Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I started doing business as a graphic designer in 1979. The photo above is me at my drawing table around that time. However, Willis Design Studios did not always carry that moniker. In the beginning it was called…wait for it… Rainbow Graphics. The hippies claimed the rainbow as one of their symbols long before the gay population, or Jessie Jackson for that matter. I wouldn’t classify myself as a hippie, but I could relate. My first three iterations of business cards, all on various shades of tan stock- because tan paper was the rage- featured the rainbow prominently.

One card I used for awhile seemed drug inspired. I will neither confirm or deny.

By the time the 80′s rolled around I was printing t-shirts as well as doing design. I’d make giveaway shirts featuring the Rainbow logo- and oddly enough- nobody wanted them. Big surprise, I didn’t even want to wear one.  So for no particular reason I did a shirt with a Marilyn Monroe face- and they went over big! Again- I know what your thinking, first rainbows, then Marilyn… What can I say? It was the 80′s.

Forward now to the late 80′s. I’m working for Mercy Hospital on a big project. I need help, so I bring in some agency muscle with my friends from Bakersfield’s hottest agency at the time, McAtee & Associates. My good friend Dan Harrison is an impeccable dresser, right from the pages of GQ. I tried to  emulate him with clothes from Ross Dress for Less. I introduce him at my meeting with the marketing director Sid Sheffield. Dan whips out his corporate looking “McAttee & Associates” card from a little gold case. I’m ready for this moment- having  just redesigned my card for the umpteenth time. Now simple black ink  on grey linen.

But it didn’t matter. And at that moment, I knew, the Rainbow had faded. After Sid mouthed the words on my business card- “Rainbow Graphics”- he looked up, as if to see if I had brought a Unicorn with me.  I knew it was going to be impossible to go after corporate companies with a Woodstock name. Shortly after that meeting Willis Design Studios was born. Or reborn.


Don Ambriz - May 26, 2011 - 1:52 pm

Cool BLOG, taking me down Memory Lane … Bakersfield design history as I remember it (front row seat)… thanks for the memories!

mari gonzo garcia - May 26, 2011 - 2:50 pm

what was the name of that other hippie design company with a worm or something, they were huge back then.
i think i had all of those business cards:
star moon cruise
take me away
got nothing to lose
let me see my love today.

yeah, memory lane. can you imagine still being rainbow designs? what a bunch of goofs, but, you know, i still have a soft spot for unicorns.

JULIANE - May 26, 2011 - 6:11 pm

I am so excited for you guys!! i love all your ranting! can’t wait

Molly Busacca - May 26, 2011 - 7:36 pm

Mike…as always you make me laugh! And no, that is not LOL. It is a good belly laugh pre-texting language. I too love hearing about the history of graphic design in Bakersfield! So, did you take the unicorn home?

Scott Park - May 26, 2011 - 9:41 pm

I was looking for the “Hair Club for Men” site. I figured those two snappy models on the new web page must be clients……

chingpea - May 26, 2011 - 9:57 pm

this one made me laugh! i love the long hair… and rainbows? wow. good to know some history.

Coryon Redd - May 26, 2011 - 10:32 pm

I really like the new design and presentation of Also, thanks for your courage to come right out your Leif Garrett picture right out of the gates. I also have a furry hippy picture of myself somewhere but you definitely had nicer hair.

I have spent countless hours on the phone with Mike working on projects yet I did not know what he looked like until now. Aargh. I think I am going to go back to phone calls.


Lisa Nuu - May 26, 2011 - 11:49 pm

Michael … as my big brother, you have always made me laugh. That truly was a little stroll down memory lane … I remember all of those business cards, but until you wrote it down, I completely forgot about Rainbow Graphics! Looking forward to your posts! Love you always – your little sis

willisdesign - May 27, 2011 - 12:07 pm

Thanks sis. After 30 years- I figure I’d better write some of this down before I forget.

willisdesign - May 27, 2011 - 12:10 pm

Thanks Coryon. What I wouldn’t give for that hair back. All my body does now is bless me with, like, one or two really long ones… from my eyebrows. BTW- looked up your Facebook- that Profile pic anin’t doing you any favors. : )

willisdesign - May 27, 2011 - 12:12 pm

I loved the long hair too… I’d love any hair at this point.

willisdesign - May 27, 2011 - 12:18 pm

I really wish, as a white male, I could pull off the bald dome. We have to keep the micro-high bit of fuzz or risk looking like a cancer patient.

willisdesign - May 27, 2011 - 12:27 pm

Glad you like it Molly. Hopefully have a few more you’ll enjoy. I’m going to channel the Dana Carvey grumpy old man. “In my day we didn’t have hair dryers, we stood outside in a huricane. Your hair was dry when you had a sharp piece of wood driven clear through your skull. That’s the way it was, and we liked it!”

willisdesign - May 27, 2011 - 12:28 pm

You are correct Mari- Earthworm Studios. And you thought Rainbow was bad. Think I have a new blog topic.

Don Mason - May 28, 2011 - 7:29 pm

Love the blog Mike. I thought Rainbow Graphics was like waaaay cool. Time sure flies when you’re having fun.

Gee, and I still have my hair, except the Bakersfield sun seems to have faded the color.

Must be the ozone!

willisdesign - May 31, 2011 - 3:47 pm

Thanks Don- at least you have hair!

Carol Wines - June 1, 2011 - 8:25 pm

Love your blog and wit, Mike! I remember the “Grizzly Adams” and Rainbow Daze…and I still have all my Marilyn and orange cat T shirts too, fun! Hey, Sid was my neighbor in Park Stockdale, funny he didn’t like the rainbow??

Sophieeeee - June 2, 2011 - 9:21 pm

haha thats hilarious!! Dad i am so proud of you! And i love this blog! You’re the perfect person to create a blog!

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