Caught by the River

An interview with designer and illustrator Travis Bone

Lara C Cory | 10th July 2016

Travis Bone was born of the strange and beautiful Utahlands, which informs and inspires much of his work. Exploring the mountainous Salt Lake wilderness imparts in him a love for animals and the rugged, organic forms of nature.

Travis has been making screen printed tour posters for 12 years. Marvelling at the ink floating heavy on the thick paper of the nicer posters on the merch table as a lad, Travis seemed drawn to this niche of the design world as a teenager.

While Travis enjoys working with all sorts of clients doing illustration, packaging, graphic design and even trading services for fly-fishing, making hand-drawn, limited-edition posters has been the primary focus of Furturtle Show Prints. Travis has created work for a diverse array of bands, from the likes of Sonic Youth, Bob Dylan and The Strokes to Bonnie Prince Billy and Yo La Tengo.

Lara Cory spoke with Travis about his work.


Lara: What’s your favourite wild place to go to and can you describe it to us?
There are just too many, which is why I live where I do. We have high elevation forests of the Rocky Mountains, red rock deserts with the amazing stone formations, prairies with sage and juniper, we even have North America’s inland sea. There are lots of wild places in Utah. I hope that it stays that way.


Lara: Much of your work centres on animals, mythologies and nature. What draws you to these themes?
Travis: The imagery that comes up in my work comes first from a place of feeling when I am listening to that particular band. In the case of animals, the shape or the expression is probably most representative of the feeling I have attached to that listening experience. It may end up the shape of a bear or a blue heron, but it’s more the emotions that I’m trying to convey through the way the shapes relate. It’s never an arbitrary decision.

Lara: Having worked with some incredible names in the music industry, have you ever been a little bit ‘star-struck’?
Travis: I get really excited about certain bands that I love but it can also be paralysing. Sometimes I need to take a step back to get my bearings, try and overcome the fear that my work couldn’t possibly do justice to the bands I really love.

I try to temper my excitement with potential clients. Aside from rock posters, I was once approached by David Sedaris’ manager to do a tour poster for one of his speaking tours. He had seen some work that I had done for Ira Glass and This American Life and he also represents Ira, so…he called and asked if I could give him a quote for design and printing. I was so excited with the prospect of doing a David Sedaris poster that I basically “fan-boyed”. I said that I would take the job for anything (including nothing) and I couldn’t keep the glee out of my voice. He told me he would think it over. I never heard from him again.

Lara: Can you describe the commissioning process? 
Travis: The process is pretty unique every time. Simply put, I try to convey how I relate to the music as I hear it. I can use a specific approach based on what the band tells me, but I am rarely in that position. I never end up liking those pieces as much either because they aren’t based on my own connection but a forced one. I research, I listen, the lead up always takes the most time.


Lara: I like the way you stylise the colour and shapes. Is this a natural habit for you or do you work hard to simplify what you see, drawing out those bold, simplified shapes and light patterns?
Travis: It’s not a difficulty for me to simplify what I see but I do try to have a tight focus on the feelings that come through. If I’m standing in a meadow with dark timber all around and snow-capped mountain peaks rising beyond the tree line, the things that are most powerful to me are the dramatic shapes and how they relate to each other in space. To me, that is where the gut-kick happens.

When I’m trying to create that feeling artistically, I focus on those spatial relationships and the colours that speak to certain moods. I don’t have much interest in going into the minuscule, inking every blade of grass and pine needle. The busier that it gets visually, the less focused.


Lara: You’re the official designer of the Pickathon folk festival logo and merchandise. How did this come about?
Travis: The founder of Pickathon saw my work online and asked if I would make a poster design back in 2007. Since then, my involvement has expanded quite a bit. I honestly had no idea what a huge part of my life Pickathon would become back then.

Every year there is a new critter. The past few years, I have wanted to represent folks that I have met at the festival itself. I try to drop that personality into an animal I guess. There have also been years where the Chinese zodiac has had some influence on what specific animal shows up but that isn’t a hard set rule…


Prints are available to purchase via Travis’s website.

Lara Cory on Caught by the River/on Twitter