An Interview with Aaron Horkey- Part Two

by Justin NormanPosted on

Aaron Horkey’s posters are the product of multiple hand-drawn layers, each meticulously detailed with micron pens – all scanned, composited, and screenprinted to create a finished product. At his recent “Midwestern Heart” show, fans got a rare opportunity to see original ink drawings and finished color posters hanging in the same vicinity. Afterward, I was able to ask Aaron about the process of creating one of these posters from start to finish and he was kind enough to explain in thorough detail.

HF correspondent Justin Norman sits down with acclaimed artist Aaron Horkey for the second of a two part interview. Click here to read part one.

Canyou take me through the process of designing a concert poster from start tofinish? I’m particularly curious how much bearing each band’s music has on thedesign, and how involved you are with the screen printing process.

The music is of utmost importance -there have only been two or three instances where I was unfamiliar with aband’s output prior to working on their poster. It felt a lot more like workand the resulting prints clearly reflect this. As for the process, I’ll walkyou through the Genghis Tron tour poster from 2008. The band and I had been intouch for a couple years but the timing didn’t work out for a print until latein 2007/early 2008 when they were planning a record release tour for theirsophomore LP, Board Up the House. Ihad an opening in my schedule, the record was incredible and the bandunderstood my “no art direction” policy, so all systems were go.

 Genghis Tron Detail

Once I start in on a rock poster Idon’t listen to that particular band until the prints are signed and out thedoor. I feel like something’s going to be compromised if I do – some literalvisual translation will occur or some such spanner will be thrown. This iswhere being acutely familiar with the band’s discography and outlook comes intoplay.

For this poster I knew going into itthat I wanted to at least partially explore a merging of mechanical and organictextures to somehow mirror the music these guys create. I already had fairlyfleshed out sketches of the antique microphone housing apparatus from anearlier, aborted project and thought they might mesh well with an insect ofsome kind. At this point I start gathering all my reference and, if photos areneeded, (in this case the nail and dust covered, debris-strewn foreground) I’llshoot and print multiple angles of whatever the project calls for. By the timeI start drawing up rough comps I’ve usually already pieced the poster togetherin my head, turning over each aspect of the final composition again and againuntil I’m as familiar with its basic “ghost” as possible so it’s justa matter of stumbling through sketches until it all matches up on paper.

Genghis Tron Reference Photograph

I typically put down 6-20 tiny, roughcomps until one clicks and I’m able to build the final illustration from thisloose idea. In the case of the Genghis print, the main foreground illustrationand background lettering are drawn on separate plates but interact with eachother on the final poster, following a basic line of movement up and away fromthe horizon line. Because of this I needed to draw one final refined sketchwith both elements present, splitting up the lettering and illustration when itcame time to transfer the art to the final paper for ink. My final pencil rough[sketches] typically include about 90% of the detail present in the finishedink work but may be only half the size. Similarly, the finished inks may beonly a third or half the size of the final print, so the process from initialsketch to printed poster may involve a 500% enlargement. This is why it’s soimportant to ensure the composition is solid from a very early stage. It reallyreduces headaches – especially with a deadline looming. It usually takes a good4-5 days to get the inked drawing somewhere approaching acceptable [quality].

Genghis Tron Drawing

Once the ink work is completed I’llreduce it back down via Xerox and work up a color composite using watercolors,markers and gouache. This gives me a good idea of how many additional layers I’llneed to draw for highlights, shadows, etcetera, and what color of paper I’llneed to order for the prints. In this case I needed to draw two layers ofhighlights: a fill layer for the foreground illustration, and the “Genghis Tron”lettering that appears behind the insect. Additionally, I still had to draw theinformation text for the tour itself – dates, cities, flourishes – that wouldappear in the lower portion of the poster beneath the main illustration.

Genghis Details

I ended up designing two separatetext pieces for this poster as the first attempt was absolutely awful andreally had no redeeming qualities. Once all the art is complete, everything isscanned in and assembled into a digital mock-up to ensure the various platesline up and nothing is terribly out-of-whack. Film is then output, screens areshot, and ink is mixed. I try to be present for at least part of the printingprocess if at all possible, either to sign off on colors or just to help rackprints, but I don’t remember being around for this one until it was time tosign the band’s copies. Ben LaFond handled printing duties on this one andabsolutely nailed it as usual. The custom-mixed metallic green ink and splitfountain lettering really turned out well on the dark brown stock, band wasstoked and it was on to the next one.

Genghis Tron Poster

You’vemade posters for a pretty wide range of bands. Does any of them stand out asparticularly inspiring to design for?

Most all of them have been anabsolute pleasure to work with. I’m very lucky to have been able to contributesomething, however insignificant, to the visual histories of quite a few of myfavorite bands. Isis, Andrew Bird, Converge and Boris are some of my repeatclients, all of which have inspired me for many years, well before I startedworking with them personally. Getting to work with Cable was a dream come trueas well, I thought I’d never have the chance, but when they reformed in 2008for a handful of shows I had to throw my hat in the ring. Two posters and analbum cover later and the rest is history.

Cable Posters

I’venoticed that you’re also a musician under the name Jack Spaar and even releasedan album back in 2005. Do you continue to write and perform music?

I designed and issued the Jack Spaarrecord as a historical document via my 420X10 imprint but, despite rumors tothe contrary, I’m not Jack. There have been a small number of unsubstantiatedaccounts of his continued existence but he’s presumed to have died in a mobilemeth lab explosion outside Fulda, Minnesota in the early years of this century.

Jack Spaar Album Cover

Afteryears of designing for all sorts of surfaces – skateboards, clothing, shoes,belt buckles, album and magazine covers, toys – what’s been your favoritematerial to work on, and why?

LP covers and skateboards are topsfor me. My heroes growing up all had either album art or skateboard graphics(or both) in their portfolios so naturally that was the goal.

Sun O))) Cover

InJune, your company, Dead Arts Publishing, released the first of a series of sixsets of prints depicting your black-and-white original drawings. Can you tellme a little about the series and when we’ll get to see more?

The letterpress series has been yearsin the making and every force in the known universe seems to be conspiringagainst its completion, but we are planning on announcing the contents of Suite2 early in October of this year. The prints included in the series are 1:1scale, 1 color letterpressed reproductions of my original drawings released in6 sets of 3 prints each over the course of the next year or so. The prints areavailable individually or in lavishly packaged suites, which include anexclusive bonus print available only with purchase of the set that will not bereprinted elsewhere. Including bonus prints there will be 24 pieces total inthe series: 18 standard edition pieces and 6 bonus prints. Each round of printsare available as an open edition during a specific ordering window and theedition size is determined by the amount of prints ordered during this window.Anyone interested in receiving updates and/or further information regarding theseries can subscribe to the mailing list at

Goatmeal Print

Lastly,what’s next on your slate? Any new projects we should keep an eye out for?

So much backed up on the desk, now that the show is open I can getback to work. A couple new movie posters for Mondo, a new collaborative printat the Bird Machine with Jay Ryan, portfolio exchange in conjunction with theMAPC 2010 conference in Minneapolis, letterpress bonus prints and incidentals,painting commissions, more Japan-exclusive items to be released via Mega•Fauna,some shirts, look through the Jaime Hernandez art book, mow the lawn, ride mybike, change some diapers, wash some dishes, etc.

Thanks a ton fortaking the time to answer my questions. I really appreciate it, and I’m sureyour other fans will as well.

For high-res photos from the “Midwestern Heart” show, check out the Shrieking Tree Blog!

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