Behind the Scenes with The Little Friends of Printmaking
In the days leading up to SXSWi, the streets of Austin take on a whole new identity. Fliers are distributed on every corner to check out the latest driverless car or newest automation app, while 6th Street becomes a veritable canvas of band posters and stickers for the thousands of concerts that will rock Austin venues both large and small.
Embracing our deep ties with the creative community, the Media Temple closing poster this year was designed by Melissa and and James Buchanan, the duo behind The Little Friends of Printmaking. We asked them about their process and inspiration for the poster that lined the Austin streets for the past week.
How did The Little Friends of Printmaking start?
Little Friends: We started calling ourselves “The Little Friends” when our friend signed us up as the president and vice-president of the “UW Art Club.” We didn’t like the name of the organization, so we changed it to “The Little Friends of Printmaking” to be a bit exclusive (and a bit more antisocial). We then started working together doing gig posters at local punk co-op venues in Madison, Wisconsin, getting great leeway because we knew how to maximize the different types of media needed for concerts. Soon after, we were designing a variety of publications for local organizations. Then James got a job at design agency after graduation and all of a sudden we were graphic designers with no formal training. We had degrees in printmaking, which is close enough! We just continued to do The Little Friends after college and, now, we’ve spent almost a decade since then doing prints.
How has the design shop evolved over the years?
LF: It’s funny – we were pragmatic in college, expecting to leverage our printmaking degrees into a different field. But here we are, every day, feeling lucky to do what we do on a daily basis. Poster design is just one aspect of our business, which also includes our for-hire editorial and advertising illustrations. But the other half is our retail component, where we do bandanas, patches, pins, and prints. We are lucky – our careers evolved from just making concert posters to printing posters that we always wanted to make. Doing posters at the beginning of our career was like a giant business card: It’s your work, your name is on the back, but it’s for something that people love. It’s a great way to get a wholly different audience into your artwork.
What’s special about creating rock posters for you?
LF: We’re crazy about music. Melissa started working at a record store when she was 14. We used to have thousands and thousands of records, and now we have… only slightly less. We were already at a lot of the shows in the first place, so making concert posters came naturally. But our process has evolved a lot over the years to create our “house style.” We start with pencil sketches often (even though we hate it) as a necessity. That distaste for sketching has worked in our favor, since a great poster has to work at 20 and 40 feet as well as it does in person. So those rough sketches really help get the design across at different levels. Only then can we go crazy and pack in all the details.
What did you enjoy about making this particular poster?
LF: With all of our work, we like to reward a viewer’s close inspection of a poster. We have a silk-screen aesthetic that provides a framework for the illustration before we even begin, utilizing just a limited palate. So with this poster, this was just as much about the event as the band. It’s not just the boot – it’s all the little details every step along the way. We wanted this poster to feel like Austin and give the people at a specific visual memory of the event. A full-length boot, western sunsets smushed with a punk-y color palate, and then just lean into the wonderful variety of SXSW.