Best Practices for Making your own Show Poster
Now that you’ve read about the culture behind gigposters and learned how to build your own screenprinting press, we may as well get you started making your own. Here Michelle Kay takes us down the path to poster making
By Michelle Kay
Every so often you see a poster on the street that stops you in your tracks. It’s so well done that you just have to pause and take a look. You might even tell your friends about it. The message might not be that important, but there’s something about the poster that catches your eye.
Show posters play a significant role in a “scene,” advertising an event as well as serving as a piece of street art. Avid poster fan, Matt Elliott, describes the symbiotic relationship between a community and its posters as comforting. “It’s the extra push of confidence in your scene… knowing that the show poster was lovingly created by the lead singer of your fave band or a friend of a friend. It’s pro love, pro scene.”
If you’re considering becoming a poster artist, or making posters simply for your own enjoyment, there are a few things to keep in mind:
1) What do you want it to convey?
Seth Smith and Paul Hammond are Yo Rodeo, a Halifax design/ screenprint art team which has created posters for bands such as Ron Sexsmith, Julie Doiron and The Unicorns. Yo Rodeo usually has a brainstorming session before they tackle a new project to decide on a design and to make sure that what they come up with fits the band they are promoting.
When deciding on a design, ask yourself who is your target audience and who are you trying to reach? A poster for an indie folk singer/songwriter won’t look the same as a poster advertising a dance party for an electro-pop outfit. Maria Bui, who organizes events and album releases for the record label, Fuzzy Logic, offers this advice: “Always keep in mind what the purpose of the poster is.” Are you going to draw or paint or use Photoshop? Do you want to photocopy or silkscreen? Do you want the poster in black and white or colour?
2) keep it simple.
One general rule of thumb is to keep things simple. Use no more than two fonts–legibility is key. You want people to be able to read the information on the poster. Have an interesting image that draws people in. “You want something that makes you look at it for more than a second,” says Bui. “Try and work with the information, the show lineup, all the info that needs to be included.”
3) What method will work best for your purposes?
Another thing to consider is how you are going to make your posters. Do you want to silkscreen, photocopy, paint, draw or use Photoshop to make them? Maybe you want to avoid paper altogether and hand-make them out of fabric. Either way, you have to consider the method and what kind of aesthetic you want with your posters.
Screenprinting is a popular choice and can produce large editions of artwork quickly and relatively cheaply. The process may seem daunting and difficult at first, but you can always learn and improve the more you do it. Hammond suggests just experimenting and not worrying too much about the overall outcome. With screenprinting, the aesthetic is interesting–there is a lot of flexibility. Almost any image can be printed, and you can make countless number of prints once you create a screen. This is useful if you have a large order to fill. Jesjit Gill, a Toronto-based artist and printmaker, says he prefers screen-printing because he can create an aesthetic that isn’t easily imitable by any digital processes. “I think the most appealing part of screenprinted posters is controlling the means of production and creating the work with your own two hands.” One possible con to this method is the initial startup cost. You need a screen, a light source, ink, a squeegee, emulsion and a sink to wash the screen out [ed. most of which is explained in the previous article–handy]. All this can be done out of your bathroom, but the process can be messy, so you might want to consider looking into renting studio space or joining a collective and sharing space and materials. The emulsion and the ink can be expensive, but once you purchase them they will last a while, so screen-printing is a method worth considering.
Photocopying posters is another possibility and probably the cheapest and easiest method. All you need is an image and access to a printer or photocopier. You don’t need many startup materials. You can collage, paint, PhotoShop or draw your image with tools you already have. Depending on how you make your master copy, photocopying is also a quick process. The downside to photocopying posters is that they tend to look less-professional and low quality. The aesthetic is more DIY, and some people don’t like the look of photocopying. But depending on what you’re going for–maybe a photocopied poster is perfect for a punk show–photocopying might be a convenient alternative.
Handmaking a poster is probably the most time-consuming method but it can also create the most interesting look. You can get creative when you handmake a poster. Maybe you want to sew a poster or use different mediums like fabric and thread or wood or plastics. Costs for handmade posters vary depending on how you do it. Each piece can be made to be unique but because it’s time-consuming, you may want to only make a few pieces instead and put them up in places you know they won’t be postered over or ruined.
4) Find something that needs postering
One way to start out in poster-making is to promote shows for your own band or your friends’ bands. Gill made his first show poster by approaching a band he liked and simply asking them. While it’s not necessary to like every band you design for, it helps if you are a fan.
Once you’ve made a couple of posters you might want to start looking for assignments. It is not difficult to get the word out; you just have to let people know what you’re offering. It’s also good to have some kind of portfolio so people know what to expect. Like freelancing, once you’ve done a few posters and made a name for yourself, it should be easier to find more projects.
When you secure an assignment, you need to figure out what needs to be on the poster. What kind of information do you have to include? Make sure to discuss with the promoter any other relevant information that should be included.
Don’t forget to create a layout. Before you print a bunch of posters, send a proof to the promoter. You don’t want to have a number of posters made only to find out later that edits need to be made or that the promoter had something completely different in mind.
Poster art may not be a lucrative occupation but there are plenty of other benefits. Gill makes posters because he loves printmaking and likes working with his friends. Hammond adds, “Show posters are like a gateway drug to doing a whole lot of other things [such as] T-shirts, fine art, getting into graphic design, ads and album covers, etc.” For Smith, posters are a way to meet artists and musicians and to show your art to a wider audience. “The street’s your gallery.”
The web offers a number of free resources and forums discussing a range of topics from methods to promote yourself, to what works and what doesn’t to displaying your work and getting feedback. For more information and inspiration, check out these sites:
Etsy.com (for supplies)
Nomediakings.org/doityourself/howto_silkscreen_posters_and_shirts.html (for the screenprinting process)