Interview: Adam Waito

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by Drink & Draw MTL on February 12, 2013

The mysterious and ineffable thin, black typography seen on show posters throughout Montréal is the output of Adam Waito’s affinity for drawing. Accompanied with illustrations that display tongue-in-cheek humor and pop culture savvy, the recording artist of Adam and the Amethysts and promoter at Blue Skies Turn Black has a sharp graphic style that has no doubt inspired legions of aspiring show poster creators city-wide. Drink & Draw MTL contributor Julia Gunst spoke with Adam recently about his process, inspirations, and what it takes to become a successful poster artist…

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D&D MTL: How did you begin creating show posters? Was it on your own or did it come about through your involvement with Blue Skies Turn Black?

Adam Waito: I’ve always, since I was a kid, been into drawing although I’ve never really done it professionally. There was a poster that was needed for a show [at Blue Skies Turn Black] and I just offered to do it. It ended up turning into a great system where we could produce and print a lot of the posters in-house. Things kind of took off from there, and I don’t exclusively draw for Blue Skies anymore. It gave a jumpstart to my latent illustration inclination.

D&D: Is it challenging to balance whatever your creative impulses are with the needs of the bands and the specifics of their shows?

AW: Sometimes I think about it a lot, and other times I don’t put too much thought into reconciling the two to be honest. Often I’m not super familiar with the bands all the time, which I think is pretty common with poster arts. The main goal is to come up with an image that catches people’s attention. There’s a certain degree of appropriateness that needs to be there in terms of matching the image to the band. I usually go with the idea that comes into my head first because there isn’t a lot of time to produce the poster. Sometimes I hear that a poster is needed and I have to do it that afternoon.

D&D: Where do you get most of your inspiration? You seem to lean towards mixing humor and pop culture references.

AW: I don’t have to dig into my pop cultural vaults. They are usually the things that pop into my head. What is an amusing image that can go on this poster? An image of Freddy Kruger riding a Golden Retriever [may be] the first thing that I think of, so I just draw it.

D&D: Do you think you have any strong influences in the overall style of your posters?

AW: As far as artistic influences are concerned, I guess most of my inspiration comes from comic books. I used to be really into comics when I was a kid and I wanted to be a comic book artist, long before I learned to play guitar. I really idolize the Hernandez Brothers, who are responsible for the Love and Rockets series. Stephen Bissette‘s tenure on Swamp Thing. Charles Burns too, especially Black Hole. I’m also really into old horror comics like EC and other pre-Comics Code stuff.

I’ve also lifted ideas from old skateboard art from the ’80s and ’90s, like Jim Phillips who did all the Santa Cruz art. I was never a skater, but I used to marvel at the grotesque and colorful artwork in my cousin’s skateboarding magazines when I was a kid. Matt Groening is a big influence. I have friends in an art collective in Toronto called Team Macho whose absurdism, grotesqueness and playfulness has certainly be influential to me. Like them I think I very often just let my inner 12-year-old speak through my drawings rather than waste too much time over-thinking them. I was also obsessed with Mad Magazine as a kid, and when I think about it, maybe that is the influence that comes through the most in my poster art.

D&D: What is different about designing your ideas for the street than for the page?

AW: I think my style of drawing transfers well to poster art because I tend to use thick lines and not a lot of detail.

The image has to draw people in from many feet away and the information should be more or less legible. I think obscure posters are cool too, but I generally go with a legible and clear approach.

D&D: In terms of typography, how did you develop your unique style?

AW: I developed a style that I keep consistent because I like it and it is identifiable with me. You can tell when I did a poster because of the text and I don’t have to sign my name to it. I developed it through doing a lot of posters. It became very consistent after the first dozen or so that I did.

D&D: Are there any particular challenges that are unique to Montreal when designing concert posters?

AW: Postering has occupied a sort of legal grey zone. The language laws in Québec make poster design a little bit unique here, because generally everything should be in French. It is important to follow this with posters especially when doing them for larger organizations that could be negatively impacted if literature associated with them wasn’t following the language laws. Regardless, doing it in French lets the poster reach a wider audience in Montréal. At the end of the day there isn’t a lot of information that isn’t bilingual by nature of what it is. The band name and the venue name will stay the same.

D&D: Is there anything you would recommend to someone getting started?

AW: I think the best advice unfortunately is to start by making posters for free. Just get out there as much as possible and offer to make posters for friends’ bands. It is a way for as an illustrator or designer to have your work displayed to the public all over the neighborhood. Making posters for small shows is a great way to get experience and exposure.

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Julia Gunst is currently a student in the Graduate Diploma in Communication Studies program at Concordia University. With a background in Geography, she has a special interest in urban murals, gig posters and interactive displays that electrify the urban environment with creativity. Who would you interview? Pitch us: dndmtl@gmail.com

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