When John Soat and Mike Williams began their own screen-printing business in 2008, during their junior year at the UW-Madison, they didn't have a clue what they were doing. Guided by little more than Internet tutorials and an idea, the two cleaned out a room in Williams' basement, built a light table from a rotten picnic table, and set about trying to make their first poster. After a whole summer, they managed only to produce just one print.
Last year, after graduating from the UW, the two teamed up with their friend Matt Riley, a fellow art student, and formed a small print shop out of a house the three of them rented together. They called themselves Animal Canon and they focused on making gig posters for bands.
At its heart, a gig poster is little more than an artistic advertisement for an upcoming show. It is meant merely to convey the basic information of who, what, when and where. But to be effective, they must also convey a sense of wow.
"Making gig posters is one of the easiest ways of getting your work exposed to people," says Riley. "Because posters have the ability to float around the web easily. You don't have to spend a lot or expect a lot back, but what you end up getting out of it is the chance to show people a side of what you do."
In an age where things are becoming increasingly more digitalized, large prints are slowly being outdated. Social networking has made it easier for bands to advertise upcoming shows. However, gig posters have a unique appeal among indie music lovers in particular.
"I think one of the reasons that our posters work is because of the type of music that we are advertising for," says Soat. "These are the type of people into posters. They're the same people buying vinyl still because its something you can hold onto. So to be able to have something like a poster, and to remember it, means a lot to people."Though Animal Canon has only been in business for a year, it has managed to create posters for a number of large national acts, such as Titus Andronicus, Steve Aoki, Built to Spill and the Heartless Bastards. Offering deeply imagined and uniquely eclectic art, the three young artists have managed to make a name for themselves in relatively short period of time.
Last Friday, the shop featured its work in a one-day exhibition at the Project Lodge Gallery, along with live music. The event featured about 25 prints and drew several dozen people.
Animal Canon gets a set price from bands for making posters and sells extra prints online. Still, making money in the business has proven difficult. More often than not, they only manage to break even.
But success is relative, and Soat, Williams and Riley have found that the exposure and experience they are getting is its own reward.
"We did this because we wanted to live in an environment where we were creating the entire time," Soat explains. "Where we were able to be motivated. For me, it is a kind of grad school."
Williams agrees. "This whole thing was just a way to get started without having to get a job or know the right person," he says. "It's kind of a back door way to getting recognized."