Mixing Art With Commerce

Opening Acts: How to get a start in poster art

Todd Slater was a graphic design major at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas when he started collecting concert posters. As his interest grew, Slater began frequenting GigPosters.com, collecting tips and insights from the artists posting on its user forum. In 2004, he made his first professional foray into printmaking. He's now one of the busiest illustrators in the business, creating posters for acts ranging from Neil Young to Nine Inch Nails to Ween.

"What's appealing about gig posters is you can do everything yourself--you can design yourself and print yourself," Slater says.

Slater is the quintessential example of an artist directly inspired by the digital community nurtured by GigPosters.com. The site continues to welcome aspiring talent at a snowballing rate, but established artists warn that the perception of a career making concert posters doesn't necessarily line up with the reality.

"People see the success of artists like Jay Ryan and think they're going to make a million dollars, and that's not the case," says Steve Walters, founder of Chicago studio Screwball Press. "It's very easy to start out. But it's also very labor-intensive, so some people give up right away. "

Walters' Screwball Academy offers budding poster artists a hands-on course: Students arrive at the studio with black-and-white line art and leave with as many as 50 three-color, 11-by-17-inch prints they produce themselves, created either during the course of a six- to eight-hour session or two shorter sessions. Screwball graduates can then return to the facility to print additional projects.

Here's other expert advice for artists looking to draw up a career in gig posters:

It's who you know. "With anything you get into doing, it's important to do what you know," Ryan says. "If your brother's girlfriend is playing at a local coffeehouse, that's where you start, and you take it from there."

Just do it. "Don't wait for people to approach you," illustrator Diana Sudyka says. "Be disciplined, get out there and stick with it."

Be professional. "In the beginning, a lot of my success came from my dependability," Slater says. "I was so eager to make posters that promoters and bands put up with my inexperience because I was so on top of things. I ran a really organized show. Be dependable, and the art will improve from there."

Keep everything in perspective. "Do it because you love it and because you love holding something in your hand that you made," Walters says. "It beats having a real job." --J.A.

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Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.

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This article was originally published in the January 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Mixing Art With Commerce.

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