Chemistry major accidentally starts concert poster empire
By BRENNAN SMITH
Dec. 15, 2017
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — It started as a way to get into concerts for free.
Travis Bone began sketching show posters for his friends' bands to test the design skills he'd learned while working at an office supply store during college.
"I've always really liked to draw and, for as long as I can remember, have really been into music," Bone said, standing in his combined garage and studio in Midvale among stacks of paint cans and filing cabinets full of colorful posters.
As a kid, he'd scribble Disney characters, Batman and Ninja Turtles. Later, he took art classes while at Lehi High School, but doubted he'd have a chance to turn it into a way to make a living.
He went to Utah Valley State College, now Utah Valley University, to study chemistry and electronics — but still found his mind drifting to design.
He started building a portfolio of designs for his friends and eventually worked up the nerve to email and send MySpace messages to band managers about his "crappy drawings."
In 2004, he found the gumption to send a message to his favorite band, Mogwai, to see if they'd be interested in using one of his designs for a tour through Europe. The design features the outline of an American Indian shaded in black astride a horse, mirroring the same pattern in a deep red.
To his surprise, the Scottish rock outfit took him up on it.
Bone had an inroad to marrying his passion for music and art design — and his focus shifted entirely.
"I wanted to try to do work for bands that I was familiar with," he said. "There were a few gigs that floated my way early on that I really had no business doing anything for, but I did because I didn't know any better."
My Morning Jacket was receptive. So were Death Cab for Cutie and Iron and Wine — seeing what Bone describes as a chance to "broaden the band's identity" through art to supplement their music.
Since then, Bone's colorful posters — featuring huge graphics, striking animals, sharp lines and motifs of Americana, nature and the West — have become an iconic part of the music scene in Salt Lake City.
His posters, sold under the brand Furturtle, are often found alongside standard T-shirt options at shows from Red Butte Garden to the Twilight Concert Series to Kilby Court and more.
His work has also adorned walls around the community, including at The Urban Lounge and a long run at the Park Cafe.
"It took off more than I expected it to," he said.
Each poster is unique, designed for a single show. Bone's signature designs are far more artistic and distinctive than the mass-copied fliers tacked onto the bathroom wall to promote a concert.
"The live show is different enough every time that it's like having some kind of artifact for that event, that one specific show," he said. "It seems like there's still bands that are interested in doing that and their fans seem to really like it too."
Lance Saunders, co-owner of local concert presenter company Sartain and Saunders, first commissioned a print from Bone for a Sea Wolf concert at Kilby Court in 2010. Bone brought the posters directly to Saunders at the venue, and the two became fast friends.
Since then, Saunders and Bone have attended multiple Bonnaroo music and art festivals together in Tennessee, and Saunders has commissioned prints for a multitude of concerts at venues around Salt Lake City that S&S manages — The Urban Lounge, Kilby Court, The Depot, The Complex and In The Venue.
"He works his butt off," Saunders said. "There's so much that goes into it that people don't realize."
He said he admires the originality, humor, quirkiness and variety of Bone's art — and keeps a stack of posters in a storage area from past shows.
"You know that he didn't just slap it all together," Saunders said. "There's layers to it. There's texture to it."
Bone, 35, now designs roughly three posters per month — each one taking about a week to create. Bands reach out to him via phone or email with a rough idea.
He cuts a deal with smaller bands for more creative control — corresponding to smaller cost. For the larger bands, he sends sketch concepts that they can give input on.
"Sometimes it's music I really like and I can relate to and other times it's not," he said. "I just try to do my best to represent that visually."
He designs chiefly on the computer, cutting down and rearranging shapes until a theme emerges.
When the design comes together, he emails a file back to the bigger bands.
Finally, he screen-prints and presses one poster at a time to the order number commissioned by the bands.
Some bands, like Cheap Trick, want to have control and are hands-on. Others, like The Avett Brothers, trust and leave Bone to his own devices — leading to eight different posters on the Furturtle website, with themes from velociraptors to a skunk to an otter.
"They just trust that I'll put something together that their fans will be into," he said.
Saunders, asked if Bone is a part of the Salt Lake City music scene fabric, answers swiftly: "Yes he is. Definitely."
But Bone is reluctant to accept praise for his posters, saying he "honestly can't think of a single one that I wouldn't do differently" now.
Each new print further hones his skill and changes his perspective on how he could have improved the one he finished before.
Still, he hasn't tired yet of seeing honest reactions from fans of bands when they get to the front of the merchandise line and see his prints up close.
"If I'm at a show where they're selling the posters, or if I'm doing some kind of gallery show or some pop-up thing, I like to look at how people react to the posters that catch their eye," he said. "That's the coolest part."
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com