Just last year, Aaron Denton was still waiting tables at a restaurant while moonlighting as a poster designer for local bands and musicians. He’d been playing in bands of his own for years, but his relationship with design began by accident.
“In my early 20s, I was booking shows for bands that needed posters for the events,” he says. “Since I didn’t know anybody else who was doing anything like this, I started whipping up flyers myself. I studied art history at Indiana University, and while in college we got Adobe CS for free, so I began messing around in Photoshop. I had no intention of becoming a designer, but before I knew what was happening, things just took off.”
There’s a palpable sense of nostalgia in Denton’s work. He tweaks the tonality of colors, and scans pages from old books to build in texture. A black is never simply just black, but a textural dark grey. “A lot of people say my work has a retro vibe, but that’s not what I’m trying to achieve. Growing up, I never had access to a museum, so I was looking at art through books,” he says. “I remember seeing a Jasper Johns painting reproduced in a book that was printed in the ’80s, which was now kind of fucked up and yellowed. I’ve never seen a Jasper Johns painting in person, so that’s my only perception of it. I loved that feel the image achieved over time and that’s the aesthetic I’m trying to mirror in my posters.”
Since setting out as a freelance designer earlier this year, Denton has carved out a niche for himself through his music work. Mistakes and accidents seem to shape up much of his practice, as does an unshakable fear at the beginning of every project. “Although my background in music helps me vibe out the kind of visuals that would compliment a particular sound, my process is pure experimentation and it’s terrifying, every single time,” he says.
“Whenever I open up a file and stare at the blank screen, it’s the scariest thing ever. I always feel like ‘This is it. It’s gone. I can’t do it.’ But somehow, it always works out. When I look at the posters, especially the ones I like, I’m never sure how it really happened. A lot of the times it’s just mistakes, or the computer messes the design up, and I think ‘That’s it! That’s what I was going for!’ It’s exciting in the end, but terrifying in the beginning.”
Here, the self-taught designer takes us through six of his recent posters.