Posters & Packaging: Donovan Foote

Designer and illustrator Donovan Foote was entranced by the practice of drawing as a little kid. This preliminary interest led to his discovery and appreciation for comics and cartoons — an influence that’s readily apparent within his work.

Around the age of 11, Foote took up trumpet. “My dad is a big jazz guy, so I grew up listening to a lot of jazz music,” he says. “Most of my friends were only listening to rock, so I think the exposure to something other than rock ‘n’ roll had a big impact on me.”

Foote went on to play in a seven-piece ska band during high school and college, which revealed a whole realm of underground music. “I really loved all the new and odd music I heard while playing little shows,” Foote says. He eventually went on to pick up bass and currently plays in the Chicago-based band Torch Singer. The band will soon release its debut EP, Living Room, but Foote’s musical endeavors are more or less a side project to his visual work.

Donovan Foote: If You're Frightened of Dying album art
Donovan Foote: If You're Frightened of Dying album art

Perhaps best known for his design of the Chicago International Film Festival’s logo and fliers, Foote also designs and illustrates various types of advertisements, logos, web content, magazine layouts, self-published picture books, rock / movie / theater posters, and album art. His music-related art is likely his most expressive, due to the artistic freedom that musicians tend to grant him.

Foote’s favorite media include traditional materials such as pencils, ink, watercolor, gouache, and collage. Though he prefers not to use found images due to potential copyright infringement, Foote enjoys incorporating old papers, textures, and other “worn-out things” in order to add a sense of “time and use” to his pieces.

His artistic process veers away from the mass production of printmaking, and instead includes individual sketches and illustrations. This method is given greater emphasis by the gorgeous textures that Foote employs; his application of paint produces intentional brushstrokes, leading to a strong, tactile appearance.

Donovan Foote - Meat Beat Manifesto poster
Donovan Foote - Meat Beat Manifesto poster

Foote describes his artistic process as predominantly subconscious. “I might even have an image in mind, but it really changes as I begin to work,” he says. “I do know whenever I sit down to create the greatest picture ever [that] it usually sucks.” Moreover, Foote is interested in interweaving his various interests in audio and visual media; he hopes to find time to experiment on animation that incorporates sound and slight movement.

A few outstanding projects include rock posters for Meat Beat Manifesto, Black Moth Super Rainbow, and Camper Van Beethoven as well as album design for Slow Gun Shogun, Gary Landess, and If You’re Frightened of Dying. Foote also spent much of the summer of 2010 working as the lead illustrator and character developer on The Astronaut’s Birthday, a play and installation produced by Red Moon Theater at Chicago’s MCA (Museum of Contemporary Art).

Full of energy and rapid movement, Foote’s illustrations contain expressive characters — they often stare back at viewers with a sly, smirking, or vengeful air. Foote’s neutral and realistic tones successfully contrast his whimsical characters and subject matter. He describes the fantastical and hyper-real elements of these pieces as being inspired by the style of comic books. Although Foote produces work for a variety of music genres, he notes, “I feel like lo-fi music makes sense with my aesthetic, [or] anything a little bonkers…”

Despite being busy with large-scale projects, Foote continues to enjoy his contributions to the music and arts communities as a poster artist, and he is drawn to the fleeting nature and accessibility of posters. “It allows me to try something new and put it out there for people to see,” he says. “Posters are just part of the morning commute or walk down the street — no museums, no gallery, no entrance fee.”

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