February 5th, 2009 5:33 pm | by NILINA MASON-CAMPBELL Music | Posted In: Columns, Columns

Q&A: Getting Graphic With Concert Poster Artist Tom O'Toole

tom I have a long-standing battle with generic art. Sure, I can appreciate the time and effort that went into whatever it is I'm viewing, but if there's just a lack of genuine personality, the vacancy overcomes any appreciation and leaves me feeling indifferent. When you can't see any of the creator in their art or there's no expression being conveyed, what is there to relate to?

Aside from the pure awesomeness of Portlander Tom O'Toole's iconic concert poster designs that decorate the many telephone poles around this fair city, I really appreciate how truly distinct each one is. It's like every poster is acting like an elaborate O'Toole signature. Once you're aware of his style, if you see them on a pole or tacked to a wall, you're instantly aware that no hand other than O'Toole's could've created the designs. Some of his most identifiable include his hand-drawn sneaker illustration for '90s dance party Snap! and Holocene's 5th Anniversary jungle animal featuring series last year.

During this Q&A, the man behind my favorite local posters explains that even when the imagery on his posters doesn't seem to instantly match up with any specific lyrics, he still draws his inspiration from the artist's music indirectly. He also chats about how he got started, the creation process and where he hopes to go. Standby for the answers and a handful of his rad posters too.


How do you make a poster?
I start by drawing, sketching, looking through books and magazines—browsing the Internet is also invaluable for inspiration. I also make a point to listen to the given band or performer's music while doing all of this if I haven't heard it. The mood and style of music can sometimes be all that's needed and silly themes and imagery can start popping into my head.

I then move to doing finalized inked drawings if illustration is involved, scanning them, and composing the whole thing digitally. I usually color illustrations in Photoshop. The final products are all done using the Adobe Creative Suite in some capacity.

Your posters are often heavy on illustration. Is that done by hand on paper or via computer?
Hand drawn...colored mostly digitally in Photoshop. I often use hand-drawn typography too, but otherwise the type is set in Illustrator—it kinda feels weird to use the term “set type” in digital context—but you get the idea. Sometimes posters can come out of unrelated illustrations that I had perviously done that just seem to fit for one reason or another. In that case they are usually hand-colored too—fully hand-drawn.


There's obviously a digital element to your posters. What programs do you use and what do you use them for?
Illustrator for vector illustrations, type, and often layout, and Photoshop for the rest—coloring, texturizing and other lil' tricks. I kinda live in Photoshop—during the day at my job, and in my personal work.

How and when did you initially start doing concert posters?
The first official one I did was for a benefit show for my college radio station featuring the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Before that I did a few for friends bands and hip-hop acts that were all sharpie on printer paper, before I learned any graphics software.

After I finished school, my good friend and college roommate started working for Blackbird Presents here in Portland, and I slowly got a few jobs here and there. I think the first one I did for Blackbird was Xiu Xiu, Dirty Projectors, Grouper and some others at Disjecta...pretty rad for a first job, as I was getting really hyped on Dirty Projectors at the time. It was just a lot of doing any poster job ever offered to me, for little or no money, to try and build a body of work.

How did you link up with Holocene?
The same dude [Aaron Hall] that worked for Blackbird Presents ended up working for them, and all the sudden I had the hook-up, if you will. I did a poster for DJ Krush playing there with Kez and Beyonda and my relationship with them kinda took off. I really dig their taste in music, the staff and regular DJs are all super nice folks, and they slide me poster jobs all the time, so I am very thankful for being linked up with Scott and Jarkko and the bunch (thanks HC). I also periodically work for Someday Lounge and Backspace, have done a few for Crown Room, and The Hot Mess Crew at Tube.

How many hours per poster does it take you?
The least I think would have to be an hour or two—a few have come that quickly. Usually closer to four to six.

What makes the time commitment worth it in your eyes?
The freedom to explore new illustration and typography styles at will—I am hardly ever art-directed, so it's kind of an aesthetic free-for-all. I am growing as an artist, building up my portfolio, staying productive, and making some beer-and-sometimes-sneaker money on the side. It's an awesome creative side hustle. It keeps me sane when I am doing a bunch of production-based stuff at work, and not flexing my creative muscles enough.

Where does your inspiration come from?
Music, Portland, my special lady friend and her design work, that of other peer artists and designers, stress, stoke, sunshine, family, turkey sandwiches, shredding, red wine, IPA, etc.

What are your favorite posters you've done and why?
Maybe the Holocene Five year Anniversary series because of the animal illustrations—a crunk gorilla for the night that was an electro dance party situation, and a docile-looking tiger for the more rock and folk-geared night. Sometimes I like the poster more because I'm super into the band at the moment, or because I had a blast at the show...but some of my favorites were for shows I definitely didn't go to.


How did you make your the most recent Born Ruffians poster? From where did you cull the images and what inspired it?
Their music inspired it to an extent, and some photo-collage stuff that yesnoplease was exploring at the time. I drew the type, and the photos came from the internets. The glorious, vast, expansive series of tubes.

Do you regularly make two different versions of posters (re: Danielson and Shadowscene)?
Sometimes. If I do one and it doesn't fit the vibe or aesthetic of the artist or promoter, or if I'm just plain not feeling it. Sometimes I'll start working on a poster, get close to finishing, and just not really be convinced I'm done and then start again.


Where would you like to go in terms of your graphic design?
To be self employed eventually would be rad. To run a small, multidisciplinary design studio with friends and to work for awesome clients. I want to learn more animation...film, to get better at photography—all of which I feel would help my design and illustration in a big way.

Where does the name I, Brontosaurus come from?
My fascination for the extinct, friendly vegetarian dinosaurs, and a confusion over an old Big Jus Lune TNS song title. It's really just a funny misunderstanding that turned into a makeshift design identity and stuck.

Anything else?
I am fully available for freelance work if any readers are stoked on what they see. Holler. And thanks to Holocene, yesnoplease, Hanukkah Miracle, Jordan Domont, Nick G, LocalCut and my family.

I, Brontosaurus - Tom O'Toole official site
I, Brontosaurus blog
Getting to Know Concert Poster Designer Dylan McConnell

Photo and posters care of Tom O'Toole
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