“Charleston is this little town that lives exuberantly large,” says Garden & Gun Art Director Marshall McKinney. “There’s a celebratory spirit here.”
While this is certainly true of Charleston, it also speaks to the personality of Marshall himself. After only an hour of talking shop, his energy and passion for all things print magazine and art direction are enough to make you want to go and buy every magazine you can get your hands on and spend an afternoon reading on a front porch with two fingers of bourbon. (Okay, Marshall may have actually suggested doing this.)
With its 10-year anniversary coming in 2017, a big move to the Cigar Factory, and a few New York Times Best Sellers under its belt, Garden & Gun has momentum, and one of the forces behind this is Marshall. So what makes his art direction so unique? He approaches his work with the eye of an editor—having an academic background in English, creative writing, and journalism is something Marshall says has helped him most.
“It’s allowed me to get close to the content and look at it through an editor’s eye. Good editors think of concepting the story—not just whether this writer or this editor is good—but how are we going to tell this story visually.”
And telling a visual story is one of those key components that give Garden & Gun staying power. Two more components, says Marshall, are authenticity and consistency. Garden & Gun’s authenticity is about staying true to Southern roots and creating content that is specific to a region while being applicable and enjoyable to anyone, anywhere.
“Southerners have these long-standing traditions and our roots run really, really deep. We all know a good biscuit when we taste it. We all have family with a strong sense of place. What’s soulful? What’s true?”
What’s true for Marshall and Garden & Gun both is that what they’re doing is working. It’s the work part that’s most fascinating. Marshall has been with the magazine for eight years and in that time has learned about his own process and what works best.
“I think when I first arrived, I had a lot of grand notions of things I wanted to try. I’ve learned not to try things willy-nilly. This isn’t a project, it’s a brand. Now, I bring rules, but the fun begins when you start to break the rules. You slowly, slowly break the rules so when you do, you understand why and how it makes an impact.”
It’s a refreshing way to look at the creative process, which speaks to how Garden & Gun has continued to thrive. Marshall reflects that it’s an approach that is utilized in other art forms.
“It’s the same as writing. You look at Hemingway and he was this structured writer. He had this defined style. You can define your style by giving yourself a lot of rules, then not looking at them as a hindrance, but as a great help that informs your work and keeps you inspired.”
Because when living and working and creating in a town like Charleston that does, in fact, live exuberantly large, we have to stay inspired. Like Marshall’s work, we have to stay true to our roots but keep on breaking our own damn rules.
Words by Virginia Kerr Beard
Photo by Gately Williams