real Simple and they built them out into a full series of posters. The posters were so successful that Dusty and Jason once again built onto the theme and launched city-themed posters and luggage tag prints—packaging them all into Pilot & Captain—a company, “about and the good old days of planes, trains, and discovery.”

The Heads of State took the time to expand the Travel Series because they wanted the chance to explore working stylistically, something that they love to do and didn’t often get the opportunity to. So, they turned the opportunity into a successful print series and now into an expanding product company. Most of our contributors have done just that. They’ve simply built on things that they are passionate about—whether that is travel, t-shirts, or tattoos—they’ve created side projects that last, around themes that they love.

Design entrepreneurs are also not afraid to pivot in their work (as Frank Chimero advised on Day 49) and The Heads of State are no different. When we asked if they consider themselves to be entrepreneurs Dusty said, “We get restless. I think that’s where the entrepreneurial spirit comes from. We’ve gone from poster designers to illustrators to designers and that need to continue to branch out always seems to creep up.”

We’re glad The Heads of State is restless. Their restlessness has given us Pilot & Captain, a smart, well-designed range of products. We’re excited to see their ever-expanding repertoire of work grow as they continue to grow in their work.