There's no doubt Chicago has a thriving and close knit screen printing community that is centered around gig posters. I have shared spaces with these printers and displayed work in countless print shows side by side. And while we're all friendly, I have always been dismayed to be one of the few, if not only, letterpress printers represented. And let's face it, compared to large, multi-colored illustrated posters, letterpress work can look, well, rather drab, with it's subtle color palettes, detailed typography and smaller size given the limitations of the presses. This has often left me feeling diminished on this particular stage.
About a year ago I had this thought: Okay, screen printers, you might be able to do giant, colorful gig posters but I can do really tiny ones because letterpress can do small better than screen printing. But who wants really tiny posters? With that the idea for Dollhouse Gig Posters emerged.
But how on earth could I sell little tiny posters and make it even moderately worthwhile given the amount of time that goes into each minuscule print? I couldn't. The idea was temporarily shelved.
I cautiously shared the concept with a few trusted collaborators as I wasn't convinced it was viable or that anyone would get the joke and enjoy it as I did. During one of our early meetings about the format of Alphabet of Sorts, Rich Kegler (RK) would repeatedly break and say 'let's talk about the tiny gig posters again' which made me think that it just might have legs.
What if the posters were distributed the way record clubs used to work? What if people bought subscriptions and got a new poster in the mail every month? Just crazy enough to fly?
Having spent most of my college years either working in or frequenting record stores, I knew that the best albums came with the goods. 7" singles had an extra photo of the band. 12" albums came with stickers and zines. And box sets, well, box sets held all manner of fun surprises; I am still looking for the missing records to complete my Working Holiday set. So if all of my mini gig posters fit into a classy reel box there should most definitely be additional treats.
I brainstormed my ideal list of contributors, all of whom answered with a resounding YES. Maybe I was on to something after all.
I've known Dan Grzeca since... I don't know when? He is one of the many incredible talents in the screen printing community and we've always run in the same circles. Our friendship was solidified, however, not through print but by our children, who have become fast friends at the school they attend. Dan's style is decidedly old school as he works with scratch boards to create dynamic, original illustrations. His art prints are among my favorites and I love seeing him not only stretch his style past gig posters, but relish the ridiculous in his work and elevate it to fine art. We've shared many drinks (me: cappuccino, Dan: orange blossom tea) at Spoken, our favorite cafe, and his clan have helped the Starshaped family through dark times this Fall. I was pleased when he said 'Hell Yeah' to my inquiries about contributing art for a temporary tattoo to accompany the March poster.
As I started to think of how this project not only pulled together all of my interests but also gave me the opportunity to revisit the people and ideas that brought Starshaped to its current state, it felt natural to have RK on board. I have always been the biggest fangirl of P22 Type Foundry. In P22 I found inspiration, research, thoughtful digital type, oddball projects, music and a spirit that felt like home through my college years and beyond. Now that we have collaborated on a number of projects, a fact that still surprises me, I am pleased that RK, in a new incarnation as P22 Analog, was on board to contribute whatever I wanted. And what I wanted was an incredible letterpress print that fit the themes of the project. He has delivered on this, I can promise, but you need to wait until the August mailing to receive it!
I often recall the days of working at Fireproof Press with a nostalgia that doesn't involve the mundanity of running a business, the days when I could show up at a print shop and set type without a care for how the lights were staying on. But the best part was just being around John Upchurch, owner of the whole operation. I learned all of the things from John that you're supposed to learn at a good job, as well as the things that find no place on a resume. And while it's been more than 15 years since Fireproof existed, the Upchurch family still feel like my adopted tribe. I run to John for perspective on life, love and friendships, knowing it will be tempered with humor and pragmatic, personal anecdotes. He is a true friend.
John was also a member of The Coctails, a band that cemented their place in the history of Chicago music just as I was calling it my home. By the time I was old enough to get into a club to see them play they had already called it quits. Thankfully they performed twice more and I was present for both shows. It was through John that I met Mark Greenberg, another member of the band, who has appeared as a supporting musician on stage at many shows I have seen since the Coctails days. Mark is kind and funny and connects people throughout the music and art community. I was pleased to present him and his work to Erin Beckloff, the masterful mind behind Pressing On, for which he is now creating the music. This collaboration makes me clap my hands with glee.
The Dollhouse Gig Posters box needed to have some actual music to go with it. I stewed on who could help with this and what the format would be, when I both stumbled on affordable flexi disks and remembered John & Mark still write music together and just might be on board. When I asked them about the prospect of writing a new song to fit the series I got a resounding We're In!
With this incredible team in place the project moved from a silly idea to seriously great fun. The posters don't advertise specific bands or events, but different genres of music through the stereotypical styles of each. It involves the most enjoyable research; I listen to music indicative of the prints while pouring over books and records so I can compile all of the best and appropriate features.
January's mailing includes the reel box that houses all of the posters, which are mounted on 7" cards. They are wrapped in a band that's fresh off the press:
The back side of the chipboard cards the posters are mounted to are printed with a checkerboard-style collection of vintage mid-century cuts on loan from P22 Analog. These were odd-sized remnants of advertising plates that I trimmed to be uniform. It's just a little extra detail to enhance the overall look of the project.
The first poster is on deck to print this week and ship, along with the reel boxes, as soon as it's finished. Can you guess which musical genre is first? Subscriptions are still available if this is exactly the little bit of joy your mailbox would love to see every month this year.