Just a few of the whimsical scenes that grace the walls of the shed behind Dave Windisch's home in Bargersville, Ind. Once a single-stall horse barn, the space is now a one-man screen-printing workshop where Windisch takes playful cartoons such as these, which are co-conceived and illustrated by artistic partner Stacy Curtis, and turns them into concert posters.
Mile 44, as the duo is known, began printing in Chicago in 2004. After learning the craft from Steve Walters at the Screwball Press Academy, Windisch and Curtis picked up steam doing jobs for Lollapalooza and local bands like Favorite Saints. They designed a poster for OK Go the week that the band's treadmill video for "Here It Goes Again" made them superstars on YouTube.
After Windisch moved to Bargersville in 2007, new doors began to open for the duo. Rather than having to compete with the densely-populated Chicago screen-printing scene, Windisch and Curtis found themselves able to fill a nearly-vacant niche in the Indy area, churning out projects for shows organized by My Old Kentucky Blog and Bloomington's Spirit of 68.
Their posters are now in high demand for local indie rock shows and the duo is commissioned by promoters, venues and artists alike. They've printed for some of the biggest indie bands to grace the state in the past few years, such as Spoon, Built to Spill, Sufjan Stevens and Grizzly Bear.
"We may be one in five or something," Curtis said of the screen-printing population in Indy. "When people want posters, they come to us because they know us. We're starting to make a bigger name."
Oscar and Felix
The two first met in 2001 while working at the Northwest Indiana Times. They quickly became friends, discovering a mutual love for comics like Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts.
"Dave and Stacy have this kind of Oscar/Felix thing going on. Yin and Yang," said Walters, the duo's screen-printing mentor. "I think the reason they work so well together is that they were such good friends before they started doing this."
Windisch appreciated the comical, cartoonish quality of Curtis's drawings, and before long found himself hanging out in Curtis's office at the Times, sketching out poster ideas as a diversion from work. Though Curtis, then an editorial cartoonist, was apathetic towards most music, gig posters gave him a new outlet for his illustrations. Windisch, a music buff and one of the paper's designers, made for a good partner.
"Stacy knows that with a little bit of tweaking it can be a whole lot better, but I'm not going to ruin the idea either," Windisch said.
Windisch and Curtis initially experimented with linoleum block printing, a time-consuming and expensive process which requires the artist to physically carve an image into a piece of linoleum. It wasn't until learning how to print from Walters, a screen-printing veteran and teacher who Curtis said has "had his hand in almost all the screen-printing in Chicago," that the duo was able to fully realize its potential.
"With screen-printing, it's literally as easy as drawing on a piece of paper," Curtis said. "Anything you can draw, you can screen-print."
Into the rubylith
In his Bargersville studio, Windisch guides me through the process of creating a poster. After the duo brainstorms ideas (by phone, e-mail and trading sketches), Curtis draws up the images and lettering, then sends the illustration to Windisch. Windisch uses Photoshop to make minor changes, typically adjusting things like color or spatial organization.
After preparing the image for printing, he uses an X-Acto knife to cut shapes out of a bright red film called rubylith, a layer of which must be used to print each color onto the paper. To a newbie like myself, the intricacies of the process are not entirely clear, but Windisch makes it look simple as he shows me how to run a squeegee across the screen and add the ink.
Once each color dries, he can add the next. He shows me how a recent poster for a Liars show in Bloomington — featuring a Saint Bernard in a Viking helmet — was built from the paper up. Each color overlaps until the black is added, giving the illustration its outlines and Curtis's Schultz-y detail, and the poster is ready for a record store, music venue or bedroom wall near you.
Because the process is time-consuming and both men have private and professional lives to balance (Windisch works in the ad department of a local paper, Curtis as a children's book illustrator), print quantities are typically kept low. Windisch said that time constraints force them to turn down jobs they would love to take — the downside of being the go-to poster guys in the Indy area.
For Windisch, screen-printing was the perfect way to harness his professional talents to contribute to the music scene he loved. For Curtis, it was another way to pursue his lifelong love of art, but introduced him to a world of music he never knew existed. Now, as their art is used to promote some of the state's most popular indie shows, the importance of their locally-rare craft to the scene echoes a credo of their Chicagoan mentor.
"D. Boon [of The Minutemen] had a saying, 'a band in every garage.' Steve Walters said put a screen-printer in every band," Walters said. "I don't play an instrument, but I like music—I want to be involved in the music scene somehow. So this is how I do it."