We interviewed Mitch Monson, Creative Director/Designer, who started working with Prince over twenty years ago and designed the iconic Love Symbol for the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince” with CD/Producer Sotera Tschetter and Art Director Lizz Luce. The Symbol was eventually incorporated into every facet of Prince’s music videos, concert staging, album artwork, guitars, wardrobe and merchandizing. We wanted to learn about Monson’s time working with Prince, and get a behind-the-scenes portrait of Prince from the perspective of an artist close to him at the time.
We honor Prince’s legacy and wish to commemorate the way he shaped our music, arts, and culture of creativity. Prince, you are deeply missed.
What do you think inspired Prince’s creativity and his creative process?
It’s hard to know what’s in the head of a genius. I don’t know if anyone, except for possibly those in his inner circle, knew where his amazing creativity stemmed from. However, we do know he was always creating and that was a big part of his process. His boundless energy and creative spirit allowed him to produce an amazing volume of work. It’s just who he was – a creative person always creating. I believe it’s also what gave him so much longevity in his career.
He’s one of those people, who, when he walks into a room, everything is different. He has that presence. You feel that energy, that pressure and that genius.
As a designer and art director, I was inspired by his work ethic—a very mid-western quality. Prince and Sotera Tschetter were always pushing us and inspiring us to do our best work. Working with such forces like these two meant we were experimenting and developing a large volume of creative work as fast as we possibly could. It was a really energizing process and we loved the collaboration.
What was the mood or emotion in the room when he was creating and in these creative, genius moments?
We didn’t get a lot of time working directly with Prince, but he is definitely one of those people, who, when he walks into a room, everything is different. He just has that presence. You can feel that energy, that pressure and that genius. I mean, it’s Prince … if he’s in the room, you’re inspired!
You mentioned it was important to Prince to invest in his local creative community. How did he provide opportunities to local artists or musicians in his hometown of Minneapolis?
He provided those opportunities to the production community as well as the music community. Prince employed a lot of video directors, directors of photography, designers, producers and photographers based in Minneapolis. He was very hometown-focused that way, utilizing local production resources and keeping the work close. I think this was a generous attribute of Prince, because there were obviously a million other choices, not just in the states, but worldwide. Our company HDMG, for example, was just a small two-year-old post-production and design company—four partners and a couple of employees. We were located near Paisley Park, did mostly referral work and the next thing we knew we were working with Prince! To a new business like ours, that was life changing.
For the music community, he provided opportunities to so many Minneapolis artists including Morris Day, The Time, Mazarati as well as individual band members that he brought into The Revolution, The New Power Generation, and others.
In addition to bringing in production talent and musicians from Minneapolis he was also a resident of the community. He spent a large part of his time in the Midwest. That was really unique for an artist of his level.
Tell us about working with Prince, as an artist/designer.
Most of our direct contact was with Sotera and Lizz. However, Prince did come in to supervise various music video edit sessions, review design work and elements related to the Symbol design. We would get visits from Prince since he was only minutes away at Paisley Park. That’s usually how the team process worked—we would initially work with Sotera and her creative team based on Prince’s creative concepts, and then she would plug him in with us at the appropriate times on-site at HDMG. He was quiet and shared few words while reviewing work but it was important for him to be there, be a part of the creative process and ultimately he wanted to be in complete control on all creative decisions.
At the time, we thought the Symbol would be an icon for some album cover artwork, a music video or for a few sets, and that would be the extent of it. We didn’t realize at the time what Prince was really creating here. It’s crazy to see its longevity as an icon of Prince and see it become this symbol of love and embracing what is different and accepting of others without discrimination.
What was it like to see your design of the Love Symbol, used so expansively over decades, and how it began to symbolize even Prince and his message?
At the time, we thought the Symbol would be an icon for some album cover artwork, a music video or for a few sets, and that would be the extent of it. We didn’t realize at the time what Prince was really creating here. So it’s crazy to see its longevity as an icon of Prince and see it become this symbol of love and embracing what is different and accepting of others without discrimination. It has really become timeless as a statement by Prince, and the generation that grew up with him.
The most amazing design moment for the Love Symbol? That was definitely its appearance at the Super Bowl. When your artwork shows up at an event as widely televised as the Super Bowl [140 million television viewers]—and of course it’s raining, and he’s out there playing his Symbol guitar on his Symbol stage—that’s definitely a moment I will always remember.
This iconic symbol will remind us how special he was, not only as an artist, but as a human being, as a force to embrace what is different and accept others without discrimination.
Do you have any backstory on why he chose the elements he did for the Love Symbol?
He had incorporated various elements of male and female symbols in his work as early as Purple Rain in 1984. From 1984 to 1991, various versions of these symbols appeared in his films, tour sets, and music videos. When we started working on the ultimate Love Symbol in 1992, it definitely had influences of these earlier symbols. It had the base elements of Venus [the female plus] and Mars [the male arrow]. However, it also had a number of new influences. It incorporated the “scroll” from the Eye of Horus, the ancient Egyptian Symbol of protection, good health and royal power. It also included elements of yin and yang and how opposite or contrary forces are complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. It also included various circular elements that represent the traditional symbols for earth, sun and a higher power. But the more abstract and interesting influences includes the reversed “7.” This is not only considered one of the most sacred of numbers, but it is also one of the signature tracks on his Love Symbol Album [called “7”] and he officially changed his name to the Love Symbol on his birthday [June 7th, 1993].
Another important characteristic to the symbol was it needed to have hand-drawn influences. So these imperfect elements—reflecting the human form and adding a level of vulnerability to the symbol—were very purposeful and specifically handcrafted.
Why was it important to Prince – decades before others – to share a message of gender neutrality?
I think it was important because, as I mentioned earlier, he wanted people to embrace what is different and be accepting others without discrimination. He defied all the gender and racial stereotypes. Plus, he also had a strong female presence in his bands and his support for women in the music industry throughout his career.
How would you like to see a commemoration of Prince?
I love the current idea of making Paisley Park like Graceland for Prince. Since there is such a mystique to his life and to this place, I believe all of his fans would appreciate this type of experience. So many are curious about what his world was like. It would also be a tribute to his creative process—how he engineered his studios and lived and worked in Paisley Park. I would also like to see his Love Symbol become the loving and unifying statement by which our generation and future generations can be inspired.
Do you have any last thoughts you’d like to share with the creative world about your perspective as an artist working with Prince?
To me, the most important thing is that he was a generous person and he was always inspiring us. He set an example to ‘remember from where you come’ and celebrate it, and give back to that community as much as you can. As an artist, a creative force and as a human, we should be thankful for what he shared with all of us.
Lastly, I’m so thankful for the opportunity to work with Prince and his team on the Symbol 24 years ago. We didn’t realize at the time what Prince was really creating. All these years later we understand the power of his Love Symbol, especially after his unfortunate passing. Prince represented LOVE and INSPIRATION—a legacy that he leaves us through his music, his family, his fans. This iconic symbol will remind us how special he was, not only as an artist, but as a human being, as a force to embrace what is different and accept others without discrimination.
Interview by Adobe Digital Insights
Credits to the Symbol Story
– Sotera Tschetter, Creative Director/Producer
– Lizz Luce, Art Director
– Mitch Monson, Designer