September 25, 2011 in Business

Low-key artist owns high-profile portfolio

Melissa Allison Seattle Times
 
Dean Rutz photo

Corporate artist Terry Heckler, who lists the Starbucks logo among his credits, has a wide-ranging résumé.
(Full-size photo)

Heckler file

Childhood: Grew up in a small mining town, Windber, in western Pennsylvania.

College: Majored in graphic design at Carnegie Mellon, and earned a master’s of applied science degree (specializing in environmental design) at University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Seattle start: Worked in computer graphics at Boeing for a couple of years out of college, then became art director for Seattle Magazine. That’s where he met his first client, the founder of K2 skis, which led him to start a consulting firm at Pier 66.

Lives: Along Hood Canal.

Coffee habit: Three cups a day, down from 16.

SEATTLE — The man who created the Starbucks logo, forever linking coffee with a bare-chested siren, is a prolific artist whose work you won’t see in galleries.

Yet Terry Heckler’s drawings and paintings are everywhere he goes — at home, at work, on the ferry and embedded as images and ideas in the corporate designs he has done for the past 42 years.

The lobby of his Seattle brand-consulting firm, Heckler Associates, is decorated with logos of major clients from New Balance to Cinnabon to Panera Bread.

In his office is more personal work.

Whenever Heckler gets a phone call, he grabs a sheet of paper and begins an ink drawing.

A stack of small paintings sits by the phone, the result of his need to slow down while talking to clients. Heckler says that dividing his attention serves two purposes: his conversations are less clipped, and his artwork is improved.

“Partial attention allows the natural form to come forth,” he said. “What emerges is the natural form, because you’re not forcing it to do anything. It’s evolved; it’s a different vocabulary.”

Heckler figures he has some 240,000 “phone comps” in shoeboxes at home.

He turns some of them into larger works of art, and some morph into corporate logos and wine labels.

Another favorite genre is crayon drawings, which he began on a living-room easel in the ’60s.

“I always had a crayon station in the house,” Heckler said. “It’s a nonconscious thing. It puts you into an interior space that’s very stress-reducing and helps my problem-solving.”

Creating personal art also helps Heckler stay balanced and able to focus on corporate branding.

Heckler is in his 60s and semiretired now, coming to work two or three days a week, and drawing during his ferry commute. His son, Tye Heckler, runs the firm, which has about 15 employees.

When the company has gotten bigger, Heckler said, communication among employees has become a chore.

So they keep it small, rarely seeking publicity — which means few people, even in Seattle, know Heckler or his firm.

To help remedy that, here’s a review of the work they have done over the past four decades:

Rainier Beer: The Seattle brewery hired Heckler after seeing his K2 work. Over 14 years, he directed dozens of TV spots for Rainier, including a Northwest classic showing a motorcyclist heading toward Mount Rainier with the bike’s revving sounds making out the syllables “Rai-nier Beer.”

Rainier moved from sixth place to become the best-selling beer in the state “even though Budweiser spent eight times what we did,” Heckler said. “I won’t say how much Rainier Beer I drank over the years; that was not sustainable either.” (Rainier is now owned by Pabst Brewing.)

Starbucks: For four years in the early ’70s, Heckler Associates was called Heckler Bowker. The second name was for Gordon Bowker, a writer who at the time was also co-founding Starbucks.

“He’s very cerebral and unpredictable, and totally honest,” Bowker said about his former partner. “I’d use the word ‘guileless,’ but he’s very savvy. His interest in the work overrides any ulterior motives he might have, like getting ahead or making a name for himself.”

They worked together on Starbucks’ name, and Heckler was responsible for its logo.

“It’s a metaphor for the allure of caffeine, the sirens who drew sailors into the rocks,” said Heckler, who a few years ago curbed his own 16-cups-a-day habit because it was “not sustainable.”

At first, the siren’s chest was bare, but after seeing her blown up on a delivery truck, Heckler redrew her with her hair falling over her breasts. After “complaints from women about the double tails,” he redrew her again in a less risque pose.

Panera Bread: When St. Louis Bread Co. was bought by a Heckler client and started to go national in the early ’90s, Heckler came up with its new name and logo and helped build the brand for 12 years.

When his clients hit the big time, they “usually go public and have to work with an agency with international credentials. Then we do special projects work for them,” Heckler said.

Cinnabon: Heckler Associates created the name and logo for Rich Komen, of Restaurants Unlimited, who started Cinnabon. “It was a beautiful, simple concept,” Heckler said.

When sales took a dive in the mid-’80s, he suggested Cinnabon add a menu and beverages — “not just the neon $1.25 sign.” They took his advice, and sales picked up.

New Balance: Heckler started working with New Balance in the ’70s, when it was considering a name change. He recommended it keep the name but slightly change the look of the “N” on their shoes.

After the company bought vintage tennis-shoe brand PF Flyers about a decade ago, it asked Heckler Associates to relaunch it. That meant a new logo, website, packaging, merchandising, trade-show design and other advertising. It’s now growing in popularity among young hipsters and has become a multimillion-dollar brand with international sales.

More than a decade ago, Heckler added another art form to his repertoire, something he calls memory drawings. At lunchtime, he takes a walk and comes up with ideas — images like his grandmother’s house or a childhood friend.

“I’ve done three a day since I was 50. A tenth of them are worth looking at twice,” Heckler said.


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