The art of music: 3 Sisters poster design recalls old-school style



To buy the 3 Sisters 2014 poster and get more information about the festival, go to


• What: Feast of the 3 Sisters

• When: Friday-Saturday 3-4 October; 6 pm-11pm Friday; noon-10 p.m. Saturday

• Or: Ross’s landing

• Entrance : To free

• Information:

Brian Murphy owns a Chattanooga graphic design company called That Murphy Boy and has created 3 Sisters bluegrass concert posters for the past few years.

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Chattanooga That Murphy Boy graphic design firm has been creating bluegrass 3 Sisters concert posters over the past few years.

Brian Murphy’s No.1 fan starts calling every year in April about a beautiful concert poster that won’t be around until September. The man always fears that there are not enough posters to buy, beg or barter one.

Murphy, owner of That Murphy Boy Graphic Design in Chattanooga, creates the poster for the 3 Sisters Festival of Bluegrass Music after spending months playing with fonts, color swatches and iconic images for the outdoor event at Ross’s Landing. And this devoted fan is right to worry about hitting a poster.

“It’s hard to keep Brian’s posters on the walls as advertisements because people steal them from restaurants, bartenders give them to patrons who plead for them,” says Ann Ball of Chattanooga Presents, who manages advertising for 3 Sisters. “But this year, for the very first time, we will have screen-printed versions of his poster as well as a digital version.”

This is also the first year that fans will be able to purchase the posters on the 3 Sisters website. But, as she does every year, Ball will make sure there is one aside for this devoted fan.

Screen printing and letterpress (in which images and letters are carved from wooden blocks) are the old-fashioned artisanal methods used in the golden age of the 60s and 70s for rock concert posters and folk by legendary artists. Both methods elevate a concert poster from a simple collector’s item to a true work of art.

Murphy began designing the 3 Sisters posters when Lizzer Graham, one of the three sisters named after the concert, recruited him.

“I start filling a notebook with images, colors and fonts in the spring and I play around with them until the design emerges,” explained Murphy, who cites artistic influences such as Stanley Donwood, an artist who does often Radiohead concert posters, and the Reverend Howard Finster of Summerville, Georgia, who made album covers for REM and Talking Heads.

This year, the design of 3 Sisters is a large red, orange, black and gray banjo. The names of the bands fit perfectly into the design, and a ruby ​​red rooster perches in the upper right corner above the word “FREE”.

“Every letter, every image was hand drawn by me because the concert organizers and I thought it would be a good look for the handcrafted look that etching gives to a poster,” said Murphy.

“Even though this is a bluegrass gig, I have never used a banjo as the central poster image. Now that the banjo is adopted by music-loving hipsters, maybe it will draw more hipsters to 3 Sisters. “

Murphy says concert planners had considered the letter press for this year’s poster “but it was more limiting for the type of images we wanted to do, so we went with the screen printing process.”

Garuda silkscreen printed the posters of the 3 sisters of Murphy’s design. Company owner Mike Lester, 34, already knew the look they wanted; he has a scarlet red screen-printed poster of Hank Williams from the 1950s hanging in his Dodds Avenue office. Lester’s father was a musician, and his grandfather had such advanced engineering skills that he built a television set from abandoned parts because he couldn’t afford one.

Lester inherited their musical and technical gifts, which became assets when he began creating posters for rock groups who wanted to sell them as a commodity. Despite how quickly and easily digital has rendered design, die-hard rockers insist they want the handcrafted beauty and depth of color that only screen printing or letterpress printing offer.

“Even someone who has never looked at a concert poster can tell the difference between a digitally printed poster and a letterpress or screen printed poster,” he says. “There’s a 3-D quality and, at the same time, it looks handmade, like what you’d get if every letter, every picture was carved out of wood.”


To begin the poster printing process, Garuda Screenprinting owner Mike Lester creates a stencil of each color in the design. Before computers were commonplace, printers had to cut out stencils with an X-acto knife, but now Lester can print a monochrome stencil using PhotoShop. Next come about two dozen steps that require a steady hand and a keen eye. But here’s the basic and extremely stripped down version of the process:

The stencil is attached to a fine mesh sieve and a color is scraped off the stencil. For example, in the 3 Sisters poster, the rooster does not appear in the gray stencil at all because there is no gray on the rooster. Each color must dry before applying the next color. Details like stars or snowflakes in a night sky or raindrops ruffling a rabbit’s fur can be very difficult to cut out of a stencil, even using computer software. The labor intensive process is complex and results in higher prices than just digital printing. A screen-printed poster can cost $ 5 each, and a promoter can print dozens of digital posters for the same price.

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Garuda Screenprinting created and printed this poster and the one at the top of the page for rock bands.

He is right. The digital version of this year’s 3 Sisters poster is flat like a magazine ad, while the screen-printed version is so vibrant the colors jump off the page. The orange and red rooster almost looks 3-D. The old school poster is even different.

“If you run your fingers across the poster, you can feel the ink rise above the paper,” Lester explains.

A brush with your fingertips and you can feel the little imperfections, the miniature differences in the amount of ink used on one poster rather than another.

“The digitally created posters are the same and designed to be quick and easy to produce, but every letter press poster is different and totally unique,” ​​Lester explains. “When you have a poster printed in letters, you have a unique work that no one else has. “

Artists who create concert posters, aka “concert posters”, still garner followers and fans, even in the digital age. Daniel Danger is known for his beautiful but eerie visions of a post-apocalyptic small town in America. Two of his posters often land on the lists of “best concert posters” compiled by music and art bloggers – his 2007 Modest Mouse poster for a Norman, Okla concert, has snow swirling down a street haunted by three figures looking at a neon Modest Mouse sign at the top of a crumbling factory.

Another equally famous Danger concert poster is for the Decemberists and features a small island illuminated by a burst of campfire. A vast starry sky and bare tree branches rise above the island. A monster fish is hiding below. Danger frequently numbers and signs posters he sells to fans.

Artist Ken Taylor’s print media concert posters attract fans in part because of their stunning detail, from the crimson feathers of a cardinal on an Avett Brothers poster to the blades of grass. and tufts of grizzly bear fur on a poster promoting a Josh Ritter concert. Some bands, like Bon Iver, commission print media concert posters so exquisite that they create an explosion of Pinterest buzz every time they’re unveiled.

Lester, whose business is so successful that he recently moved it into a warehouse-sized building on Dodds, got his start in poster printing by playing guitar and violin in a group from Cleveland, Ohio, named Shellbound.

“The bassist had a screen printing business, so he hired me to tour with the band and keep the screen printing business going,” Lester explains. “I get the same satisfaction from the job that I did from music.

“And bands are starting to trust me to come up with designs. One band that needed a poster just said, ‘Make it quirky. I did it. They loved it.’

Contact Lynda Edwards at [email protected] at 423-757-6391.

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