Devastatingly Charming Man Honors UM with Guest Post

Every so often a man comes along with a vision so bold, so insightful that it threatens to radically alter the course of human events. 
While we all continue to wait for that man, it’s my distinct honor to introduce this man, Dr. Kyle Baker Jr., Esquire III. As UM’s resident artist-in-chief, he’s helped us birth a wide variety of creative projects from infancy to the nursing home. And he’s back with a unique project of his own that we felt was worth your gaze. 
Kyle joins us today as a guest blogger recapping some of his Umphrey’s sausage making over the years, something most enjoy consuming but very few enjoy watching made. In addition, Kyle presents his latest effort titled “The Windy City,” an ode to the great city of Chicago that is sure to make the wall at UM HQ (presumably in the shitter).  We hope you enjoy perusing his work as much as we enjoy emailing him for yet another revision at 2am. 
Without further adieu…. 

– Kevin

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?

Baker Prints print shop in Northcenter Chicago

This is where we make the donuts—in a factory/warehouse building on the third floor, just east of the Chicago River in the city’s Northcenter neighborhood.

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.

a rocket-ship tour bus blasting off with Chicago in the background in the style of a 1930s Art Deco travel poster a la Cassandre

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.

12 samples of work for Umphrey's McGee by Baker Prints

A smattering of work.

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.

Baker Prints work for Umphrey's McGee bar graph

I fear making this chart was a terrible waste of time.


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.

My latest UM poster, for the Lincoln Hall 'Bill Graham' gig. A three color screen print with metallic inks so the bulb "flashes" when light hits it right.

My latest UM poster, for the Lincoln Hall ‘Bill Graham’ gig. A three color screen print with metallic inks so the bulb “flashes” when light hits it right.

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.

UM Climax Poster Printing Progression

The West Hollywood art was inspired originally by test prints—scraps of paper screen printers use during set up and throughout a print run that have dozens of parts of different posters on them and often end up cooler than anything you can do on purpose.

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.

Graphic abstract woman's face experiencing a climactic musical moment

This is the best representation of UM I’ve made so far.

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.

Ya'll weren't quite as happy with this one, which was a total pain in the ass to print.

Ya’ll weren’t quite as happy with this one, which was a total pain in the ass to print.

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.

Kyle and Terry Baker - Baker Prints Flatstock 2012

Me and Paw at Baker Prints’ Flatstock Chicago 2012 poster tent inside Pitchfork Music Fest. Would you believe this year he’s going to cover me a few hours while I sneak out to see Phish on Friday?

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.

Baker Prints presents The Windy City

“The Windy City” Kickstarter campaign/pre-sale ends next Thursday 7/25 at 5pm. Prices for the art prints will be around double that once they’re made.

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.


Kyle Baker | Baker Prints
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