Student takes an artistic approach toward music through printmaking

The sound of local acoustic blues duo Hobo Can’t Ride This Train filled the Student Union Gallery as UAA art student Craig Updegrove displayed old and recent concert posters. His rich and innovative designs create a montage of prints from various shows and festivals.

The exhibit, which opened June 21, is titled “Music Made Visual,” and it showcases Updegrove’s experience with printmaking and his expansion toward creating posters for local events.

Updegrove has been in the print design business for a while, and he’s gained several clients while living in Seattle. His love for music has also led him toward creating posters for bands, but you won’t see Updegrove playing any instruments.

Before he even begins on a design for a band, he’ll listen to the music repetitively while forming ideas. He says he tries to match an image to the music, or tweak the image so it feels like the music. The gallery displayed posters for bands including The Tim Sturm Band, The Roman Candles, Arab Strap and Kinski. Each ranged in its design, color pattern and lettering.

But Updegrove isn’t a musical elitist from the West Coast. He grew up in Bethel and moved to Seattle to attend the Art Institute with an emphasis in graphic design. He lived downtown, where there’s an ongoing array of music venues. Seattle is also where he developed a specific interest in print design. The city’s design aesthetic includes a lot of texture and a lot of hand-rendered illustration.

“Most of the designers I admire print concert posters as a hobby. I wanted to sort of emulate them, and that’s how I started,” Updegrove said.

Updegrove gained knowledge in technical and computer basics in graphic design from the Art Institute. Since then, he’s been focused on more fine art training, specifically print training through UAA’s art program. But don’t call him a graphic designer.

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“There’s something about saying I’m a graphic designer. People’s view of graphic design is demeaning. When I tell people I’m a graphic designer, they’re like, ‘I know Photoshop.’ You don’t tell an author, ‘I know Word, I can type,'” Updegrove said.

It’s not uncommon for artists to use the computer as a source of design when it comes to concert posters. With graphic design under his belt, Updegrove said he’s realized the potential of using printmaking instead of computer design.

“There’s something about going straight into the computer; something is lost. You’re not physically a part of it. You’re not getting dirty, covered in paint, ink. I enjoy that,” Updegrove said.

His time at UAA has opened him up to a lot of new printing techniques. Last semester he used woodblock to create a poster for the UAA Film Festival. His keeps the colors of his work to three at most, since the printing process takes a long time. The setup of the screens and printing takes about three hours for each color; this often sets him back for a whole day of printing, which is not part of the design process either. His prints can take up to a week to complete. The process is tedious but rewarding.

Updegrove has gained clients through working for Sub Pop Records, House of Blues and other Seattle venues. He’s barely paid for his work, and has relied on selling posters after a show to turn a profit. The bands are usually open to his designs, but occasionally the band’s response isn’t as accepting. The lack of pay hasn’t stopped Updegrove from taking the time to print and create new designs. He’s been experimenting with wallpaper for backgrounds and handset type.

There isn’t much competition for Updegrove’s poster work in Anchorage, but Seattle is buzzing with new designers showcasing their work through printmaking. Printmakers such as Updegrove would often have to bid to bands for poster ideas. Sometimes there can be three or four designers asking to create posters for a single band.

“I just keep trying to push my designs as far as I can take it. I found that the bolder and stronger images get noticed and ones that bands appreciate,” Updegrove said.

He’s working on developing a Web site so that clients can contact him, but he hasn’t lacked a response locally or from the West Coast. He was contacted by House of Blues Records to design a poster for the Sasquatch Music Festival this past May, which was also on display at the gallery. Updegrove was one of 30 designers selected across the nation for the event. He recently had work displayed with other UAA art student artists at the MTS Gallery in Mountain View. He’s designed posters for Out North Community Theatre, and last summer he created an old Soviet poster that was featured in the back of the Anchorage Press. He said he hopes to expand his printmaking abilities to theatre and art as well.

“It’s kind of a community outreach thing. Some people do food drives; I pull prints. That’s my way to contribute to the community,” Updegrove said. “I get to have the streets and billboards as my gallery, and it’s open to everyone.”