Music, Art, and the Appeal of Gig Posters

When’s the last time you thought about a poster?

Posters, in the grand scheme, are advertisements for events and date back to wooden prints in the late 1700s. However they took off in the 1880s with Cheret’s 3 stone lithographic process, which allowed him to create thousands of posters in stark red, blues, and yellows over his long career.

Today they run amok on college campuses, across construction barriers, on social media event pages. They are the first thing you see before you click interested or scroll to read what bands are playing. They are the connector between art and music, an enticement as well as a relic for concerts and events that make up our lives.

When researching artists for gig posters, the best of lists that circulate on the internet or Pinterest had one thing in common: they were made up mostly, if not completely, by men.

To combat that, femchord is presenting three artists who you might not find in lists of gig poster artists. The women we’ve highlighted below are at different stages in their careers and take different approaches—one illustrates for major bands, one collages for a zine, and one reflects her space in the club culture. They are the artists that transform sound to visuals, and entice us to the events around us.


Jessica Smith | @jesssmithsup

Smith is a designer by trade, slinging pixels at a startup in Chicago and soon-to-be San Francisco. Hailing from Florida with a degree in Graphic Design, she uses music as the driving force and inspiration behind her art.

femchord: Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up in design?

Smith: Ever since I can remember I was always sketching and cutting up magazines and gluing them back together, playing with typography and collage. I went to college for design, but it took me a while to get into digital illustration. I started late. I was reluctant to get away from paints and pencils. I didn’t even touch Photoshop or Illustrator or any design program until my second year, which looking back on that is kind of ridiculous as now I’m working for tech startups. I was very analog, but I guess having those traditional visual art skills translated to digital illustration and design easily. But then, a little later in college I took a screenprinting class and my mind was blown. It was like the best of both worlds.

And how did that evolve to working on gig posters?

I make gig posters because I love music as inspiration for art and design. Music is the inspiration and the driving force behind the outcome of the visual. When I listen to music, there’s usually a complimentary visual style or color scheme that pops up in my head.

I started to make actual event flyers that saw the light of day around 2013. I have a pretty corporate daytime life so the gig posters allow me to get wild and experiment with styles and do stuff I wouldn’t normally get to do in the daytime. It keeps me balanced.

What process do you undergo to source and then create a poster?

I’ve found that it varies from city to city but typically actual face-time helps. Building a portfolio is key too so when getting in touch with promoters you have something to show. Also the more practice you have the better you get and the more work you get. Sometimes I find myself creating posters for bands or artists that I don’t necessarily listen to, which is also pretty great because it opens you up to new stuff. I always listen to the band and try to get their vibe before starting or during some concept sketching. I pay attention to the lyrics, which usually help me choose the subject matter, and the band’s style in music drives the style and tone of design. Subject matter and concept is the toughest part and sometimes takes a couple tries, but the execution is always the fun part.

Finally, what makes a gig poster good?

A good gig poster is inspired, falls in line with the tone of the show, grabs your attention, and makes people want to either steal it off the wall or buy a print.


Rachel Noble | @rachelkatenoble

UK based artist and occasional DJ, Rachel has positioned herself into the London club scene as a DJ host and designer.

femchord: You’re seem very involved in both the art and music world. Can you tell us a bit about how you got there?

Noble: I have always been creative. I come from an artistic family and even though I wasn’t interested in being an artist when I was growing up, it suddenly made sense when I left school. I went to University to study art, and I explored mainly drawing, video installation, digital collage and print. My work went from really small-scale monochrome drawings and photographs at the start of the course to HUUUGE five-meter-high bright, bold, and colorful digital prints – a really extreme difference but all with continuity running throughout my entire practice. So I really come from more of a fine art background. My work just ended up being digital, partly through it being more economical—no materials, no studio space, etc. London living is so expensive, but it also gave me so much freedom to play and incorporate my photography and video into images that I would work into using Photoshop and collaging bits together.

Where does your passion for music come in?

My relationship with music is pretty intense and a real passion of mine and has been since I can remember. When I graduated I started volunteering at Tim & Barry’s online music stream Just Jam every week, where they stream live DJs and MCs with live VJing. I also started volunteering at NTS radio once a week as a studio assistant/producer, just so I could be around all this incredible music being played on the station. I really chose to follow my heart at this stage and pretty much forgot about the ‘art scene’ as it felt so contrived and a bit lifeless to me. Music made me feel alive and happy and I connected with the people so much better.

And that led you to creating art for that scene?

I met so many amazing producers and DJs there, and interestingly my art also worked really well alongside music, so producers started asking me to make EP covers for their releases. I was also making visuals for Just Jam and learning how to VJ on the show too.

Making artwork for Visionist was one of the first projects I worked on and I think this really helped me get my art seen by a lot of people. Since then I have been working mainly with the underground music scene that really stems from the hub of London but reaches globally. I put so much time and effort into my work and this began to have people start asking me to make flyers for club nights, which I loved! They are often really fun to make and it was a really great way to get me into playing with fonts and text, and being a bit more playful with the artwork.

Finally, what makes you stop and read a gig poster?

I think what makes a gig poster good is being able to read it quickly and easily. It’s a good challenge to make something eye catching but still legible, but you also want it to look exciting and enticing. I like to give a sense of a club atmosphere somehow, but I think you can be really clever with flyer design. In the end things that are fairly bright, bold, and simple work the best as the information is what is important.


Yasmina Tawil | @ask_a_babe

Brooklyn based via Boston, Yasmina is the co-creator of Basement Babes, a zine that highlights feminism in the music scene. When not involved in music, she’s the blog editor at the Arab Film Festival based in San Francisco.

femchord: Would you mind describing a bit about your background? What got you into design?

Tawil: I grew up in Rochester, NY, and moved to Boston to attend Boston University where I studied Film and Television with a minor in Visual Arts. I’ve always been making art, (mostly drawing and painting,) and college was actually the first time I ever sort of put it to the wayside a bit.

During that time I became very involved with the local music scene and also began to learn a lot about activism and feminism. Near the end of college I met Jessica Leach within the music scene. We were both very interested in feminism and activism, and we were both struggling to find our place in the scene. We often found ourselves feeling upset by the lack of diversity and the treatment of women and other underrepresented groups. Then, after watching The Punk Singer [a documentary about Kathleen Hanna] we came up with the idea to start up a feminist zine focused on the music scene called Basement Babes. It eventually morphed into the feminist literary zine it is today.

Throughout the lifespan of the zine, I was mainly in charge of visual content and often created art for us when needed. It started mostly with the zine covers, until we began having guest artists about a year ago. I also started creating posters for our call for submissions and I designed posters for the two shows we hosted.

Your approach to music art is a bit different than the typical gig poster. Can you tell us a bit about those you create?

I started designing zine covers two years ago when Basement Babes began, but I’ve only been doing the posters for about a year. I make posters because we have a need for them for Basement Babes’ events and submission calls, and since I don’t make art as often anymore, it gives me a good opportunity to make some art again!

I’m still working on my style and process. The first thing I think of is what the poster/cover is for, if there is a theme or subject, and try to come up with a concept based around that. If I plan to illustrate something I begin sketching out ideas and see if they go anywhere. For collages I give myself a bit more leniency to the design since it’s hard to find the “perfect” image in a stack of magazines. I usually start by cutting out a bunch of things I like and/or that might fit with the theme and I start piecing together a concept with what I have. I always try to keep the designs pretty simple and clear so that they are easy to process, read and understand. But I definitely hope that they have enough punch to catch people’s eyes!

What makes a poster good?

Clarity is so important and I think is something that is often overlooked.

How does the music scene influence your process?

The zine exists because of the Boston music scene and we put a high focus on music in the issues with playlists and interviews with musicians and other members of the music scene. Surprisingly, I don’t often listen to music while I create posters or zine covers. For some reason when I make art I really like to have TV shows playing in the background. I like to either put on an easy comedy show, usually something I’ve seen a ton of times, or crime procedurals. The biggest direct influence of music on my work is from the inspiration I pull from show flyers created within the Boston and Rochester music scenes. Many of those posters are actually designed by those musicians. Jane Fitzsimmons (of Twen Furs), Owen Winter (of Birthing Hips and LIZA) and Jesse Amesmith (of Green Dreams) are three of my favorite gig poster makers! Owen and Jesse have definitely inspired every collage poster I’ve made.

Music is such a big part of the zine and the posters you create. What draws you to it?

I’ve surrounded myself with musicians and music fanatics since I was in high school so it’s a daily part of my existence at this point. Music provides so many things for me but the most important thing it gives me is a community. With the community I find friendship, creative inspiration, and a sense of belonging. So the zine and the posters are my way to be a bigger part of the community and give back to it, as well as to try to improve it.


*Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Author: Alyssa Kropp