Al Brandtner / Brandtner Design Ltd.
Al Brandtner has been creating dynamic and award-winning illustrations and designs for 40 years. While still in high school, in Virginia Beach, VA, he won a statewide contest, designing a logo for the USS Virginia in 1975. The scholarship he received for that design paved the way to study art and design for three years at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, MI.
However, Al points to a life-changing experience in the third grade that was the real beginning of his life in art and design. As a “navy brat” living in Hawaii, he was doing poorly in school — daydreaming, constantly drawing copying logos of his favorite sport teams, music groups and TV shows, etc. An intervention between his teacher and parents led to private art lessons that become the foundation for his life in art, and a new creative outlet. That allowed him to turn around his early academic life, and pass the third grade.
His professional career began in 1979, while still in college, when he started creating illustrations for the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, and other local publications. He also began a valuable apprenticeship at a design firm, MGA Studios, where Al was exposed to all aspects of design, typography and production. An education that proved to be more enlightening, and valuable, than college.
Using skills learned from those formidable years, and a love of music, Al started doing graphics for the music industry, which became the primary focus of his decades spanning career. Since that time, he’s produced over 700 record cover designs for all types of music from classical to punk rock. As well as hundreds of cover and poster designs for books, magazines, films and documentaries.
Meanwhile, his illustration career veered in two focused directions—beautiful pastel illustrations in an impressionistic style, and oddly disjointed collages and montages. One of his proudest highlights was producing pastel illustrations for the BBC TV video releases of The Chronicles of Narnia, Five Children and It and The Secret Garden.
Being self-employed, Al discovered early on, that his versatility opened up many avenues in the communication arts. The first art director that hired him for an illustration offered Al an art director position at the Detroit News Sunday magazine Michigan, where he worked for a year (1985-86). Despite working full time for the magazine, Al continued free lancing on a variety of jobs. Most noteworthy, his bizarre collages led to a steady gig illustrating weekly columns for the Washington Post.
Another art director who hired Al for illustration work, while in still in college, became creative director for The Publication Company (TPC), that lead to an opportunity to leave Detroit for Chicago, in 1987, to work free lance for then TPC owned Chicago Magazine. As art director and designer for special publications, including City Living and Neon magazines, and the Illinois Bureau of Tourism. Eventually, the publication design aspect of his career evolved into book design, which now rivals his work for the music industry, as his main source of work.
A love of typography lead Al to creating custom lettering, eventually creating his first font design exclusive to Neon magazine. He designed two fonts, still available today through FontHaus—Allan Gothic and Allan Condensed, and another custom font design exclusive to Outside magazine. In 1994, Al was among 25 featured artists in the book Graphis Typography 1.
In 2005, Al found himself in the middle of a first amendment rights controversy, when faux postage stamp artwork he created for a art show and book, Axis of Evil, was investigated by the Secret Service and the FBI. The travelling exhibit found his work banned by the University of Wisconsin, and lead to his work being included in a 2007 art show in New York titled “A Knock on the Door” featuring artists who have been investigated by the government. His “15 minutes of fame” eventually faded, but not before his stamp works were included in a permanent collection of artiststamps at The Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múseum) in Budapest, Hungary.
Recognized with honors and awards from many prestigious organizations including the Society of Illustrators, Print Magazine, and the Art Direction Book Company, Al continues to produce eye-catching illustration and designs for a variety of industries, and a steady client base, from his home studio in Chicago.