Devastatingly Charming Man Honors UM with Guest Post
Hello—my name is Kyle Baker and Baker Prints is my design studio and silkscreen print shop in Chicago. I’m here to continue Baker Prints’ Shameless Self-Promotion Month. And I want to sell you something, so if you’re not interested in a bit of autobiographical masturbation, kindly skip to the pitch?
My first gig for UM was in late 2009 designing a t-shirt. They asked for another. Then I got a shot at doing the NYE ad. Soon I was introduced to the band as “The guy that drew the tits for New Years,” which was met by guarded nods of manly approval. I had my foot in the door.
The fourth job was the first piece I am truly proud of, the UM2010 Deco rocket-ship bus. It started life as the early-tour print ad but the reception was strong and it became the principal imagery and logotype for the whole year. The door opened.
Since that time I’ve said yes to nearly everything they’ve asked of me, whether I was qualified or not, and, as the totally unnecessary infographic below shows, they’ve asked a lot. I also plunged deeper into the masochistic joy of the laborious, peril-filled art of flatstock screen-printing. This led me to rent a studio and steadily piece together a small but legit print-shop where I have spent 90% of my waking life over the last few years.
As luck would have it these developments made me all the more useful to UM, helping me greatly in pursuing my passion for rock posters. Though not without its sacrifices—not many girls want to stack paper on a second date, I’ve found—I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to do this. Some mornings I wake up in disbelief as to how I got here and where the hell it will go. Other mornings I don’t wake up.
But I have a dirty little secret to share with you now.
That first little triumph, the UM2010 shuttle, could easily have stunted my relationship with UM. The original art was garbage. The team received it lukewarmly but we were nearly out of time and were set to announce tour with it. I begged for the weekend, having only the vaguest idea how I might salvage the idea.
Later that evening, after getting nowhere, I called my pops. That’s right. Like a scared little pussy, I called up dad and asked for help.
I wanted to soften up the bus but I kept losing the drama. I wanted to put Chicago’s skyline in, curved over the horizon just like you see it now, but I struggled working out the perspective. And the style was all wrong for a Deco travel poster motif.
He came down to my apartment the next morning, took over at the drawing board and methodically unfucked the project. Whistling the whole time. By the time he left I had a new underlay and late Saturday evening through early Monday morning to end up where I did.
That weekend he laid on me the most important lesson in creative: Fail Harder. I was on the right track. I had a good idea and I had the imagination. But I lacked the patience. I fought against my anxiety; wasted energy freaking out when it should’ve been fuel to keep the pencil moving. I haven’t asked him to bail me out since.
I put that lesson to good use a few months ago when I was working on UM’s West Hollywood poster. I take pride in everything I do but I agonized over that one more than ever. I felt ready to step up my game and knew in my gut I had a good idea—but it was incomplete and everything I tried led to a dead end.
Imagination is a very slippery thing. You think you see something in your mind clear as day but until it’s on paper it’s nothing more than an abstract pigeon taking off when you’re an inch away.
I banged my head against the wall. Back to the drawing board. Nowhere. I got drunk. I tried again. Made some progress. I cleared the weekend. Didn’t get any farther. It went on like this until the day I woke up on the dusty couch in my shop at 3pm with half a cold taco on my chest and knew exactly what to do.
The fan response that followed was overwhelming to me. Your enthusiasm for the poster is deeply gratifying. Making art for Umphrey’s McGee is intimidating. Pick a random fan and chances are UM is her #1 favorite band. It doesn’t matter how much I love the poster—she’s the one that matters.
At the end of the day it is just a gig poster of course. No one’s life hangs in the balance. If I’d have went down in flames, I’d have gotten right back up because I gave it my very best. My UM Bowl III poster was a flop for many of you. I took that in stride because I failed hard—committed to an idea and bent over backwards to get it done. I would much rather have people upset than indifferent. Thin skin makes for a miserable artist. That’s one lesson I didn’t need the old man for.
Eventually I did ask him to work with me again. A couple times I was booked solid and didn’t want to turn down good work. A couple more because I knew it was something he’d crush. Each time because we have so much damn fun working together. And because I can pay him a fraction of what he’s worth.
We’re a good team. We can tell each other when our shit stinks—and when to stop doubting a good idea—without regard for ego. We complement each other, both conceptually and in skill.
My father quit his job about a year ago to come down to the shop. We didn’t have a plan besides wanting to make some art that people would want to buy. We’re both commercial artists to the core; we thrive on challenge. But neither have produced original fine art in our adult lives and that began to feel wrong. For me it’s been a moving target, the carrot dangling of the stick, and it occurred to me that, if I taught the old man how to screen print, maybe between the two of us we’d come up with something viable.
That thing became “The Windy City,” an undertaking that we realized early on was destined to be a great success or a magnificent failure. I’m thrilled that it’s on the right track to be the former. Then again we haven’t even finished it yet—as the art got more involved and the weeks piled up I decided I was going to make a big stink about it, so we’re running a Kickstarter campaign (we were fully funded in a few days so it’s a glorified pre-sale now).
Check it out, won’t you? Whether or not you have any particular love for Chicago, I believe you’ll be far more amused by the video than you have been reading this.
Obligatory Ass-Kissing Conclusion
We’re all aware Umphrey’s is a prolifically spectacular band. Many of you know the wider UM team is likewise exceptional in their cornucopian efforts behind and beside the scene. As a whole they are a rock’n’roll organization dramatically unlike any I’ve encountered from my spot at the intersection of art and music. Working for them is great fun and stealing their beers a distinct honor. And—between you, me, and the bedpost—they keep the lights on around here.