The short-lived and eye-popping art of the concert poster

Jim Fischer

The concert flyer or poster is a fascinating piece of art. It is, by its very nature, temporary, even disposable, yet it must be somehow interesting enough to first grab attention and then hold it, at least long enough to get the viewer to read time, date and place. We talked to some of the local artists behind the fleeting art forms.

Bulletin boards, utility poles, check-out counters, windshield wipers, the bathroom - these are places where music and art collide, fueled by foot traffic and the need to inform.

The concert flyer or poster is a fascinating piece of art. It is, by its very nature, temporary, even disposable, yet it must be somehow interesting enough to first grab attention and then hold it, at least long enough to get the viewer to read time, date and place.

"It's part of the christening of a show, having a good flyer," veteran flyer artist Adam Elliott said. "It connects art to the music and gives people something to stare at while they're peeing."

Like most of the artists interviewed for this story, Elliott got started making flyers for his own band. Others were booking shows or had a friend who booked shows, and sought out folks with art-making skills to lend their events some credibility.

"If it's a show I booked, or my band, it's not that I have to make the flyer if I'm in it, but … someone has to make it," artist and musician Evan Wolff said. "How can you expect people to show up?"

"Every show should have a flyer," said musician and flyer artist Brian Baker, whose work you may have seen at Spacebar or Tree Bar. "I love flyers. If it's my band or a show I set up, I'll usually do it myself."

"You get into it out of necessity," artist and musician Albert Gray said. "I've been doing shows and playing in bands since I was a teenager. And I've been drawing since I was a kid. It just happens by default."

"I want to be able to create a flyer that's good enough to draw a crowd," said artist Magnus Juliano, whose work has supported shows at Double Happiness and others. "People know what direction a good flyer can take an event."

Which is kind of the point. Irrespective of the style or tone of the flyer's art and lettering, it has one ulterior motive.

"What they're there for is to attract attention," Baker said.

This is perhaps not an easy thing to accomplish, but the artists interviewed for this story generally agreed that simplicity was a good place to start.

"You can do too much - too much text or [too many] different fonts," Wolff said. "The information has to be gotten across clearly."

"Detail is not as important for a poster, whose first job is promoting the show," said musician and longtime flyer and poster artist Matt Wyatt, who does work for shows at Ace of Cups and the monthly calendar at Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza (he also called himself fortunate to have a piece in the staircase at Used Kids Records). "In the case of my art, color really grabs, and lettering that's distinctive enough. But simple. And big."

"You need visual stimulus, to draw attention to the information," said Gray, whose work you may have seen at Café Bourbon Street, among other venues. "Each event or each genre has a certain aesthetic, so you have to match it."

"It's all about creating a look," said longtime poster artist Nick Nocera, whose work you may have seen at Tree Bar, Spacebar or for Joe Peppercorn's annual Beatles Marathon.

Style is only part of the equation, though. Imagery can create context and attract attention.

"I will play off things people recognize to draw their eye," said artist Sarah Schmidt, whose boyfriend books shows at a variety of Columbus clubs, including Double Happiness.

"[I'll include] visual metaphors [and] maybe even some hidden Easter eggs," said punk rocker and flyer artist Raeghan Buchanan, who has created comics-inspired artwork for events like FemmeFest and Grrrls Rock Columbus.

"I try to make flyers that would make me stop in my tracks and try to decipher them," musician and flyer artist Patrick Matanle said. "I just always want everything to be big, bright, hectic and wild looking to get people to wonder, 'What the hell am I looking at?'"

"It doesn't matter how good the show is, if the flyer is boring I'm walking right past it, I won't even know about your event," Matanle said.

"You have like five seconds that people are going to look at it," Elliott said. "So I will do something goofy, or maybe even some kind of inside joke. But you also need to have the right aesthetic, to speak the right language for the band and the art."

"When people don't feel that the art matters, they don't get intrigued," Juliano said.

And the art matters. Whether art-school trained or hobbyists from childhood, these flyer artists have well-honed techniques and unique styles. Oh, and a particular affinity for Kinko's on campus.

"I do lots of punk shows, and I like that ugly style, lots of black and white," Buchanan said. "I start with pencil and then ink."

"I like to do cartoony stuff, depending on the demographic of the show," Schmidt said. "I use Photoshop and hand illustration."

"I like to use a little bit of Photoshop for flair," said flyer artist Kara Young, whose work has helped promote shows at Skully's Music-Diner, the Summit and others.

"I try to do something different with every poster," Matanle said. "Most are hand drawn but every once in a while I'll do a collage or something."

Baker uses "Sharpies and colored pencils, sometimes Photoshop."

Wyatt, who said his work is inspired by a childhood love of Mad magazine and editorial cartoons, gets his striking color with the help of alcohol-based markers and the black ink he gets from copies at Kinko's. "I do the sketch in pencil and then ink, but I always take them to Kinko's before I use color, because for whatever reason their black is really dark," he said.

"I do everything by hand," Nocera said. "Everything begins as a sketch."

"I honestly can't draw very many different things, if someone asks me to do something they already kind of know what to expect," Matanle said.

Developing a style that's unique may prove limiting in some respects, but it also means bands can seek you out if they like what you've done in the past, Wolff said.

"If you make enough flyers, you create your own language, and people recognize the art you did," Elliott echoed.

"I didn't really have a style that people recognized when I started, but as my creative approach became more clear, and people see it on my Instagram and Twitter, people are looking for the style that I do," Young said.

"Over time you develop a style," Nocera said, adding that his poster art style leans toward the "not perfect, like sketchbook art."

When it comes to technology, the ability to create beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

"Photoshop feels like cheating," Buchanan said with a laugh.

"Especially with the internet, I like to use lots of Photoshop, make use of the GIF, and do sort of shock art, not refined at all," Juliano said.

Indeed, flyers are no longer merely for physical posting, but digital posting as well. Schmidt said she used her skills with animation to create GIF-ified versions of printed posters that become web-specific.

"They're intended be to shared wherever, but to some people it seems like it only matters that it's online," Wolff said. "For me, it's not final until you have that printed poster."

The web may help add length to the lives of these specific-purpose pieces of art, but they are still, by their very nature, impermanent. Once a show happens, there's no more need for a poster.

"It definitely affects how I go about it," Gray said, "It's freeing in a way, where you can get really experimental. These posters are only in circulation a month, two months tops."

Schmidt tries not to be overly concerned about the flyers' temporary nature, saying, "You're not advertising for yourself."

"It doesn't bother me, I just really like drawing them," Baker said matter-of-factly.

"I actually love that flyers are impermanent," Matanle said. "I love the absurdity of putting hours and days of work into something that essentially becomes trash the next day. It lets me try out a lot of different drawing and printing techniques."

Besides, he said, "I've hoarded every single flyer or poster I've done for 15 years."

"A flyer is going to expire, but it lives on in my portfolio," Young said. "Plus, you can also look back on it years later and remember a cool event or just the style at that time."

Schmidt said bands often like to keep a copy of a flyer or poster. Buchanan went even further, saying, "People tear my shit down and put it on their walls."

"They live for a short amount of time that comes and goes," Wolff said. "But I like to collect that stuff, and the venues will sometimes keep a copy, or I'll give a copy to the band."

"They're kind of meant to be stolen," Wyatt concurred. "If you hang your art with pushpins, your place is decorated."

"I always look at it like I think people would want to have a memento of a show, something to take away," Nocera said. "You go around and see they're torn down, so I guess somebody thought it was cool enough to take. I just always loved the idea of taking away a part of the show."