not all that rare, its a nice surprise to find an individual taking
the skills they use on a daily basis to earn a living and keep a roof
over their head, and using them to help out our local scene as best
they can. And its particularly awesome when its designed so
Paper Music Posters has been operating on a minimal basis, but has been producing posters for both local and well-known national acts as well. With both simplistic and intricate designs the posters themselves have gotten recognition on a regional basis, making Paper Music a growing name in the music community. I got a chance to chat with the man behind it all, Brandon Knowlden, about his career and starting Paper Music, as well as thoughts on local art. All with some displays of his work.
Gavin: Hey Brandon! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brandon: My name is Brandon, I'm 26, and I do everything I can to be a good person and stay fed. I was born here in Salt Lake City, but I would decline to say that I'm from Salt Lake City. Not in a bad way, but I moved away when I was two or three years old. I've lived in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and now live in the Sugarhouse area. I tend to have a lot going on in my head and art helps me stay sane. I also tend to have a lot of hobbies. I ski a ton, love to skydive and have been training jujitsu for a few years now. This past year I also ran my first marathon and competed in my first triathlon, Utah has been really good for me in that way.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest into art, and what were some of your early inspirations?
Brandon: I'm not sure really, I have a lot of artistic people in my family and have always been supported that whatever I choose to do, I just need to do it with passion. I decided to do it for a living when I decided that I wasn't really interested in punching the clock for a 9-5 type thing. Although I'm constantly looking for new sources of inspiration, my favorite artist is and has always been M.C. Escher. I guess he was the first time I had really been impacted by an artist intellectually.
Gavin: You have your Bachelors degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. What made you choose their college, and how was their program for you?
Brandon: I have a special place in my heart for AIP, although I don't think it's a school that's right for everyone. They are a "for profit" school which means they have stock holders and stuff. It's important for them to graduate kids and it may be a little unfair, but handing things in on time was basically just as important as the quality of the work. Although, with that said, there were a few instructors that really knew there stuff and I was able to get an amazing education and form a ton of really great relationships.
Gavin: How did you come to work for Blattner Brunner and what did you get from your experience there?
Brandon: AIP wasn't much of a traditional college, it was much more of a professional environment than I thought college would be. While I was there they really encouraged internships, and Blattner Brunner (which has since changed to Brunner) was one of them. My senior year some friends and I were able to get some student work into an international advertising competition and that was what tipped the scales in my favor to get picked up by Brunner. While I was there I really learned what my role as an "Art Director" was. I learned that there are several dimensions and depth to creating a final piece and most importantly, I learned that my ideas were intended to solve problems and that I couldn't take it personal when 99% of them were tossed out the window.
Gavin: When did the decision come about to move to Utah?
Brandon: I was living in Pittsburgh and was just looking to make a move. Maybe it was all in my head, but I felt like I had hit a bit of a ceiling and needed some new surroundings. Struck, a creative boutique here had just joined forces with a guy by the name of Steve Driggs. Steve was a key player in the "Live Richly" campaign for Citi Bank a few years back. Remember those commercials about identity theft? "$1500 for a leather bustier? I didn't care, it lifts and separates. Plus, it's not like I'm actually paying for it." Steve won an Emmy for that campaign and I really looked up to him and was stoked to work with a guy like that. So that combined with the great skiing and a slew of family near by couldn't be beat. I actually packed up my belongings and headed across country without ever even really interviewing.
Gavin: Currently you're the Art Director for Struck. What's the job like for you over there and how have you taken to it?
Brandon: Well I'm actually one of several Art Directors for Struck. Art Director is a bit of an ambiguous term to some, but basically I am an advertising designer. Another clear distinction is that we come up with a larger idea for a campaign to make sure that everything we do ties together in a really sensible way. As for Struck, it's a pretty amazing place to work. At a smaller shop you have to be much more proficient at so many more things and that can be a bit of a pain in the ass, but that's also the upside though too. You tend to have much more control of the outcome of a project when you're involved with it every step of the way. I would say that I have wiggled my way into the company pretty well. I get good, fulfilling projects and am constantly challenged.
Gavin: What are some of the local projects and material you've worked on that people would recognize?
Brandon: Locally, I work on the Deer Valley and Utah Office of Tourism accounts. So anytime you see a Deer Valley billboard or a Utah Office of Tourism print ad, it came from the team I work on. If you've traveled out of the SLC airport during winter in the last couple of years and seen snowflakes trying out for a shot to come to Utah, that was us too. Struck also takes on a lot of project work that people may recognize. I've worked on sponsorship ads for Real Salt Lake, billboards for XANGO and some TV commercials for a local law firm called The Advocates in this last year.
Gavin: What got you interested in concert posters, and how did the idea come about to start making them?
Brandon: My whole life I had drawn and doodled my way into a world made up of my own rules and now I have to do it everyday, on demand. Sometimes I feel like I go into work, am turned upside down and a vice is put on my head and squeezed until creativity oozes out. And frankly, that feeling sucks. And droning on day after day in front of the computer can get a little tiresome. I guess in one aspect, I just really wanted to get my hands dirty. That was what led me back to some form of fine art. I choose screen printing because the art is so accessible. $20 can get you a one of a kind work. Maybe it's my level of confidence with my illustration skills and that I don't feel worthy of getting paid $1500 for a painting, or maybe it's that I know the desire to possess something unique and how much it sucks to feel like it's out of reach because it's too expensive. And I chose concert posters because I'm a huge music fan and music artists understand and appreciate what goes into creating something unique and allow a ton of freedom.
Gavin: What brought on the decision to start Paper Music, and how did you go about getting set up?
Brandon: Paper Music came out of necessity really. I've learned through my professional career that it's all about perception. A name, website and a logo go along way in the eyes of bands and consumers. It's way easier to shoot agents a website than to say "I swear I can pull this off..." But I also did it because there were a lot of people out there that told me I couldn't do it. Even if they didn't say anything, you could see the doubt in there eyes. So in a way, I did it as a big “fuck you” to my opposition. I just asked a lot of questions, Googled about every subject I could and basically screwed things up until I got the hang of it. My first poster, I had 125 sheets of paper and ended up with about 45 salable pieces. Compared to these days where 100 sheets will get me and 97 or 98 posters.
Gavin: Did you choose to go digital or the traditional screen printing route, and why?
Brandon: Both actually. I'm still refining my process, but I use just about everything when I'm making a poster. Creating art is less about the proper discipline of paint and canvas and much more about telling a story or sharing an emotion. And these days, I can't imagine doing everything by hand, but I also find it way too difficult to put emotion into a piece with something as cold and sterile as a computer. I use sketchbooks, sharpies, pencils, scanners, printers - whatever I need to really.
Gavin: What's the process that goes into creating a poster from the designs you choose to final product?
Brandon: Up to now, and hopefully for as long as this thing lasts, I only do work for bands whose music I really enjoy. I start by doing a ton of research. Like a lot of research. I try to make every piece about the artist and their story rather than a pretty picture, so the research is a real necessity. Once I have a couple dozen concepts for the piece I usually leave the poster alone for a week or two and let it stew in the back of my head. From there I'll do a half-a-dozen sketches to see what the layout should be. Then I figure out what needs to be drawn and what should be done in the computer. From there I draw things, work out the color palette and get it nice and ready to go to print. Silkscreening must be done one color at a time, so it's important to get your pieces down to just a few colors. You then make transparencies of your individual colors (like the overhead projector things from high school). Then you'll "burn" screens which is a process where your transparency absorbs all the light that is curing a pancake-batter-like hardener on your actual screen. From there, you mix paint, align your paper with the screen and start making magic one poster at a time.
Gavin: Does it ever feel like it's a lost art, or do you believe there's still a strong audience for it?
Brandon: It does in a way, but when you get into the thick of it, there is a thriving community of poster artists. There are so many people putting out posters, but the reality is that there are a few dozen that put out the work everyone aspires to be doing. It's like most stuff though, a few people do it really well, most don't.
Gavin: Who are some of the bands you've done posters for, and what's their general reaction to the artwork you produce?
Brandon: So far I've done posters for Modest Mouse, Yo La Tengo, Blitzen Trapper, a few for Loney Dear, Santigold, Jason Timothy and the Ting Tings. Everyone seems to be really appreciative of the work and I try to get the band and their undercard all posters for them to keep. They love it and it disguises my real intention of meeting them and getting my work signed.
Gavin: What new projects are you currently working on, and what are your plans for Paper Music down the road?
Brandon: This year was really about getting my feet wet and figuring out what this whole thing is about for me as a person. I have some ideas for a few art prints that will hopefully open up my work to a wider audience. I also have a few artists in mind that I really want to do work for. We should talk next year, because I'd love to see what I actually get done, but I have my eyes set on a few bigger bands this year. I was thinking Wilco, Passion Pit, Kings of Leon, maybe the Gayblades and hopefully Lykke Li. It really depends on whose touring and stuff, but I'm looking forward to the new year.
Gavin: A little local, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Brandon: I think that locally we have a pretty great art scene. Really talented people. We live in a place that is so inspiring and I think it helps in a lot of ways. I also think that the LDS church has a big part in the art scene. Don't get pissy, I know there are amazing artists out there that are Mormon, but the counter culture produced by the "fallen" make for such a rich sense of self-discovery around here. It's amazing. I grew up LDS, but am not anymore so you might say that I have that sense of inner turmoil too and it makes for better work.
Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Brandon: Encouragement and support really. And that goes both ways too. Art is not counter culture, art is our culture. I would just encourage people to get out more, see things that make themselves uncomfortable. Go places, do things, grow. Challenge who you are and what you believe. Art is about expression and how many of us feel locked inside ourselves on a daily basis. I guarantee that if you take a pottery class, you'll feel better about yourself in the end.
Gavin: What can we expect from you going into next year?
Brandon: An ambitious amount of work that digs deeper into who I am.
Gavin: Aside the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
Brandon: For me, it's more about the promotion of passion into the world than posters on your wall. Putting out good energy. Paper Music needs to be self-sustaining at a bare minimum, but I am much more interested in people finding out who they are. PM is just my way of doing it. A bit of a tantrum I guess. Just get out there people and don't be afraid of yourselves. To prove it's not just a load of crap, visit my website and email me. Tell me a story about why you want a piece of my art and I'll send you a poster. That simple.