Signs of the times 

Modern culture is chock full of short attention spans that are over-inundated with constantly-refreshing waves of images. A designer is tasked not only with capturing the essence of the article or product, says freelance graphic designer Adam Maida, but with engaging a potential audience, showing them why they should take the time out of their day to discover more.

The 26-year-old Rochester native is a self-taught artist, and says he isn't sure when his passion for drawing became a career in graphic design. Maida's diverse range of clients includes music promoters, local businesses, The New York Times, and independent filmmakers.

"I've always liked working with my hands," Maida says. "Even now, I'd say I use the computer maybe 60 percent of the time. Mostly for tweaking, final editing, but I usually always start with my hands, sketching."

Maida mostly creates physical collages, scanned in either piece by piece, or arranged and then scanned. If he's not sourcing material from his own photographs, paintings, or drawings, Maida cuts images from books, newspapers, magazines, and random ephemera he's collected over the years.

"I'm big on simplicity — I think most designers are," Maida says. His style is stark, and to-the-point, juxtaposing different combinations of boldly colorful shapes, continuous tone images, simple black graphics, color photographs, playful explorations of type, hand-drawn lines, or anxious, painterly handwriting.

Maida says his style owes a lot to 1960's Cuban posters and to the Polish Poster School, specifically artists Henryk Tomaszewski and Roman Cielewicz. Maida is fascinated by imagery created the Iron Curtain-era, "because they were facing so much censorship," he says. "And so they would use visual metaphor, jokes or ideas to sneak their work past censorship bureaus."

Maida's portfolio includes a lot of film-based work, both personal projects for movies he has enjoyed — such as a poster he created for Italian director and scriptwriter Federico Fellini's "8 1/2" — and for independent filmmaker clients. He was commissioned by Seattle-based filmmaker Joshua Caldwell to create posters for three films based in Los Angeles. The simple design for "Layover" features a line drawing of a pair of heel-clad legs which transform into two crossed arrows, signifying the two paths involved in a choice the main character must make.

Other clients have included New York City-based advertising agencies, such as Sawyer, which provides promotion for documentaries, TV series, and film series. When he was commissioned to create a poster for the 2013 High Falls Film Festival, which historically features films about women or by female writers and directors, Maida took the opportunity to create a work that addressed how much women filmmakers have been overlooked. His design was selected for inclusion in the upcoming Illustrators 56 book, which is put out annually by the Society of Illustrators.

Maida has a fairly strong local client base. Among his favorite projects are a set of very pared-down images he designed for a David Lynch film series, shown at the Dryden Theatre, which was used in social media to promote the screenings. Two soon-to-open small businesses — a coffee house and bakery — will feature Maida's handiwork. "I'm lucky to know some very creative individuals who are passionate about what they do, who are now starting their own businesses and reaching out to me" for logos and help branding their companies, Maida says.

As anyone who owns their own business knows, getting work is a constant hustle. Maida regularly sends "cold call" emails to art directors, which is how he began working for the New York Times last June. He was hired the same week that he contacted the art director of the op-ed page, tasked to created imagery for, "When Prisoners Protest," a story on prison uprisings.

Though he doesn't want to specialize or be known as a political artist, Maida says he's pleased that in the past year he's been assigned some heavy, social-commentary driven work. And as a personal project, he recently created a striking image featuring the Palestinian flag standing upright with hands grasping the stripes like prison bars, and lined up top by barbed wire.

"I'm starting to become very interested in opening up and creating a dialogue about some things people don't really want to talk about," he says, "whether it's the situation in Gaza, or here, with racial issues." Maida rejects the idea that we live in a "post-race" America, and says "it's very obvious that we don't, with what's happened in the last few months." There is still an underlying racial issue within the judicial system and in how police handle their interactions with black civilians, he says.

"At the end of the day," Maida says, "I just want to create something that stops someone in their tracks, even for a second."

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