Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Sunday Conversation with Michael Wertz; Artist, Illustrator and Album Cover/Concert Poster Design, Radio Personality, Musician, Man for all Seasons

My name is Michael Wertz, and I am an Illustrator, and a Bay Area native. I've been making illustrations and screenprints since 1995. My work has been recognized by Communication Arts, American Illustration, and the Society of Illustrators (LA). I have developed work for Camelbak, The DeYoung Museum, The Oakland Museum, and the SFMOMA. My most recent kids book, "Dog Dreams", can be found in bookstores nationwide. You can visit my work at

How did you first get involved in album covers and concert posters?

I like to think that music played a huge part in my character when i was growing up. When I discovered "new" music in the early 80's (punk/new wave/weird electronic noise), my life changed for the better. I wanted to be a part of this world somehow, and becoming an illustrator allowed me to do this (since becoming a musician wasn't really in my blood). My first big "break" in the music scene
was meeting Jonathan Segel outside of a club in Berkeley, where he was playing with my friends in Big City Orchestra. I let him know that I was a huge Camper Van Beethoven fan,a s well as a fan of his solo music, and that if he ever needed screenprinting, I was his guy. I've been producing album art and posters for the CVB/Cracker family ever since!

What's your latest project?

I've been working with the kind folks at the Oakland Museum, a place that is very dear to my heart. On April 27 at 5 pm, I will be be doing a screenprinting demo in their galleries to promote their 1968 show:

In addition (later that same evening), I'll be signing and selling these Oakland Museum-inspired prints in the gift shop.

How would you describe your style?

My current favorite thing is flat color, but I've been known to dabble in texture as well. I guess my current style is "graphic", as opposed to painterly.

What's your art background?

I kept sketchbooks all the way through high school, but didn't really take it seriously until I graduated from UCSC in 1990. I moved to San Francisco and finally went to art school in 1993. I've been making art nonstop ever since. My family is filled with arty types: my older brother and sister are both graphic designers.

How do you get your concepts for the album art?  Band input?   Listen to the music and get inspired?

We actually keep quite a bit of vinyl in the house, so I'll pull out some of my favorite covers to get inspired. (The Poor-No Graphics Albums for Ralph Records come to mind). Gary Panter was the fellow that made me want to make graphics for albums!

How about ideas for concert posters, same?

A little of both. I keep several bookshelves full of inspiring books (full of inspiring images). I've got a book of Russian Posters from the 1920's that I refer to quite often. Sometimes the band will come up with an image that they'd like to see on the poster, but in most instances I'll come up with an idea and
present it to the band for approval. Usually they just like what I come up with, which works great for everyone!

In terms of music, what do you listen to?

I'll listen to everything (except classic rock, nu-country, or complaint rock, though there are exceptions). I'm most into funk, electronic music, 60's easy listening pop, psych garage rock, rap, disco, noise, nu-wave, punk, and post-punk. At the very moment, I'm listening to "Kinshasha One Two" by DRC music, which was organized and put together by Damon Albarn of Blur and the Gorillaz.

I understand that you're a musician also.  Do we have any projects to look forward to from you?

Well, I've never really considered myself a musician, but I like to make noise from time to time. At the very moment, I'm most focused on making imagery for musicians, so there isn't a lot of time to make my own music. As far as the stuff I've made in the past few years, it's usually related to the Immersion Composition Society, which is a thing my friend Steven helped to create. Here's the link for that:

And I also understand that you feed your love of music as a radio DJ.  How's that going?

My hus-ben Andy & I met in 1989 doing college radio at KZSC in Santa Cruz, and we do aonce-a-month radio show at Laney College's 9th Floor Radio called The Argyll Adventure Tree. It's fun. It's a chance to share some of the weird vinyl from the 50's we collect, as well as other gems we find at Amoeba and online. We usually pick a theme and just run with it. Occasionally we'll have guest dj's
come and share their collections (Racer X from the Ripple Effect!), and other times we'll collaborate with dAS and Ninah from 9thUB Radio to do a four-hour show called the Ubgyll Ubventure TrUb. It's fun.

You can listen, download and subscribe to the podcasts here:

What other projects besides album/poster art do you work on?

I belong to a secret society called The Elsewhere Philatelic Society. We are urban explorers and stamp collectors. We collect stamps from places that you can't travel to. However, you can send and receive mail from there. We believe the United States Post Office to be a sacred institution, and that it must (and will) be liberated from the clutches of the dirty thieving politicians so there.

Our most recent thing is a "game" for the SFMOMA that you can go & play. To learn more:

What's the next project due to come off your table?

I'm working on some more designs for Hostelling International. I have a book project I'm collaborating on with David Lowery from Camper Van Beethoven. I'm making maps and stamps for the EPS. I have a few kids' book projects that are in development ... and I have a project I can't tell you about right now.

Anything else you'd like to say to our waveriders? 

Thanks for the interview! I would like to say that Racer X is a TOTAL MENSCH! My eyeballs would like to thank him profusely.


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