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Poster Backstory: Ty Wilkins — ARTCRANK Austin 2014

Written by in Profiles

ARTCRANK® is a poster show about bicycles. Since 2007, ARTCRANK has staged more than 50 pop-up art shows featuring handmade, bike-inspired posters created by local artists and graphic designers in the U.S., the U.K. and France. A longtime sponsor of ARTCRANK, Neenah Paper is teaming up with the show to highlight the work of four poster artists in 10 U.S. cities throughout 2014: Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC. 

Each Poster Backstory feature follows the artist’s creative process as they develop their ideas and print them on a Neenah Paper stock, using craft techniques such as silkscreen and letterpress. Behind-the-scenes poster stories will appear on the ARTCRANK site and here on Against The Grain.


Ty Wilkins has seen a lot of the country and the world during his life and career, every stop leaving its mark on his design vocabulary. Currently based in Austin, he works as a freelance illustrator and designer. Travel has helped him expand his creative horizons, making it easier to explore new and unfamiliar concepts. “For instance, traveling to Europe encouraged me to embrace abstract minimalism,” he says. “And living in Argentina inspired a love of ornamental craftsmanship.”

His signature style is characterized by simple geometric shapes and bright colors that combine to create vibrant characters and textures. A closer look at his work reveals level upon level of visual information, with new patterns and details emerging in every glance. Wilkins also has a fondness for including the natural world in his creations, and his ARTCRANK Austin poster is no exception.

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Paper and the printing process play a central, even determinant role all of Wilkins’ work. In fact, he often selects a paper before even concepting a design, allowing it to guide his approach. “Paper and printing inform the way I think about color,” he says. “I often utilize limited color palettes and overprinting in my work, even when working digitally.”

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“I’ve found this approach to be a helpful way to create cohesion in an illustration. Overprinting, or multiplying colors, is a great way to create a family of three colors. For instance, if I overprint a yellow and blue, the resulting green works really well as a third color because all three share the underlying ‘DNA.’”

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For his ARTCRANK poster, Wilkins selected ENVIRONMENT® Cover HONEYCOMB RAW, a sustainably produced paper with a proprietary RAW™ finish that gives each sheet a beautifully rough and raw texture. “The natural fiber texture provides additional character and interest that an ink color alone cannot achieve,” says Wilkins, who consulted with Judy Schulz of OK Paper in Austin to select a paper.  “The raw finish has a nice tooth, but is smooth enough to easily screen print the fine lines of my illustration work.”

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When Ty selected ENVIRONMENT Paper for his poster, he also learned that Neenah Paper invests in The OSA Project, which protects habitat in Costa Rica for several species of migratory birds — something that spoke to Wilkins and helped inspire his design.

“I see a variety of birds, including roadrunners, mockingbirds, cardinals, hummingbirds, hawks, and vultures when I’m riding in the Texas Hill Country,” he explains. “Illustrating a songbird and a sun made of bicycle spokes seemed like a great way to capture the things I love most about cycling in one poster.”

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Wilkins worked with Bearded Lady in Austin to print his posters. After the printers reviewed his design, he stopped by the shop to discuss separations, trapping and the order of the ink colors.

“We decided to print the white last in order to avoid some possible trapping issues on the bike wheel-sun part,” says Wilkins. “I mentioned to them early on that I was hoping that the yellow would be almost neon lime yellow, so while I was at the shop, Abi — one of the printers — offered to mix fluorescent green into the yellow ink to achieve the neon lime color perfectly. As soon as I saw the finished posters on the drying rack, I was thrilled with the results.”

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