Screen Stars: Aesthetic Apparatus

If you read about Aesthetic Apparatus in HOW’s August 2003 issue, no doubt Michael Byzewski and Dan Ibarra—the duo behind the St. Paul, MN-based firm—piqued your curiousity for poster design and screenprinting. Here’s an excerpt of HOW’s interview with those two men who rolled up their sleeves, donned ink-stained overalls and made a name for themselves in the world of handprinted poster design.


HOW’s Chat with Aesthetic Apparatus

Q: How did you get started?
A: We both worked as designers for a little over four years at a larger agency (Planet Propaganda), which gave us both a lot of valuable experience and in retrospect helped us figure out what kind of work we enjoyed doing. During this time, we also started creating really badly printed posters in our spare time. We discovered that we liked working together and finally got the courage up to go out on our own. We decided to build our design studio on the the groundwork we had laid doing posters, wrote up a crude business plan and started sending it off to a number of banks looking for a small loan. We also decided that the cheapest way to start would be to live and work in the same space for a while, so we rented a small house and set up shop in the basement. That’s where we are now.

Q: Where do you get your images? Do you create them or are they existing art?
A: Our images come from a wide variety of sources. We create a lot of them ourselves as well as using existing art. When we use existing art we always make an effort to alter it to the point where we’re comfortable calling it our own.

Q: Do you have any specific methods for simplifying an entire album in to one image?
A: I don’t think we’re capable of simplifying an entire album in to one image. I don’t think anyone is. What we do is try and find an idea or a concept that we feel represents the band well and build from there. Sometimes the end result can be the culmination of a number of different influences from lyrics, titles or just the general attitude of the music. Our biggest goal with our work, whether it’s a poster, logo, brochure or whatever is to always try to convey the “feel” of the artist or company in a way that not only makes sense to people who are familiar with them, but also to people who are being introduced to them for the first time.

Q: Do you work on any projects other than poster design, or outside of the music industry?
A: Poster design, while being what we’ve become known for, is really a small part of what we do. We basically consider it promotion that pays for itself. The posters are a good foot in the door and we’re both huge music nerds, which is why we’ve gone after a lot of music industry clients. But we’d also like to work with a variety of other clients. Our capabilities as designers are wide open.

Q: Do you two work collaboratively or independently? How do you stay creative?
A: As far as collaborating, each project is different. Each project is a collaboration of some sort, but one of us usually drives a particular project more than the other. We basically split up jobs and bounce ideas off of each other. Staying creative isn’t something we really think about. The fact that we have the opportunity to do what we’re passionate about every day probably helps keep us creative. Although, when we do need inspiration, we take a little nature retreat where one of us pretends to be a bear and the other an eagle.

Q: What is your studio like? Is it a design studio or a print shop or a hybrid?
A: It’s kind of a hybrid. Half the space is taken up by our printmaking side (inks, screens, printing table, poster storage, etc,), and the other half is taken up by our desks, computers, printers and other random design studio-y stuff.

Q: You obviously know the work of the bands you do posters for very well. Do you seek out people you want to work with?
A: We don’t necessarily seek out national acts directly, but we will seek out approval to create a poster if a band we enjoy is coming to town. Occasionally, we’ll directly seek out people we really, really want to work with, but so far we’ve had the luxury of people coming to us. We do spend time making sure people are aware of us and that probably has a lot to do with it.

Q: Are you more likely to work with the band or the venue?
A: It’s about 50/50. All our local posters are done with the venue, while any poster that is done outside Minneapolis/St. Paul was probably created with the band.

Q: Do you have any good hanging-out-with-the-band stories?
A: Hmmm. Nope. We’re losers.

Q: Are you hiring?
A: Not unless you want to work for free and sleep on the couch in our basement.

To check out Aesthetic Apparatus’ work, visit To purchase HOW’s August 2003 Digital Design issue, visit the HOW Bookstore.


Poster and Screenprinting Resources

• The American Poster Institute (coming soon to a URL near you) is a soon-to-be-launched nonprofit endeavor aimed at connecting poster artists/designers and providing professional tips, legal and business advice, and networking opportunities. “It will sort of be like an AIGA or GAG for poster artists,” explains Jeff Kleinsmith, vice president of the fledgling organization’s Northwest chapter. Expected launch date: summer 2003. Keep an eye on for details.

• Flatstock ( Is a two-day poster convention/show featuring some of the world’s top designers/artists in the field of poster design. The event is held in conjunction with South by Southwest (, an annual music and media conference/festival held in March in Austin, TX. Flatstock grew out of discussions among the poster community found at and debuted in 2002. is an online community for music-poster artists, designers, musicians and fans. The site displays posters, flyers and handbills showcasing “the talent of many designers who see little to no profit for creating gig posters.” The site’s paraphernalia includes a list of 100+ poster designers (including firms and print shops that screenprint posters), a message board, poster galleries and archives, and an eclectic list of collectible-poster links.

• The Graphic Arts Information Network ( is a comprehensive portal to multiple associations and services in the graphic-arts field, including the Printing Industries of America (a worldwide graphic-arts trade association) and the Graphic Artists Technical Foundation (a nonprofit technical and educational organization dedicated to the advancement of graphic communications industries worldwide).

• The Screenprinting & Graphic Imaging Assn./SGIA ( is a nonprofit, worldwide association for the imaging community, aimed at providing imaging professionals with the know-how, advice and knowledge to help them succeed. The site includes a searchable database of SGIA member screenprinters and imagers and numerous links to related sites.

Screen Printing, by Samuel Hoff, Delmar Learning

Screen Printing Primer, by Samuel P. Ingram, Graphic Arts Technical Foundation

Screen Printing Magazine, $43 for annual subscription/12 issues; published by ST Media Group International in Cincinnati; (800)925-1110

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