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How did you discover you wanted to be a designer and get started in the field? Back in high school, friends and I set up all-ages art and music events. We’d have big and small bands from all over the world play. To promote these shows, I learned how to make and design websites, posters and flyers. Eventually, I stepped up my game with a bit of screen printing, too! I had already caught the bug by the time I learned that design was an actual profession, that it was normal to get really stoked about working with “letters and stuff”—what they call “typography.”

How did the traveling poster show, the National Poster Retrospecticus (NPR), come about? The NPR was born out of our efforts with the Shed and the Old Store, two now defunct do-it-yourself spaces that my friends and I ran in our hometown of Palmer, Massachusetts. Once our run of 100 shows at the Shed concluded, my friend suggested doing an art show with all of the posters and flyers from our five-year run. That concept was flattering, but my friends and I didn’t know much about art shows. A show focused on ourselves that was also produced by ourselves felt way too self-important.

That’s when we decided to celebrate two decades’ worth of shows with more than 1,300 flyers and posters from other shows that had taken place all over Western Massachusetts. We called that show the Western Massachusetts Flyer Retrospecticus (WMFR). Fast forward a few years to when I was asked if I’d like to curate a poster show in Boston. This time, the show would feature event posters from all over the country and only required that the posters be hand printed. We picked up where the WMFR left off, rebranding the show as the National Poster Retrospecticus.
I can live off of peanut butter for a while and pursue this passion project full-time.

Why did you decide to travel with hundreds of posters to make the NPR an internationally traveling poster show? That show in Boston was such a blast. Hundreds of hours went into its curation, branding and production. It felt like we could get more mileage out of this initial effort, so we decided to take the show on the road to visit other cities around the United States. There was no blueprint for this kind of touring model. I’d toured in and hosted hundreds of other bands by this point, so we approached the poster show—booking shows, staying in different cities—the same way: You drive for eight to ten hours. Hang the show in eight hours. Do a three to four hour reception for one night only. Take the show down. Hit the road the next day.

We did something like eight shows that year. Since our vacation time was scarce, we turned down the majority of show offers we received. It just wasn’t possible to drive from Texas to Toronto, and we didn’t have the funds to book flights to far-off places. We barely broke even on shows—until recently. And that’s only because some hosts won’t take “Sorry, we can’t” for an answer, finding sponsors and covering our travel and lodging so we can make shows happen. It’s been a pretty wild evolution of how and where we travel. I never pictured anything like this happening. The fact that other people believe in us enough to fly us to a show for a long weekend—it means a lot!

What were the challenges of producing a traveling posters show on top of your full-time job? Making sure my passion project didn’t affect my full-time job and vice versa. Maximizing long weekends away from work, even once we started flying to shows. Avoiding burnout. I’d sometimes work remotely during the early morning, run a show for ten hours, then pass out and repeat. Being the main contributor of the NPR, I’ve often put in enough work for two full-time jobs. I’ve sacrificed nights and weekends with friends and family to keep up with the show. Fortunately, I’ve also had these same friends and family members help with installation and sales at most of the shows. It’s a hustle, but it’s a lot of fun.

On the positive side, I learned a lot on tour with the show that could be applied to my full-time work. I was also fortunate to be able to apply what I’d learned from running client projects or managing small teams at work to the show. As a young dude, I came up from a tough place. I embrace the struggle and do my best to turn the negative—or in this case, the challenges—into positives. I’m super fortunate to be on this path and to have amazing mentors and teammates—both from work and the show.

What led you to stop working at the IBM Mobile Innovation Lab to begin working on the NPR full-time? I can’t picture life without some kind of hustle, but I always knew that this level of dedication to a passion project wouldn’t be sustainable for the long term. After three years of touring, the demand for the show well exceeded my bandwidth, but the touring show only ever hoped to break even. Until 2015, we would operate pretty far into the minus. My paycheck from my full-time job always filled in the gaps. I knew that losing money wasn’t sustainable without a full-time job, which meant I had to make a better effort to secure sponsorship and give away fewer prints—it was so hard to let people leave without the prints they admire or feel inspired by!

But I had a handful of ideas for producing posters we could sell online; these felt like a viable option to increase my bandwidth for the touring show because we could sell posters 24-7, 365 days a year, not only for one night in a random city on the road. Once the right idea started to materialize and develop—after a year of tweaking the game plan—it felt like I had to make a choice between full-time work or the passion project. It was quite the hustle putting in 60 to 70 hours a week on the show. I loved the team I worked with at IBM, so it was a tough decision, but I didn’t want the quality of work to suffer for either pursuit. I also realized that my window for taking this kind of calculated risk wouldn’t remain so open forever. I thought, “I’m 32. I still have a few years of the hustle left in me. I can live off of peanut butter for a while and pursue this passion project full-time.”

What prompted you to commemorate the US national parks with the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series? The NPR, which combines most of my interests—travel, design, community-based events, printmaking and posters—was only missing the national parks. Before I spent my summers on the road with the NPR, my friends and I often found ourselves on countless road trips around the United States. Even if it wasn’t on the itinerary—well, we never really had an itinerary—we’d find ourselves at national parks and monuments.

I felt like this poster series could be a viable full-time option if we could produce new artwork to sell online and on tour. And I’m a big fan of challenges. One-off prints are fun, but a series takes a lot of dedication to produce—especially a series that requires a definitive number of prints. In this case, 59 of them. The Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series aspires to get national park fans into posters and poster fans into the national parks. We aim to celebrate poster design and the beauty of each park in the process. That’s what’s called a duet of pleasures.

How do you balance each artist’s individual style with the overall Fifty-Nine Parks brand? A big part of this comes by way of the curation process. Some artists just come to mind as an inspired fit for a particular park. We base this on their interests, strengths and connection to the park. Sometimes, we’ll remember seeing someone draw the heck out of the ocean and think, “Yes! She’ll be perfect for this coastal park!” The series definitely favors nature and pulling from it in a representational manner. This can limit who we work with—I don’t like any kind of exclusivity, so I hope we can put together a miniseries that opens up the aesthetic to more abstract, stylized approaches.

How do you work with each artist to create a poster that adequately honors that park’s beauty and history? We work with each artist to lock in the poster’s aesthetic approach and composition. We consider everything from the season to the time of day to what park features we want to highlight to activities and animals that particular park is known for. The hard part is capturing the essence of the often vast parks that can mean something different to many people. Not to mention, every artist has her or his own working style. You learn how to best work with one person, wrap a project and start another right away. This is another one of those fun challenges, though. We do our best!

What do you love about screen printed posters? As most fans of hand printed posters will say: It’s tactile. The ink overlaps in interesting ways. And a sense of depth exists, with shapes and colors knocked out of one another. You can see and feel the difference between a screen printed poster and an offset print. Each print is slightly unique, and you sense that someone produced the poster with her or his own hands. In a world where many have supercomputers in their pocket, it’s refreshing to interact with something tangible. Screen printed posters are most likely drawn and printed by hand. That’s a special experience.

What’s next for the NPR and the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series? The NPR is touring from September 3rd to December 1st, the longest we’ve ever been on the road. We’ll have three shows up at once, which is a first. I’ve also been giving more talks in conjunction with the NPR.

Fifty-Nine Parks has 48 to 50 more posters to put out, so we’ve got plenty on the horizon! We’re excited to eventually include the work from Fifty-Nine Parks in the NPR show. It’s an awesome experience to see folks interact with the posters in person. We’re also doing our first stand-alone Fifty-Nine Parks show at conference space SXSW Eco this October! And we have a miniseries cooking and a few other parks-related projects in the works. Please stay tuned!

What advice do you have for designers who are looking to print their own posters? Just do it! Man, it seems so daunting to jump in and know everything you need to know right away. But here’s the reality of the situation: If you’re newcomer who keeps it simple, you can make some pretty righteous posters with one or two colors. You can do it with low-cost and low-tech equipment. You don’t even need a lot of space to work.

But it’s so important to remember that it’s an imperfect medium. We’ve grown used to seeing prints that use fancy inks, pulled on a semiautomatic press and benefitting from an expensive exposure unit or the use of a vacuum table. Understand that your first prints won’t look the same—and that’s OK! Some artists I admire have been at it for more than ten years.

All that aside, screen printing is the perfect do-it-yourself medium. You can rig your own exposure unit. You can coat paper with baby oil and make oversized transparencies. You can print in your bedroom, get your hands dirty and wash your screens in your mom’s bathtub—turning the whole thing lime green. It’s all part of the process! Anything goes.
JP Boneyard produces the National Poster Retrospecticus (NPR) and is the creative director of the Fifty-Nine Parks Print Series. Since 1998, he has helped set up more than 300 art and music events welcoming all ages across the United States. After graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2011, Boneyard went on to design for the Web and work on front-end development in Boston. His job doing nerd stuff on the Web helped support his vice: setting up shows like the NPR on nights and weekends. In 2014, a solid position at the IBM Mobile Innovation Lab brought Boneyard to Austin, Texas, where he still lives today. After an amazing year of touring in 2015, JP made the jump to full-time poster carny with the NPR.

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