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Poster Backstory: Sam Michaels — Minneapolis 2014

Written by in Profiles

Sam Michaels: “We Make Stuff. Actual Stuff.”

For the past five years, ARTCRANK veteran artist Sam Michaels has professionally called renowned Minneapolis design shop Studio On Fire home. “I’m one of those annoying people who loves her job,” says Michaels. “We make stuff. Actual stuff. At the end of each day there’s a physical product, which is supremely satisfying.”

ARTCRANK® & Neenah Paper

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.

That “stuff” includes letterpress, foil stamp, engraving, embossing, diecut and duplexing. “A lot of times, the hardest part is reigning in everything that we could do for a project to what’s most appropriate,” says Michaels. For her ARTCRANK Minneapolis poster, Michaels knew that she wanted to use letterpress, her go-to printing medium. As she points out, while letterpress has restrictions, it also allows her to combine her strengths and aesthetic preferences with the strengths of the medium.



“All designers need to consider final production methods into their work,” she says. “It just so happens that my love of white space and type plays well with letterpress. There are material restraints with this kind of printing, so there’s no room for bullshit. But it doesn’t need to be a weakness. I bathe in white space.”

Initially for her ARTCRANK design, Michaels looked into sign painter-inspired fonts, but found them to be too static. After writing “Have Fun” over and over for several days, she got the rough look she was going for. “It seems like half of it was wearing out the brush pen to get it to look sloppy enough.”



Paper choice was a no-brainer for Michaels, who went with CRANE’S LETTRA® Cover FLUORESCENT WHITE 90C 100% Cotton “Lettra was made for letterpress,” she says. “It’s made up of cotton fibers, making a very soft surface that’s ideal for achieving a really deep impression. For this project it was nice to have a bright white, so the paper color didn’t affect any of the ink colors.”

The posters were printed in-house at Studio On Fire, on the shop’s largest Heidelberg KSBA, an antique cylinder press from the early 1950s. Knowing that it’s impossible to completely control split fountain gradient over the course of a run, Michaels and Jeanine Pitra, Studio on Fire’s presswoman, improvised late in the game.



“We were trying to achieve an orange at the bottom of the gradient by letting the pink fade into yellow, but just weren’t getting the richness in the color that we wanted,” recounts Michaels. “Jeanine dropped orange onto the rollers to add another stop in the color fade, and we came out with a really great sunset effect.”