If there’s an exciting gig happening in Liverpool, you can be sure illustrator Gary McGarvey’s done a poster for it. Taking the age-old tradition of classic screenprinted concert posters, McGarvey adds a clean, modern twist to them. Sticking to minimal colours, his posters are detailed, considered and understated. He’s also the man behind the recent Screenadelica exhibitions in the city: showcasing not only his, but some of the finest screenprinted concert posters from across the globe. We had a chat with him to find out about the re-emerging screenprint scene, what it’s like working in Liverpool, and, er, cans of Lilt.
So, tell us a bit about your background: how did you get started?
I went to Uni quite late on, did a HND in Warrington then topped up to degree in JMU and stayed on in Liverpool. I had an idea of what direction I wanted to go with my career and even if it was going to take longer, I was prepared to put in that extra work to do it my way and not go and work for someone but try it by myself. Eventually I was able to set up by myself and give it a proper go. It was as much stubbornness and determination that pushed me along the way as it was having a definitive plan.
Was the move into music always the plan?
It was the hope more than the plan. I was lucky to work in music venues through my degree so I made loads of contacts that way. So I had loads of people to pester ’til they let me design posters for them. At the start I had to do some corporate jobs, but I’e been lucky since to be busy enough to be able to stick to the music side. Since starting designing screenprinted gig posters, I realise there are so many ways I can design and be involved in the music industry rather than just relying on physical cover designs. There’s quite an active screenprinted gig poster scene starting to emerge in the UK which is great and something I want to concentrate on more and more. The music industry is relatively small in terms of everyone knowing each other, so it’s important to use every opportunity to make impressions on bands and labels.
How does the creative process work – does the band’s music shape the graphic design?
Yeah, I always have to listen to the bands to get inspiration. I think a poster has to reflect the bands sound and vibe, when it’s a screenprint it almost has to tell a story about the band. In my opinion when it’s a screenprint, it’s the designers interpretation of the music they’re designing for, hence the huge range of different styles of posters that emerge for different shows for the same band. Even when it’s a commissioned job for a band that I’m not hugely into, it still deserves to be treated in the same way and take elements from either the atmosphere of the music or basing the design on sections of lyrics.
I tend to start most posters on the sketch pad and then scan into the Adobe Illustrator program. Then build layers up as I go along. As I do a lot of screenprints now, I have to design within a certain amount of colours so it tends to push me to concentrate more on the illustration which is always a positive thing I think. I never use any effects on my work, everything is always hand drawn or drawn on the computer and built up like that, sometimes to achieve an effect that could be done with the click of a button. But I would rather spend that bit of extra time and make it more organic.
Who’s your inspiration, graphics wise?
I dont really have any specific graphic inspiration. Obviously the books I buy and the blogs I browse through have somewhat of an effect on my work, but I couldnt narrow it down to just one. Obviously my interest at the minute is in the gig poster world and there are so may beasts out there doing their thing. People like Daniel Danger, Jay Ryan, Scrawled, Drew Milward, Kevin Tong, Luke Drozd im my eyes, are all raising the stakes of what a gig poster should be. It’s so much more than just text and an image, it’s an insight into what the artist takes from the music. It doesnt necessarily have to be something image based that inspires me, I read a lot and I think that conjures up a lot of images. Sometimes, with bands I know, I’ll read lyrics rather than listen to the music to get ideas for posters or covers. Each job differs.
What about setting up an office in town – scary?
I worked in the Barfly in the office for a year after I finished uni, as well as doing posters for the venue, trying to develop some kind of regular work from there and other promoters and bands. I got some funding from Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and the Prince’s Trust after doing a start up course which gave me means to buy some equipment to get me going. Until six months ago I shared a studio in Elevator with DJ friends of mine which was great for not only meeting potential clients, but creating a really creative environment.
I decided in 2008 to plunge feet first and see what happened, try and go freelance and see if I could survive. The past year has gone from me begging bands to let me do screenprints for their shows, to doing Bjork’s poster for Bestival. Blagging has a lot to answer for, but I’d like to think that my work has a bit to do with it! Who you know is really important though, from day one I carried business cards to every gig or potential client gaining event there was going. You have to talk to as many people as you can, give people your card and let them know you are out there.
I’ve always been determined to work for myself, see how far I could get, although it’s been tough, I have learned a lot doing it this way.
How’s the city’s response been to your work?
Everything has been really positive. Right from the start, people have been into the screenprint end of things, from buying at shows to coming to exhibitions. Far too few people in Liverpool do gig poster screenprints, it’s the main reason I set up Screenadelica. I think in the last year that I have been doing screenprinted posters, people have been getting used to the fact that posters are taking a greater place in the music world, in the physical end of things. Screenprints at gigs are more than just a souvineer, they are part of the audience’s experience of the music. So many people just download albums that they have nothing physical to show for it, a poster creates both a memory of the show but also something physical to represent the music.
Give us a bit of insight behind Screenadelica, your poster exhibition.
Screenadelica was born at Liverpool Sound City in 2010. It was really well received so this year we were able to build upon it and make it bigger and better. The space we had at the International Gallery was perfect for what we wanted, more intimate and perfect for bands to play in. Again this year we had a showcase of JMU students work which went down great this year, I hope to get a few students more involved throughout the year. Screenadelica has really taken off too, having shows at Liverpool Sound City, Primavera in Barcelona, SITE Gallery in Sheffield and Bestival so far with a possible show in New York before Christmas. Next year we have around five major festivals lined up, UK and international, which is great for the poster scene. I have around 10 regular amazing gig poster artists whose work I bring with me to the shows and then guest artists who do one off posters for shows. We are always looking for new artists to submit work and give people the opportunity to design for bands that they wouldnt normally have the chance to, or have the means of creating the right contacts.
What’s right about Liverpool right now?
Liverpool has such a great creative and music scene at the minute, it’s a great place to be. There are hubs like the Kazimier and Wolstenholme Creative Space that keep bouncing out such great shows and gigs, but there are so many people who are into doing something different in the city that it’s inspiring. The art scene is quite compact in Liverpool, and the people who are making a difference are not like other cities where there’s an idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’. In most cases, there isn’t any pretention, if you want to get involved, there’s room for everyone. Warehouses being taken over for exhibitions and raves, gigs in churches… street art is even maturing compared to what has been on offer in recent years. I love the Hope St Market, it attracts so many people. It’s a shame it can’t be more often. Liverpool has a buzz about it at the minute, I hope it stays that way for a long time.
What’s getting on your goat about Liverpool right now?
The Tesco town takeover! And Sainsburys, for that matter. Bold Street should be encouraging more independent businesses to open there rather than more supermarkets. I wouldnt mind if Sainsburys opened and it was better than the other shops around it, but when it has less of a product line than both the Tesco it’s next door to and the other Sainsburys at the bottom of the road, what’s the point in it being there? That space would have been perfect for a gallery space, with the windows coming the whole way round. Anything but another supermarket.
Also, nowhere sells Lilt! Not this new mango flavour, the original grapefruit and pineapple. Many a day I have combed the local shops trying to find a can of Lilt without success. Lilt can cure many ills.