Steven Charny Profile
posted: July 21, 2008
Charny at Rolling Stone, lounging against a wall of covers from years gone by....

Senior art director Steven Charny's lifelong fascination with Rolling Stone began when he would pore over its pages in his room as a teenager—now he's assigning its illustrations and designing its pages.

"I grew up reading Rolling Stone -- I've been a subscriber for almost 30 years—and I’m really into music, and it’s always a great thing when you can work with a subject matter that is true for you. Part of what’s so gratifying for me at Rolling Stone is just working with musicians’ stories—people that I really admire—and politics. The subject matter is really terrific.

"I've been drawing from the moment I could hold a pencil. When I was a little, little kid, I was really into monsters, like Frankenstein, the Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon; all that stuff. And then I was into comic book super heroes, and I would make my own little comic books, with my own super heroes.

"When I was, like, seven, I had a guy called Money Man, and he wore a green costume with a big dollar sign on the chest. And he had a sidekick, Captain Currency. And the bad guys were the Taxman and Inflation. I don't know how I came up with that; maybe it was because it was the seventies, and there was all this bad economic stuff going on.

"In college at Syracuse University, I was accepted into a special 5-year double major program (Advertising Design & Photography) that was supposed to be very prestigious and difficult to get in to. I had no idea at 18 years old what the hell one did with such a program, or even if I wanted to be a photographer, but it sounded cool so I did it.

"But I was terrible at photography. I couldn’t do it at all: I was really bad with the technical stuff in the darkroom.

"I had a friend who was an illustration major who really liked it, and that’s what I wanted to do anyway. So I switched my major to illustration and dropped design and photography. I never actually took any magazine design classes at SU because they were just not interesting to me—I wanted to draw and paint, and that’s all we did as illustration majors.

"When I got out of school, I tried to be an illustrator. I had a cartoony style, which is kind of hard to sell, and I went to all the magazines, and I ended up basically being a bartender. I just wasn’t getting any work. So to supplement, and also to get a foot in the door, I started doing mechanicals.

"My first real job doing that was with the Will Hopkins Group, a big designer who had this great design studio. He did all kinds of different magazines, and I started doing mechanicals for them. What happened was, he was doing a redesign of Food & Wine Magazine at the time, so I went over to Food & Wine and I was working with them, and when their assistant art director left, they asked me to take the job.

"I think in those days it was pretty common to go from paste-up to art direction. I guess the same thing is true today with freelance design or production people who are sometimes asked to take staff positions when someone leaves. You become familiar to the people on staff, and when there’s an opening, they think of you. I got along very well with everyone there, and I had a great deal of interest in food, spent a lot of time in the test kitchen talking to the chefs there, so when the time came to hire someone they asked me. At that point in my life I was realizing that I was not going to make a living as an illustrator, but I loved the magazine business and I had a background as a visual artist, so the transition was pretty easy.

"At Food & Wine, it was all about hiring photographers. It was really being a photo editor: I was hiring photographers; I was hiring the stylists; I was coming up with conceptual stuff for the photography. Here at Rolling Stone, it’s strictly design, strictly doing page layout, because there’s a whole separate photo department. We just get the photos. We don’t really have much input on the photography.

"What’s more creative for me is the hiring of illustrators. When I work with illustrators, there’s more freedom to do stuff, to experiment and try things.

"I like getting mailers from illustrators. Or sometimes emails, though I don’t love getting cold emails. The truth is that I’m just not a big fan of email—I guess I’m kinda old-school that way. When I get a mailer and I like what I see, I’ll go on their web site and bookmark it, and then I’ll throw out the mailer, because I do everything on the internet. I have this huge, long list of illustrators.

"I don’t love phone calls so much. And I don't even like looking at physical portfolios anymore. I prefer the web sites.

"The great thing about working here is that nobody ever says no, unless they’re really busy and they have a major project they’re working on; otherwise, everybody says yes. People are excited when you hire them—it’s a nice feeling that you can make somebody’s day."