• JOSEPH ARTHUR - "Icarus" poster walkthrough

    Sometimes designing is like being lost in the woods. 

    When I was going to art school I was a big believer that every single piece of work should have a well thought out theme. I thought every element should all tie back to a greater plot or theme or reference and there could be no "happy accident". This was foolish of me because then all art became cereberal instead of emotional and expressionistic. As I've evolved as an artist I've realized that while I do often still start with cereberal intentions I have to eventually let go and put myself in to my work. Putting yourself into a piece of work also sets you up for more rejection. Luckily for me, in this very personal project, both sides of my creation were well-received. Ultimately the roadblock in my mind was my own perfectionist attitude. I hope you enjoy this tour of watching me bang my head against the wall. 

    My favorite musician, by a landslide, is Joseph Arthur. As you can tell by my listening habits, I may have a problem. 

    And that's not even including the other 563 times I've listened to him play with the Lonely Astronauts. So when he came to town I bought several tickets for my friends and got excited about the show. Not too long later I realized that my friend Todd O'Dowd worked there. I had designed a poster for Solid Gold & White Light Riot to play there years ago so I got in touch with Todd and gave it a shot. He, being the awesome guy that he is, obliged. 

    Once it was approved I was ecstatic and got to work immediately. Thankfully the idea came to me right away. The execution of that idea however did not. 

    Many of Arthur's songs have religious themes like a Father/Son relationship, redemption and often he sings of the sun itself. This story also has another strong theme - balance. 

    Any artist has to wrestle with the ability to find balance in their lives between the mania of creation and the depression of failure. Few know this battle as well as Arthur. These things all lead me to the myth of Icarus & Daedalus.

    Not only does Icarus appear somewhat angel-like thanks to his wings, but also the whole story is loaded with similar themes that Arthur continually explores. In the story the King fears the Minotaur and commissions the brilliant Daedalus to construct a labyrinth to contain him. He places the beast on an island in the center of the construct. For fear of the secret of the labyrinth getting out, he banishes Daedalus and his son Icarus there as well. 

    Most of us know the rest of the story about Icarus flying too close to the sun, melting his wings of wax and falling in to the sea, but few remember that in spite of great loss, Daedalus made it home. He then went into hiding, denied the king and dedicated his life to the gods. 

    Years later Daedalus was discovered because he was the only one able to solve a small puzzle. His vanity of his own powerful mind made him known to the King once again. 

    You'll see our friend the Minotaur makes a cameo on this poster as the center label of a vinyl record which has grooves like a labyrinth. 

    So in the interst of full disclosure I'll publish my rather embarassing and meandering path to the final product. First, I looked for inspiration and ended up spending many hours looking at just about every single picture of Icarus that is on the internet. 

    A lot of these are really awesome, especially that abstraction in the top-middle. I hadn't settled on a style but because Arthur's music has evolved to be quite abstract over the years, and his own art is very wild I thought I'd try something along those lines.  This was another hurdle I put in my own way. It's one of the few styles I've not explored much. In fact, I once designed a rather stark/abstract poster for Solid GoldSo It Goes and MC/VL that no one else liked but me. 

    Maybe it's hard to see, but the original spirit of this poster reemerged during this creation process by way of the color palette. 

    So after much asset gathering I set off on my confusing and frustrating journey. Joseph Arthur's used to play with The Lonely Astronauts and it was also the name of one of their songs. I got hung up on trying to marry my concept with reality too literally and started experimenting with the idea of Icarus as an astronaut. 

    I secretly still like this idea, and will probably revisit it. It reminds me of all sorts of fantastic old sci-fi stories and even the 80's SilverHawks cartoon.

    I then tried the more abstract style. Once I'd hit a wall of despair I talked the poster over with the fantastic surrealist artist Alison Lindburg. You can see some of her work at

    She helped me come up with this idea of putting a labyrinth on the turntable. Brilliant! With the help of some art from CSA Images (Some of which are free if you print on French Paper) I then took a nice detour to crazy-town. I was also all caught up in this idea that I wanted the water to be on top, and the sun on the bottom so that it looked like at first he was flying, but was actually falling. That idea didn't survive.

    At this point I was using a lot art as placeholder while Alison Lindburg illustrated the wings for me. She at one point wisely predicted that I'd end up using just a feather. 

    Here is the beautiful wing that Alison illustrated for the poster.

    But she was right, the wing was killing me. I was ready to abandon this entire style. Most of the time I create my designs/illustrations in one session. One sustained burst of inspiration. This time, I had failed for a second time and so I walked away. This was scary. As the creative process would have it, the poster finally came together in my mind while riding the bus and thinking of everything except this project. I quickly sketched out a few layouts that were using only a feather. 

    That was it. I had broken through the self-imposed barriers in my mind and now it was just time to execute it. I quickly threw together some versions.

    It started to come together.

    I found if I strayed too far from water being blue and the sun being yellow that the Icarus theme would be completely lost. French Paper make a great blue paper called Poptone Berrylicious that I had used for the Melismatics jellyfish poster for the MN State Lottery a while back. I only realized as I started writing this post that some of the colors felt a little like that Solid Gold & MC/VL poster. 

    Once I found the layout I fell in love with a few things. First, the shape that is echoed in the feather and the arm of the turntable. (I'll concede that was completely a "Happy Accident"). Second, that I could use the feather to throw off the symmetry and highlight some text with it's tip.

    I sent off the proof and thankfully everyone involved liked it. So then, it was time to print. I contacted the press-ninja, Erik Hamline of Steady Print Shop. He did a fantastic job as always. 

    And here's the finished product! 

    Thanks to this project I was priviledged enough to meet Joseph Arthur and his awesome manager to discuss this project, religion, film, and working together again. He signed a poster and even drew Icarus on it for me. Overall what I took away from it was the beauty of one artist inspiring another and that creation becoming an inspiration in return. As a team we decided to give away a poster with every merch purchase at the show. It felt right to build good will for the musican to the fans, the venue to the locals and from me to all parties. The show was amazing and the night was perfect. Whew.

    Thanks for wading through this embarassing, but enlightening process with me. I hope it's become clear that sometime perseverance is the best trait an artist can have. 

    The remaninder of the 50 limited edition posters are now available for sale at THEY's Etsy Store.

    - Clinton Lugert of THEY design