There are illustrators and presses everywhere. I was in Worthington, Ohio, just north of Columbus, one recent weekend. There was a big street fair going on. A sandwich board announced “Open House at Igloo Letterpress.” I have been to Worthington many times and never knew there was a press there.
Will Ruocco was minding his booth in the courtyard of Igloo Letterpress. He does gig posters, among other things. My illustration students are always interested in this sort of work. I had a too brief conversation with Will, but grabbed his card and sent him some follow-up questions. Here are some of his thoughts, including advice for students.
Q: Where did you study?
Will Ruocco: I was an Art major at Fredonia State (N.Y.) with a concentration in graphic design. It was a four-year art program.
Q: How big was the program there?
The graphic design program wasn’t very big, but was one of the best in New York State. The design professor was tough. Many students were cut from the program after the first year. The professor really pushed us to create strong work and never get sloppy or lazy. I still apply many of his design standards in my work today.
Q: How did you get into gig posters?
I spent a lot of time in New York City as a teenager. The concert posters along the streets left a big impression on me. There seemed to be an ‘anything goes’ design approach that was really appealing. So in the back of my mind it was always something I wished I could do. Finally, one day at work, a friend asked me to create a poster for her band. It was so much more fun than anything I was doing at my day job that I wanted to do more. I quickly made up a series of mock posters for my favorite band, The Tragically Hip – just as a personal creative outlet. I was so happy with the results that I contacted the band directly and shared my designs, never really thinking they would ever hire me…to my surprise they loved the artwork and asked me to do six posters and a t-shirt for their world tour. After that I was hooked and it led to work with many other rock bands.
Q: What advice can you give to students interested in pursuing this area?
Start by doing actual local events. They don’t have to be concert posters, but creating something for a real event is a good learning experience. If they really want to design for a particular band they need to have finished work that shows off their skills. You can’t just approach them because you like them. Show what you can bring to them if they hire you. It’s the same for any job really.
Q: You go to shows in Chicago and the West Coast. Did these trips pay off from the start? How do you decide what shows to do?
There is a concert poster show called Flatstock (that has been going on for about a decade now) that has linked itself with a few major music festivals. There is sort of a built-in audience because concertgoers are gig poster artists’ biggest customers – so those shows are always good to participate in. Choosing other shows and whether they are successful or not is really just a matter of trial and error. You just have to keep your travel expenses low in order to make any of them worthwhile.
Q: What ever happened to Th’ Legendary Shackshakers?
Th’ Legendary Shackshakers are still around. They’re an intense band that plays a lot of country and rockabilly with a punk rock edge. They don’t have a huge following but the fans are really loyal and the band always gains new fans wherever they play.
Q: What is your relationship with Igloo Letterpress?
Working with Allison Chapman and Igloo Letterpress has been great. I’ve always loved Hatch Show Prints‘ letterpress posters and when Igloo came to town to set up shop I immediately knew we had to work together. I took the initiative and approached them with a few projects that I thought we could collaborate on and Allison was really open to the idea. We’ve had nice success with the Farmer’s Market posters. It’s been a great experience.
Last Question: Any upcoming project that you want to share?
I’ve been creating fewer concert posters and focusing on my signature work. Working on my series of whale designs, as well as my series of prehistoric creatures. I’m continually releasing new graphic tees on Society6.com and Skreened.com. Soon I’ll start work on new project with Igloo Letterpress.
Bottomline: I am glad I ran into Will Ruocco, a talented illustrator/ designer willing to share his secrets. Will maintains Etsy and Big Cartel virtual storefronts for those not lucky enough to run into him in person. The best place to keep up to date with all of his many projects is www.willruocco.com or: www.facebook.com/WillRuoccoArtDesign.