Life Lessons From a Mad Men Art Assistant

Imagine if you had your own office at Sterling Cooper. Adam Rowe, an art assistant on Mad Men, doesn’t have to — his “office” is conveniently located right between Pete and Don’s. In a new interview with Design Sponge, Rowe gives a behind-the-scenes account of what kind of prep work goes into turning out some of the most detailed sets on TV. (Note: They’ve usually only got nine days to pull things together.) After the jump, we’ve distilled some of what he had to say into a few helpful life lessons. Hopefully they’re enough to tide you over until Season Four.

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Accountability is important.

Every time an element is bought for Mad Men sets they need to be traceable in the accounting world and the library, epic library that is Mad Men’s set bibles. These bibles record how many times the Drapers got new wallpaper, in what room, how much was used and where we bought it. That way if new people join the team, we have an episode with a flash back, or have to rebuild something, we know where to get the construction elements.

Sometimes the internet lies.

The internet is risky. Any one can put something on Wikipedia… and just because someone says its period, you have no way of knowing if it is. Mad Men’s library is pretty big. It’s full of magazines, catalogs, books, and other things that people have picked up a long the way. The internet is great, Getty images, and places like that are accurate… the internet is wonderful but it can be misleading.

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Appearances can be deceiving.

The Art Department is headed up by the production designer, Dan Bishop. He is the mastermind behind the visual elements. An architect, but also a quasi magician who not just designs rooms, but rooms that may become other things in the future. For instance, the Sterling Cooper Office is big, but it looks a lot bigger on screen. I don’t want take away the illusion the sets create, but just know there is a lot of alterations, flipping, moving, shaking, shifting, and re-purposing to get all the locations, period accurate locations without blowing up a budget.

People will take a while to warm up to you.

When Mad Men started out it was an unknown show. Talking to vendors and other people in the industry… people were not put off, but when something’s new and unfamiliar they seemed almost apprehensive. Now working on the show with it’s success as an Emmy winning and Art Director’s Guild Award winning, it makes it a whole lot easier.

Read Design Sponge’s full behind-the-scenes interview with Adam Rowe here.