Trading faces: Felix Sockwell upcycles his art

[Emily Potts] Felix Sockwell is a designer and illustrator living in Maplewood, N.J. His clients include The New York Times, Real Simple, The Boston Globe and New York magazine, among others. His fluid illustrations and icons are easy to spot — they are smart, quirky and always on target. Recently Sockwell completed an assignment for a popular social networking site, but the project may never see the light of day … err, cyberspace. However, never one to waste a good idea, Sockwell, along with Jon Selikoff at, printed postcards that feature the design. Something that was supposed to “live” online is now a luscious, tangible print.

Tell us about a few of the characters you drew.

This guy (top) is obviously an African Milton Glaser in Ray Bans with a pet parakeet chirping a Dylan tune.

Mubarak laid the foundation for this one.

Others were scrapped from a bald Peter Bell (creative director), a bearded Herman Miller client (Steve Frykolm) and art director Rick Vanderleek of Fairly Painless Adverstising (upper left). That’s yours truly chewing knuckle boogers.

Most of the icons were outtakes from designs I drew for ADC hall of famer Janet Froelich’s redesign of Real Simple. I recycle magazine jobs rain or shine. When they aren’t used, I eventually find a home for them.

Other bits and pieces arose from Debbie Millman’s brand dustbin, which was dredged from Kent Hunter’s trash.

… which ended up at Tom Collichio’s organic Riverpark Farm restaurant. Whatever I do goes back into the earth and is reharvested, mindfully.

Sockwell comped up this iconographic “full view” to see how the icons would develop. He saw that his linear tentacles could strangle the information.

How long does it take you to draw something like this?
Everyone asks this. I don’t know. Sometimes only a few minutes. Other times, it can take days or weeks. But my whole linear process has taken years, if not decades, to perfect.

Is it fluid, or do you come up with each form individually and see where it fits?
It’s a tweaker’s delight. Lots of squiggle fitting, repetition, flow.

What are all the little icons — are they intended for special events? Things users could use to mark pages?
I thought about that — the usability and language consistency. Some of the pieces were devoted to locations, like New York, London and Paris, but I also added Egypt’s pyramids to reflect the social and political changes happening in that region.

Why did you do the letterpress print? It’s quite beautiful.
Since the project is essentially dead, for now, I decided to print 6 x 4¼-inch cards on Mohawk Superfine as a self-promotion. Jon and I are working on a limited-edition poster of this, as well — around 17 x 12 inches.

They were printed locally at Jon’s studio Vote for Letterpress. I actually inked and pressed all 2000 cards. That’s why they vary from print to print. I have yet to mail any out.

What’s with the table? Will it be a piece of glass? It would be cool if it was a giant poster that people could write on — you know, have a conversation.
Funny you ask. They have a “conversation” wall at Facebook headquarters that Ben Barry designed. This table looks pretty cool. I’ve never seen it in person, kind of like 99% of my Facebook friends.

Will we ever see this on Facebook?
I have no idea what they’ll use, if anything. Just happy to be along for the ride. One of the great things about Facebook, in contrast to Apple or Cleveland Clinic — whose art I had nothing to do with, by the way — is that they don’t have NDAs and lawyers crawling up your ass and scrubbing your name off everything. We need to show our art in order to make a living. People want to see a name associated with an illustration or piece of art. Facebook is pretty transparent and doesn’t hide artists and designers from its users. Hopefully this won’t change as the company goes public.

To see more of Sockwell’s work visit

Emily Potts is senior acquisitions editor at Rockport Publishers.

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