How To Become a Poster Artist
Poster Artist Travis Bone is a Utah-based illustrator and graphic designer whose clients include Mogwai, The Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, and the Pickathon Music Festival. “I usually start my day with emails and other client messages through social media,” he tells us.
“I find that it is best to take care of as much of that as early as I can since projects often take me away from the computer. Depending on the day, there may be reclaiming and cleaning screens, setting up for another print run, the actual screen printing and there is always illustration and design work to be done. Shipping is also important. Everything needs to get out in a timely manner.”
Much of a Poster Artist’s design work is done alone. However, they do work with a variety of people, including Concert Promoters, Artist Managers, Bands, and Screen Printers. Most Poster Artists work with clients across the spectrum, so in addition to their work designing for musical artists, they will work with similarly-inclined organizations that need poster or design work done.
Often, Poster Artists will have a wide-ranging clientele, including musicians, record stores, breweries, and local festivals.
On average, Poster Artists earn approximately $45,300 annually. The salary range for Poster Artists runs from $29,000 to $75,000.
Poster Artists set their own fees, allowing them to work with smaller acts whose work they admire while still drawing in higher-earning projects from bigger companies or acts.
Bone explains, “I charge a flat fee for illustration that is based on the project. The price depends a lot on the amount of control a client needs. I can accommodate clients that may not have much of a budget as long as I have complete creative control. Clients that need more sketches, concepts and things of that nature will end up paying a little bit more.”
Like many Poster Artists, Bone says, “I do illustration and design work for a wide variety of clients within and outside the music industry. Most weeks I am working days/weekends/evenings. Work/life balance is a huge struggle for me and it is something I am always trying to make better.”
His situation is a common one for Poster Artists. Since they’re self-employed small business owners, they must take work when it’s available and complete highly-skilled and creative illustrations and screenprinting runs around sometimes tight deadlines.
Career advancement for a Poster Artist looks similar to that of any type of artist. It comes through building name recognition and a fan base, through poster shows and commissions from big-name companies and artists who are able to share their work with a wider audience. The bigger the act or company the artist is working with, the more they can charge for their fee.
“Honestly, doing poster work for bands is getting harder than it has ever been,” Bone says. “When I started, there was a small resurgence in the art due to some popular bands, websites, and books that sort of put a spotlight on posters. Since then, due to a lot of different things, the interest seems to have flagged a bit.
“A lot of bands have fallen back to t-shirts (easy to sell, easy to travel with, not as fragile as paper) but there are still bands that recognize that fans love them. My advice for starting is work local at first if you know folks in bands.
“Build a portfolio that you can show to a Manager or member of a band you like and see if they are interested. Don’t work for free. Don’t feel too bad if you can’t work something out with a band that you love. There will always be other bands.”
- Experiment with visual art, start to develop a style that you enjoy working in.
- Buy this book: Screen Printing Today: The Basics by Andy MacDougall
- Read that book.
- Build some printing equipment. (That book will tell you how).
- Get involved in your local music scene.
- Build a portfolio.
Experience & Skills
Obviously drawing and design experience are essential and in today’s poster culture, screen printing skills and maintenance are a must. Since the majority of Poster Artists are self-employed, business skills must be learned. Bone adds, “The ability to self-motivate is one of the best skills you can cultivate. Whether it is meeting deadlines, learning new techniques, or working on and improving your equipment, you have to be motivated to always be working.”
Poster Artists come from all walks of life. Bone says, “There is a huge, diverse group of artists that do this kind of work with every kind of personality — that includes the people at the top of the game right now. I am not one of those people but I am a friend to several and I can say that they all have very different personalities.”
That said, a few essential traits for Poster Artists include being a self-starter, being motivated, and being a people person. These personality traits are essential since Poster Artists are basically small business owners who are accountable only to themselves and to their clients to get the job done well and on time.
Although much of a Poster Artist’s work is done in solitude, people skills will help in securing and maintaining positive relationships with clients.
Education & Training
Poster Artists don’t need a degree to get started, although many come from an art school or graphic design background. A Poster Artist needs more than an art education to succeed, however.
Bone says, “Business experience is important and is one of the few things related to the business that you can learn in school. If a person wants to learn the printing side of things, interning with a Screen Printer is a great way to learn those skills.
“Design and illustration courses can be very valuable. The more you know about working with digital tools, the wider your client base will be.” This is also helpful because most Poster Artists do a variety of design work — not just show posters.”
Poster Artists do not have their own trade organization. They do, however, have a very vibrant, supportive community which is showcased at yearly shows like Flatstock. “Gigposters.com was the best but it isn’t around anymore,” Bone says. “Look for groups on social media. The American Poster Institute is a great professional organization that can help you get your work seen at poster shows at music festivals and such.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I would suggest they go for it. If that is what they want to do, they are willing to put in the work and time, and they don’t need a lot of money to support their lifestyle, I would suggest that they start working on it today.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Working for free.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“I think I have been asked just about every question there is about my work. I can’t think of any others that should be asked, even rarely.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“You didn’t ask where I get my inspiration! Everyone asks that, which is the only reason you could say that you should have. I would have used Stephen King’s answer and just said ‘Newark’.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“If I were successful, the word would be ‘Luck.’”
Travis Bone is a Utah-based illustrator, graphic designer, and screen printer. He designs posters under the name Furturtle Show Prints and has created work for a wide range of artists and organizations, including Mogwai, The Avett Brothers, Woods/The Men, My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, and the Pickathon Music Festival, the This American Life podcast, No Depression magazine, and NPR.