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Design Devils
Rock Sound
Published on 1/11/2010

Quick little interview in Rock Sound about my poster art! Read the transcript below!

Design Devils: Tara McPherson
By Hardeep Phull
Rock Sounds
Issue 130

Having worked with some of the biggest names and companies in music, Tara McPherson reveals what's behind her posters...
Worked for: ATP, Mastodon, Neurosis, Today is the Day, Melvins, Green Day and more..

How did you get into designing gig posters?
My intention was always to be a painter and I went to art school for painting and illustration.  I did rock posters by accident really; I was in a band after graduation and when we were playing shows it was my job to do the posters because I was the artist in the band. I figured that rather than doing black and white xerox posters, I'd do color ones and put more time into them. It grew from there because then I started doing them for the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles. Eventually, I started doing them for Golden Voice (concert promoters). Initially, I didn't even put them on my website because I didn't want it to conflict with my paintings. 

Is there any kind of formula or key to creating a good gig poster?

For me, a good poster is about striking the right combination between a great illustration and a great band. That's what I would want if I was going to buy a poster. I tend to work on posters for bands that I like. It's always been that way -- I used to look at upcoming shows and ask to do posters for the bands I liked. I've always been able to pick and choose, which has been great. Its hard to pick a favorite, but I've always really liked the Isis posters that I did and the Mastodon / Neurosis ones are good too.

There seems to be a big manga-esque influence in a lot of your work. Is that the case?
Its an unconscious influence, I think. Before college, I used to manage a Japanese toy store and I got exposed to so many amazing Japanese artists like Yoshitoshi, Yoshitomo Nara, Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuya Terada, Hokusai... I have some Hokusai tattoos actually.  I don't really read manga, but there's a certain aesthetic to Japanese artwork that really resonates with me.  

Is there a particular source of inspiration for the characters in your work?
The concepts and ideas come from human relationships and interactions. It's either stuff that I observe that happens to me, but they're universal situations. For example, there was one Depeche Mode poster I was working on a few years ago where I knew I wanted a female face up front and center, but I knew I needed something else in the image. I was kind of stuck on it because I couldn't figure out what it should be. In those situations, I usually leave it alone for a little bit and come back to it later.  So that's exactly what I did - I went to meet some friends for a a drink and afterwards they came back to my place. We were just hanging out and one of my friends was texting his girlfriend because they were in a fight. He was pretty much breaking up with her through the text and, as that was happening, I was imagining this girl on the other end holding her phone and crying. I got this image of her with mascara tears running down her face and I knew that was what the poster was missing. It hit me like a ton of bricks, so I sat down, drew that onto her face and it was done. That was at like five in the morning. You never know where inspiration is going to come from. 

How did you end up doing the poster for the ATP curated by The Breeders this year?

I'd done an ATP poster before - when the Mars Volta curated an event a few years ago - and it was super fun, so I was happy to do it again for the Breeders. With that poster, I thought it was kind of funny to use a rabbit as a kind of euphemism for 'breeders'. My balloon characters are also quite sperm-like, so to have the whole troupe flying through space would be funny too. It also just fit The Breeders sound which is pretty upbeat, happy music.

It seems like you haven't done that many gig posters in recent years. Are you trying to move away from it?
I did about three in 2009 and last year I only did one. I've been focusing more on my gallery work. I do them for my friends' bands because they're fun to do more than anything else. They're whimsical - I don't have to put so much concept into them. They're more like eye candy. However, I definitely want to keep doing them. It keeps things interesting for me to do different things, so I can work on a toy design, then do some paintings and then go do some posters to keep me entertained.