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Poster Backstory: Ryan Polich — ARTCRANK Seattle 2014

Written by in Profiles

Ryan Polich pays tribute to a (t)rusty old bike.


Graphic designer Ryan Polich has always been fascinated by letters, and the words they make up. From the time he started reading as a youngster, he’s been infatuated with the possibilities of typography. “When I figured out that graphic design was the place where visual imagery meshed with written words, I was in,” he says.

ARTCRANK® and 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.

These days, Polich plies his trade at Marquand Books, an art book design firm in Seattle, where’s he’s able to put his love for letterforms and typography to good use on a daily basis. “As a kid, being fascinated with books, I never gave a thought to the people who decided how they looked,” he admits. “But now that I get to design them, I feel a bit like the Wizard of Oz. The book gets made, and it’s hopefully a wonderful thing to look at, but behind the curtain is a slightly bewildered guy pulling levers and hoping it all works out.”

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Polich’s personal work revolves around hand lettering, with a bright and fun aesthetic that draws inspiration from hand-lettered ads and packaging from the mid 20th century. “I think old packaging typography appeals to me because package design used to rely more heavily on type in the early 20th century,” he says. “Printing technology didn’t allow for the full-color, gradient saturated designs that dominate packaging today.”

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For his ARTCRANK Seattle poster this year, Polich’s gift for typography was on full-display in a salute to a silver Trek mountain bike that served him well for over a dozen years of hard use. Over time, though, the bike became a rolling symphony of mechanical complaints, creaking forth from aging steel and grinding out of weathered components. “Those sounds came to define riding a bike for me, so I wanted to capture that with this poster,” says Ryan.

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Appropriately enough, Neenah Paper’s ENVIRONMENT® Cover WROUGHT IRON Raw was the paper for the job. “I decided early on that I wanted to use a dark paper and print metallic ink over it. The gray of the WROUGHT IRON was exactly what I had in mind, and the Raw texture made it absolutely perfect,” he says “Paper is such a tactile medium, it’s important for it to feel right.”

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Rather than sending paper and digital artwork off to a print shop, Polich took matters into his own hands at his home setup. With eight years of screen-printing experience, he’s no stranger to the medium, though he admitted things can get interesting from time to time.

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“There are a lot of variables in the printing process because of how my shop is built, so I typically have to coax each print run into working smoothly,” says Polich. “Using a new paper adds yet another variable to the mix, so I’m always a little nervous about it, but printing on this stock was a breeze. Initially, I was worried that the texture I was so fond of would pose problems when I was trying to lay ink down on top of it, but it performed really well.”

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