PK 040: Iconic Illustrator Dave Calver on his 40 Year Creative Career

PK 040: Iconic Illustrator Dave Calver on his 40 Year Creative Career 2 040 Dave Calver feat image

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Spring, 2000. An illustration by Dave Calver showing his distinctive style.

“If there’s one thing I regret, it’s not making time to enjoy myself in those crazy busy years of the Eighties!”

Dave Calver regularly makes it into lists of the best living illustrators. And, in a career spanning 40 years, his unique works have featured on the pages of Esquire, GQ, and the New York Times magazine.

But this personable, down-to-Earth artist shows no signs of slowing up. In fact, he says a recent change of surroundings has helped inspire his latest movie and graphic novel work.

To hear Dave Calver talk about his early career as an artist is like being transported back in time to the Halcyon days of New York City in the 1980s.

It’s an exciting time when musicians and artists including The Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads changed the face of popular culture forever, thanks to seminal performances at legendary venues such as CBGB and the creative buzz of the city’s East Village.

Looking back, Dave says: “At that time, NYC was a funky, dangerous, and exciting place to be! There were lots of artists living there, and there was always some great oddball event going on somewhere.”


Talking Heads by Dave Calver

From Rhode Island to Manhattan

After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 1976, Dave moved to Manhattan with two college friends and they threw themselves enthusiastically into this creative, inspiring environment.

Dave’s first paid gig was as a window designer for famous store, Macy’s, but he soon started getting plenty of illustration work.

“It was a good time to be an illustrator,” he recalls. “Previously, illustration was kinda looked down upon as opposed to fine art, but it felt like the market was ready for a new look in the 1980s.”

Thanks to this change in how illustration was viewed, Dave was able to develop his unique style, which took influences from all kinds of art, such as German expressionism and films.


David Bowie by Dave Calver

Fax Machines and Fresh Projects

There were also two innovations during this time that made a big difference to Dave Calver’s early career – the invention of the fax machine and FedEx shipping services.

“It changed everything!” he recalls. “Now, I could send proofs out to people instantly and get the final pieces sent out via FedEx.”

There was certainly no shortage of work during this time, and Dave found himself working on everything from editorial illustrations to posters and book covers.

But, as the years went by, this once healthy workflow inevitably started to slow down. Fashions were changing, and Dave decided to up sticks and move to Palm Springs, California in 2000.

While there, he hooked up with author Brad Benedict, one of the first people in the 1980s to treat illustration as fine art. His books, such as Fame, and The Blue Book, are fascinating compilations of all the popular art that was being produced at this time.


Doomed Procession – recent gallery work by Dave Calver

Brad suggested producing gallery work, and Dave was soon able to develop new outlets for his creativity.

Currently, he’s working with comics guru and former Muppets creative director, Craig Yoe, on a graphic novel, and he’s also in the process of working on a movie.

Dave Calver  says his new surroundings have helped influence his latest work, and he’s looking forward to all the new creative possibilities on the horizon.

“If I’ve got one regret, it’s that I never made time for myself during those crazy busy years of the 1980s. Now, I’ve got more time to devote to other projects apart from illustration, and I’m continually inspired by all the wonderful new people around me.”

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • Why different locations bring different opportunities
  • How your surroundings can help influence your creativity
  • Why being with other creative people is so inspiring!

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People on this Episode:


Mentioned in the episode:

Dave’s Website
Dave on Illoz

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2 thoughts on “PK 040: Iconic Illustrator Dave Calver on his 40 Year Creative Career”

  1. This is great stuff and one could not ask for a more talented or nicer guy than Dave Calver. I remember being totally amazed at his abilities in junior high school and always knew he would rise high in whatever artistic field he chose. It’s great to see how he has grown as an artist and it’s really nice to see that sometimes good guys do finish first!

    1. Chris at PencilKings

      Hi David and thanks so much for your feedback! Dave Calver is a true gent and an awesome artist – I could happily listen to him talk about his work and his time in 1980s NYC for hours 🙂 Like you say, it’s reassuring to know the good guys *do* finish first sometimes – such an inspiration! Hope you enjoy listening to our other podcasts 🙂

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