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For many people, the holidays mean seasonal jobs or extra workloads – people like postal carriers or the crews who put up Christmas lights. And eggnog distributors, mustn’t forget them. For Richardson resident Jon Flaming [pronounced Fleming], the holidays mean work, too. It’s just that he had to get all of his finished back in August.
You’ve probably seen Flaming’s artwork. You just didn’t know it. This year, he designed an entire line of holiday cards for FedEx Office. In previous years, he created board games for Milton Bradley and festive, winter soda-can designs for Mountain Dew and Diet Pepsi.
Flaming has been a designer-illustrator, working in marketing for 25 years – 15 of those have been on his own as a freelance artist. He’s come to expect that a chunk of his Texas summer will be spent cultivating some of what the poet Wallace Stevens called “a mind of winter.”
FLAMING: “It’s interesting to look out the window and see the sun blazing down and you’ve got to wrap your mind around snow, ice … and Christmas cards.”
A key element in our feelings about the holidays is nostalgia – the many associations we’ve built up over the years around family, childhood, food and gifts. Fleming’s own trip down memory lane takes him to his grandparents’ farm in Kansas. His parents drove him and his sister there from Texas each Christmas.
FLAMING: “I remember as a kid running around the farm. And specifically, going up in my grandmother’s attic, where she had boxes of old letters and pictures and things. And I remember as a child sitting and looking through those things. And I think just some of the faded colors and the imagery – I think that becomes part of a lot of what I do.”
Flaming enjoys scrounging around old Texas towns. And his studio over his garage does recall a rustic attic. There’s a gleaming Mac computer. But there are antique work tables and battered license plates. The pine-wood floor was once the wall of a house. There are also stacks of his oil paintings. Some of these hang in museums in Houston, San Antonio and Washington, DC.
But if you see Flaming’s designs, nostalgia probably wouldn’t be the first thing that came to mind. “Sophisticated whimsy” or “gentle irony” might be closer to it. His holiday cards have deliberately blocky images of reindeer and Hannukah candles as if a child had drawn them, a child who had only brown and red crayon to use — but a child with a jazzy flair for design. In fact, Flaming’s work often recalls funky, retro cartoons from the late ‘50s or early ‘60s.
FLAMING: “As I think about things that influenced me as a child, one of those things was Rocky and Bullwinkle and you know, Roadrunner, and all those different cartoons and also not only the color in those cartoons but the way the cartoons were drawn. There’s definitely that influence.”
Designing those soda cans for Pepsi and Mountain Dew gave Flaming a personal kick. His family is close-knit, he says. He and his wife Kathy have home-schooled their three children the last five years. And with the soda cans, his three kids – now teenagers – got excited seeing their father’s work in every convenience store and grocery.
FLEMING: “One of the things that I really set down as a standard, I guess, was I wanted to produce the kind of work that at the end of the day I could come home, sit down at the dinner table with my family and say, hey, here’s what your dad worked on today. Part of that is just, growing up, there’s a childhood influence that kinda carried through to my adulthood so I love to incorporate that into my art. But then also, being a close-knit family, I know my kids really enjoy seeing this as well.”
They’re storing up their own holiday memories.
photo by Adam Fish