Artist of the Month: Gary McGarvey

New Artist of the Month, Gary McGarvey, talks screenprinting, ambitions and the day Pixies’ Kim Deal became a fan…

Hi Gary! Let’s get some important details first – where were you born, where did you study art, when did you move to Liverpool?

I was born and bred in Kincasslagh, County Donegal. I moved to Derry to do a Foundation Course in Art in 1999, then to Belfast where I started a Graphic Design degree and dropped out, deciding it wasn’t for me at the time. I worked in a bar for a few years … got itchy feet and decided I needed to get back into what I wanted to do, before I forgot what that was, so I moved to Liverpool! I did a HND in Warrington Collegiate and then finished off my degree at LJMU – I seem to like to do things the long way round!

Can you pinpoint when you first started being creative? When did you start to draw and what was your first screenprinting experience like?

I’ve always drawn, from being at primary school copying comics, to secondary school where I would spend a lot of time in the art room at lunch, right through to starting my Foundation Course when I realised it was something I could actually do as a career. Drawing with a computer was never something I thought I would do, or even have any interest in. Even after my HND, everything was in my sketch books up ’til the final few days, bringing things onto computer at the last minute to make it print-ready. Screenprinting was a way where I could almost justify working on the computer a lot more, because it still had that more ‘real’ finish, a more hands on approach to print that felt like it was more than just working on a computer.

What is it specifically that inspires you? Are there any artists/designers that you are obsessed with?

One of the things that I had a lot of interest in school was becoming an architect – that’s still something I’m obsessed with. The majority of my posters contain drawings of buildings in one form or another; maybe it’s my way of hanging onto that first interest. I take a lot of photos that I can base drawings on, or maybe just ideas; like the way two things will sit beside each other, or the way something will look in  a certain light which will spark some ideas. Environment influences me; because I get to travel a bit, the things around me become a major factor in what I base my posters on, as well as the musicians I’m designing for.

I used to be really into type more than illustration and would just do typographical posters, all hand drawn. Then I suppose I just started seeing more and more artists’ work, or just developing my style and heading in new directions. I’m still not content with what I do. I know the level of illustration, subject matter and fusion of type that I want to get to, it’s all just about practice and experience.

Each poster has to be better than the last or it’s not good enough! There are few artists who I love; Daniel Danger‘s dark illustrated landscapes are amazing – I bought my favourite of his pieces last May at Flatstock Primavera. Damian Tran, based in Berlin – clever clever collage and type, just makes an amazing poster. The unbelievable photoreal screenprinting ability of Crosshair is just stunning, some up to 17 colours, and you couldn’t spot the tiniest of flaws with a microscope!

“One of the things that I had a lot of interest in school was becoming an architect - that’s still something I’m obsessed with”

When did you set up Horse (and why Horse, the name?), your illustration and design studio based in Liverpool? 

Horse is almost four years old now; it started in the original Elevator building, sharing a studio with some DJ friends of mine, a wall of vinyl and an electric heater, which made it possible to function in winter!

The name itself came from giving myself an ultimatum to have my business named by a certain date, regardless of what I came up with! I have a friend in Belfast who would answer the phone to everyone saying, “Well Horse”, and then there’s a saying in Belfast, “You’re some horse!”; I must have been talking to him that night or something!

Do you always use screenprinting or do you ever mix it up a bit? Do you ever foresee a move away from the medium?

All my stuff to date has been screen printed, but funny you should mention it, I just bought a lino cutting set the other day. So I expect many a bloody finger over the next few months while I get the hang of that! There’s an artist called John C Thurbin who does big lino cuts which are absolutely amazing, who inspired me to pick back up those tools! I did a lot in college, but nothing in years, so it’ll be interesting getting back into it.

I don’t think I’ll ever move away from screen printing. At the minute I’m so busy, I have been getting quite a bit printed for me, so I want to be able to be at a stage where I can print a lot more of my stuff, make time somehow! I think it’s just a beautiful medium. I’m constantly amazed by new printers and artists I see and how they print their work. I don’t think I will ever be as good as I want to be, so that’s reason enough for me to keep going!

“There’s a saying in Belfast, ‘You’re some horse!’”

How does the process start? 

For a gig poster, it has to start with listening to the band. I’m lucky that most of the bands I work with I like, but there are some who I get commissioned to do, and it wouldn’t be my first choice in music. Regardless of whether I like it or not, I still have to listen to it, to get a mood, a line from a lyric, a theme to a song, etc. I tend to sketch out a few ideas, very roughly, and then focus on the one I think will work best.

I think there has been one occasion where I had an idea that stuck from beginning to end, that being the Chilly Gonzales poster. Every other has developed/been scrapped and re-drawn multiple times over the course of the design process. I rarely draw faces on the characters in my posters (unless specifically requested) – I think it gives a feeling of Dorian Gray about it, the person in the poster never ages. It also allows the viewer to make up their own mind about what is actually happening in the scene, a facial expression can change a whole scenario.

I tend to lay out the whole poster just with line drawings. I draw things separately, too, and move them around on the screen once scanned in and traced from the original drawing. Colour is the very last thing I do – I find this a lot easier to work out what is going to be a three or four colour print, pretty much like colouring in! Once the poster has been approved by band and management, it’s off to print, seperating the colours down and copying onto acetate and the whole screenprinting process begins.

You’ve worked with a huge variety of artists including The Pixies, Bjork, Mogwai, The XX, Battles, Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip (pictured). How do you choose these musicians? 

I am lucky that I do like most of the music I design for. Designing for bands is hard. Even if I don’t like the music, I still listen to them the same way as if it’s something I’m actually into and represent them as best I can.

What’s it like running your own business, as Horse and Screenadelica? Was it hard to get started?

It’s possibly the best and worst thing in the world! It’s great having the freedom to get up a bit later if you fancy, but it’s also a bit shit when you haven’t slept for three days straight because your non-existant personal secretary hasn’t told you that you forgot all about a poster that needs to go to print and cannot be late! There are far more positives than negatives. I don’t think I could ever go back to working for anyone now, I like my own space too much.

Getting started was pretty tough but I eased my way into it. When I was at uni, I worked pretty much full time between the Barfly and the Academy, so I got to know bands and management and promoters, and started doing wee posters here and there. By the time I’d finished my degree, I didn’t really want to work for anyone, so carried on doing band posters and worked as a manager in the Barfly for a year and a half. I knew I either had to jump into this feet first or carry on doing it part time and get a real job! So I did it. I got a bit of help from the Chamber of Commerce in the form of a business course and a grant, and just stuck it out!

There are obviously hard times when you’re waiting on people to pay you, that sucks, and never gets any better! It’s always the big companies too, usually the little guy will have you paid before you even finish the job! It’s just one of these things that you have to stick at if you want to make it.

“The one rule I have is: full price or free, never work for cheap”

The one rule I have which I will recommend to anyone starting out – ‘full price or free, never work for cheap.’ Yes, have fee brackets, like I do for local bands or unsigned bands, but if someone wants you to do something on the cheap, do it for free the first time and then say the next time it will be full price. If someone likes your work enough, they will come back.

Tell us about your best festival experience as Horse/Screenadelica.

I think when we went to Orlando last year, for a number of reasons, but the main reason being Kim Deal’s reaction to my poster. The gig itself was ruined by the huge advertising boardings around the stadium! You could tell the band were getting annoyed, the crowd was a bit stale anyway and the lights didnt help. Once they finished, I passed my posters to the tour manager to ask if they would sign a few.

He more or less said that he didn’t think they would, as the whole show was shit from start to finish and they were in bad moods. So when I went to collect, the tour manager came back with four signed posters, and said: ‘Kim looked at them first, hmmed and after a minute said, ‘Well, this has made the whole show worth it!’ Being a huge Pixies fan, that has been my biggest compliment!

Are there any bands based in Liverpool at the moment that you love? Best recent gig?

Yeah, Liverpool has a great wee scene which is constantly churning out great bands. As I have been festivalling it up all summer with Screenadelica, I have missed most things this summer. Festevol was pretty great: Baltic Fleet I saw for the first time and wondered how the hell it was the first time I ever saw them! Outfit are amazing too. Before that, it was the Screenadelica line up at Sound City that encapsulated all I love in Liverpool; I booked that in a very selfish manner but I think people appreciated it! Bow and Arrow, Mugstar, Bendal Interlude, Avenging Force, Salam Rages, Vasco, JAZZHANDS!!! (who are now our house band!), Ex Easter Island Head, Forest Swords etc etc etc.

“The whole ethos around Percy Gullivers is to give a chance to any artist to exhibit”

Dream gig poster?

Tom Waits.

Tell us about Percy Gulliver’s Print Shop & Social. Is it a permanent thing now? 

I’d love it to be, but until it has somewhere that I could think about it being permently at home, I’m happy for it to float around. We definitely have this space until Christmas, possibly longer, but we are just seeing how it goes. The room we have above the Shipping Forecast is amazing, really happy. I think it’s something that will grow and grow until it does settle down and fully embrace the ‘printshop and social.’ I would love for it to be a venue/cafe/bar/gallery one day, but I’m in no rush, it would have to be the perfect venue for me to take that on right now.

The whole ethos around Percy’s is to give a chance to any artist to exhibit; it’s all about quality of work and nothing about status. As long as the piece is printed non-digitally, and we like it, then we will show it. The room is split into two – one side has solo/group exhibitions which change fortnightly, and the other side has our permenant stock. Everything is totally affordable, and we don’t slap a huge commission on top – we want more people to own what we are making rather than making loads on individual pieces.

What’s on the horizon?

More of the same. I’m pretty happy with the direction I’m heading: Horse is going pretty well. I have some decent commissions lined up, plus a feast of posters. I’d really like to bring Screenadelica to Asia and Australia next year to a few festivals, that’s the main ambition at the minute, everything else will lead itself one way or another! I’m happy in Liverpool, I think there is a lot to get excited about in the city – just as long as we get to carve our little creative quarter without the bigger boys getting in the way and making the whole city one big Concert Square!

Percy Gulliver’s takes over the Shipping Forecast this Saturday 6th October with free DJs, bands and surprises

See more of Gary’s work here:

Posted on 05/10/2012 by thedoublenegative