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Indie Illustration—Producing Prints for MidPoint Music Festival Musicians

The wildly successful MidPoint Music Festival is marking their 11th year of bringing some of the latest and greatest indie bands in the nation to the Ohio River Valley. Over the years, the Cincinnati festival has developed a reputation as a showcase for bands that become the next big thing.

When MPMF was looking for someone to produce screen print posters for the bands featured in the 3-day festival, Powerhouse Factories got the job. Instead of designing them all in house, they decided to kick them out to artists across the US. So when Powerhouse approached me with the opportunity to design prints for some of the best bands in country of course I said, “Yes, please.”

To divvy out the bands to artists, Powerhouse set up a draft system and I was fortunate enough to have third pick. When it got to me, I looked through the list and was absolutely gobsmacked to see that Grizzly Bear, one of the biggest bands on the bill, was still available—and promptly snatched them up. I picked up The Walkmen in the second round and that’s when Powerhouse asked if I had the capacity to do one more band.

I pored through the list of the remaining smaller bands and, not recognizing any names, I decided to do some research. I visited every remaining band’s website—listening to tracks, reading or watching interviews and watching music videos—until I finally stumbled upon Lord Huron. As soon as I gave them a listen I knew they were the band I had to create a print for.

With my three bands in hand, I set to work brainstorming what each print would look like. Throughout my career as a designer, I’ve had the opportunity to design for big name brands like Jim Beam Global, Gillette, Coleman and SUNY. When it comes to the branding work I do, the corporate guidelines don’t often leave a lot of room for pure creative expression. With the screen print work I do, sometimes I create a world around a lyric or a play on their name and other times I just say screw it and do something completely crazy and seemingly unrelated.

A few weeks ago, I saw a news story detailing how a young British pilot was flying a WWII plane from one part of Africa to another in order to work on the mechanics. Unfortunately, his journey was cut short for reasons unknown to this day. Eventually they found the plane and could tell that the guy had lived because he’d tried to get the radio working to call for help. For some reason, when it came to creating Grizzly Bear’s print, this story was still stuck in my head. So I decided to illustrate this WWII plane, flying all by its lonesome, and a pilot realizing that he was in a bad spot and maybe about to go down.

Then I thought that instead of it dropping bombs, wouldn’t it be great if it was releasing something cheery and benign, like some heart-shaped balloons. Maybe the balloons are representative of these good feelings of love for your family and friends you’d have if you were about to crash land and weren’t sure if you were going to live or die. I think when people look at the print, some people won’t be sure if he’s releasing the balloons or just flying through them but either way that’s fine with me. I like letting people make up their own minds and interpretations.

When it came to The Walkmen, I wanted to make something that wasn’t really related to anything. I thought it’d be funny if you took their name and interpreted it as just a bunch of guys walking around, then did the opposite of that. For their print I landed on doing this illustration of this dapper looking fellow riding a Penny Farthing. I’ve always thought they were great to look at, and sometimes that can be all it takes.

In the end, I probably spent the most time of all working on the print for Lord Huron. After really diving into their website and watching videos I realized that they have a sort of old-west style and feel to their assets. I read an interview with the lead singer in which he was talking about how sometimes you just do the dumbest things when it comes to the people you love and that resonated with me.

For the print concept, I started trying to come up with a list of really dumb things people have done for love (with that western sort of spin), and settled on dueling pistols. Because what’s dumber than that? Walking ten paces then firing guns at each other for any reason, much less in the name of love. I love how this print came together with the pistols in the box and how that naturally allows for the band and show info in the lid. For each print I did, I genuinely believe in the band’s music and what they are trying to accomplish. I really enjoy Grizzly Bear’s and The Walkmen’s music—but there is something extra special about creating a print for small band like Lord Huron that hasn’t even gotten started yet.

The prints I’ve created for MPMF will be available for purchase at the festival in my tommyink booth and any left over will be available on my website tommyink.com.

And if for some reason you haven’t grabbed your tickets for this awesome weekend of great music, you can purchase them here.

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