Q&A: F2 Design

Posted by Rob Walker on June 9, 2008
Posted Under: Artists,Buying In (the book),DIYism,Q&A,The Designed Life

A few months ago, in what has got to be among the most indefensible financial decisions I’ve ever made in my life, I decided I wanted a really great custom poster to go along with one or more of the events that will promote Buying In. I told myself this might help with “buzz,” but really I know that it’s simply the closest I can ever come to even pretending to be a rock star.

I make it habit to peruse the sites of many letterpress and other poster-makers anyway, so when the time came I had a few folks in mind, and the first one I reached out to was F2 Design, in Lubbock, Texas. Can’t remember how I first found the site, but I loved the work. And I was pleased to find, when I inquired, that co-proprietor Dirk Fowler (his wife Carol Fowler is the other F in F2) was willing to do this slightly weird job. The design he came up with was, in my view, fantastic, and having received actual posters in the mail the other day, I can tell you they’re even more impressive in person.

In fact F2 was such a pleasure to work with, I thought it would be cool to do a Q&A with Mr. Fowler here, and he went along with that, too. In addition to posters for bands like Wilco and Spoon and many others, F2 has also done a variety of other striking design projects, from identity to apparel. But my questions tended to be about posters, and letterpress.

–> Please note: We’ll be giving out about 40 of these F2 Buying In posters (above; they are 18X24 inches), for free, at the event in New York this Friday night.

And yes, this is a weird time of day to post, but I’m out of pocket most of tomorrow. So here goes:

Q. So I believe you work with “an antique letterpress.” Without making you tell your entire life story, I’m curious about what first attracted you to letterpress, and, if the setup you have now, studio-wise, is close to your ideal?

A: I have a Vandercook No. 1 proof press and an unmarked sign press. The latter being the one I do most of my work on because it allows for a much larger print size.

I was first attracted to letterpress after a visit to Hatch Show Print in Nashville in the late 90s. After spending years as an advertising art director, I really wanted to get back into what drew me into graphic design in the first place, making art with my hands. I love the tactile quality and feel of letterpress and wanted to make advertising or design that people might actually want to keep.

I wouldn’t say my setup is ideal. It is a small room (once a sunroom) in the back of my house, really only big enough for one person. I’m a small guy, so it works for me, but ideally, I would like a larger space so I could add more equipment. The danger in this is that I would keep adding more equipment. What I have now allows me to be at home with my family, print until I can’t stand anymore, and go fall into bed. Plus, it keeps my operation small, which I think is a good thing.

On a similar note, I don’t know exactly how long you’ve been interested in letterpress, but I feel as an outsider as though the form has become steadily more popular in recent years — possibly as a result of rising interest in things that have a handmade touch, partly as a result of the Web. So that means more interest — but maybe also more competition? I also feel like there’s a rock poster renaissance afoot, and letterpress is part of that. Is it good or bad for you if there are lots of letterpress folks around?

I see more letterpress as a good thing. I’m in favor of anything that will keep the “art” of letterpress printing alive. There are very few letterpress printers in the concert-poster world relative to the number of screen printers. I’m friends with most of the letterpress concert poster makers in the country and a great number of screen printers. I don’t really view any of them as “competition.” We are really more like a family. We help each other out. None of us do exactly the same type of work, and right now at least, there is enough to go around for everyone. It is ironic that I probably wouldn’t be able to be a letterpress printer if not for the internet.

We talked about this a bit but: You do a lot of amazing posters for a range of bands, Wilco, Spoon, etc. — do those get used as actual advertisements? Do you prefer your work to be really used “on the street,” or does it matter?

Well, fortunately for Wilco and Spoon, they don’t really need posters to sell tickets, but a good majority of the work I make is actually used for advertising purposes. It does matter to me, and I still get a small thrill
from seeing one of my posters out on the street. My posters have become pretty sought after by the college kids here, so the ones that do go up to advertise local shows usually don’t stay up very long.

Bonus question: You live in Lubbock, but where are you from originally? Is it Texas, or elsewhere? I have this weird feeling you’re from Alabama. Don’t take it the wrong way. (I know as a native Texan that if someone asked me if I was from Alabama, I’d be annoyed — not because of anything against Alabama, but because anywhere-but-Texas is sort of an insult.)

Ha, ha. I’m from Texas, born and bred. I grew up on a cotton farm in the South Eastern Panhandle of Texas not far from Oklahoma. I’ve had opportunity to travel across the U.S., but this place suits me fine. It’s quiet here. It seems that the south (including Alabama) has quite a lot of surviving letterpress shops, so I can understand the connection. I do have a pretty pronounced drawl in my speech, or so I’ve been told.

Well, that last question made me look fairly stupid. So it goes — and lesson learned. In any case, Murketing thanks Mr. Fowler for his time — and for the lovely posters. Please check out more of his work at www.f2-design.com.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Good one!

Written By Minya on June 18th, 2008 @ 11:29 pm
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