[All photos by: Luke Martin]
It’s been said time and time again: One door must close so that another can open. That’s exactly what 20-year-old screen printing artist Luke Martin learned when he dropped out of college and found himself churning out gig posters for his favorite bands just a few months later.
“I wasn’t going to leave school to start my career. I was just going to take a year off and then come back,” Martin says of withdrawing from Towson University in Maryland last October. “But between the time that I left and when spring semester started, business just picked up. 2017 has been a crazy year.”
Crazy doesn’t even really begin to cover it. In February, Martin—who also goes by the art moniker Suburban Avenger—made his first-ever gig poster: a two-color design for Circa Survive’s Tempe, Arizona, show at the Marquee. Then came designs for Sorority Noise, Say Anything, the Head And The Heart, Death Cab For Cutie, the Shins and Yellowcard, for which he was asked to create a series of seven posters for the now-departed band’s string of final shows.
Six months in and armed with talent and hunger, Martin is doing what any artist would in his position: He’s hustling hard. In between all-nighter printing sessions, we sat down with the maker to discuss his first foray into screen printing, the tales behind his prints and who he’s dying to design a poster for.
How did you get into designing gig posters?
I’m really lucky that I have a good contact who found my stuff on Instagram. He gives me a list of bands to make posters for and I can just pick from there. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t actually start screen printing until a year and a half ago. It’s one of those things where you really need access to a lot of different supplies and equipment.
What draws you to the medium?
I remember the first time I did it: My senior year of high school, I got the opportunity to do a screen print—just a small, two-color print—and I skipped all my classes and printed all day. It was so rewarding. If you just do a drawing or a painting or something—and I’m not trying to discredit those mediums—you just have one of those things. When I finished that first screen print, I had 40 of these prints that I made by hand, and it was the best feeling ever.
Who do you count as your influences?
Growing up, Shepard Fairey was a huge inspiration. My parents got me one of his books for Christmas, right around when I really started getting into art. It’s like a 400-page book with his full portfolio, and I literally read it front-to-back. Without a doubt, he’s the greatest artist of our generation.
Tell us about your gig poster for Circa Survive.
That was the very first one I made. I didn’t want to do anything too terribly ambitious because I was still really finding my style and I had to print 130 posters, which was a lot more than I was used to. For the design, it was just something that I had in the back of my head for a while. With a lot of gig posters, they don’t really tell you exactly what they want you to do, they just give you free rein. But I’m lucky enough that I do work for bands that I actually listen to, so I generally have the knowledge of what the band’s aesthetic is.
What’s the story behind your Death Cab For Cutie poster? It’s got amazing detail.
Death Cab is my absolute favorite band, like No. 1. The design is two people laying on a bed and that’s based on their song “Brothers On A Hotel Bed.” About two weeks before I did that, my girlfriend at the time broke up with me, so it kinda worked out. I hate saying that things like that are cathartic, but making this poster really helped.
You created a string of posters for Yellowcard’s final shows, too.
That’s probably my proudest moment so far. I did just one for their third-to-last show, but they really, really liked it so they were like, ‘Hey, we want seven more of these.’ So one poster turned into the seven posters for their last week of shows. When that happened, I flew out to Anaheim [California] and went to the very last show. I hung out by the merch booth and when people would come up to buy the posters I would just be like, ‘I made those!’”
What do you listen to when you print?
When I’m starting a poster, I’ll listen to just that band for a while and try to channel their sound. That’s one thing I did for my poster for the Shins because I had no idea what I was going to do for them. I watch The Office, too, and listen to a lot of Kanye West. I also listen to a playlist called “Emo Trash” that I made to pregame for the very first Emo Nite in Baltimore. It’s like 300 songs of everything you would expect: A Day to Remember, the Wonder Years, Bayside, Mayday Parade, Hawthorne Heights.
If you could make a gig poster for anyone, who would you make it for?
Interpol. They’ve been one of my favorite bands since high school. When they announce their tour, I’m just gonna go and message every single contact at every single venue I can find and be like, ‘Hey, I really wanna do a poster for these guys.’ The second one is Brand New. I would do so many things to do a Brand New poster. And I want to do a poster for Lorde so bad. I hate just about all pop music, but I absolutely love her.
Do you ever regret leaving school?
College isn’t for everyone. I’m not saying I’m never going to go back, because my parents and some of my peers have been like, “You should really finish your degree and get something.” But right now there are a lot of other things I could pursue. And let me put it this way: I’ve made more progress in the six months since I left than I did in the year and a half I was at school.
You can find out more about Luke Martin and Suburban Avenger Art in the video below and by visiting his website.