We don't always get the chance to ask design heroes like Landland questions, but when we do we ask an insane amount of them, and thankfully for us Jessica Seamans and Dan Black were gracious enough to answer each and every one. Of all the questions, the most important one is How do they do it? The Minneapolis-based screen printing duo is sought after by big name bands for their gig posters, they are deeply respected by artists and illustrators, and each peice of art is always effortlessly unique. Landland gets everything right, so pay close attention.
(Editor's note: Believe it or not, we have even more Landland comin' atcha in Paper Darts Volume Four!)
Paper Darts: Landland is five years old! Congratulations. What is the single most important thing you have learned as you built Landland?
Jes: I know I’ve really learned how to adapt to be able to work in all kinds of spaces, under all kinds of conditions and in spite of all kinds of distractions. For example, the first three years we were working in a room half the size of the one we’re in now, on a loft that was a mere six feet from the ceiling. I hit my head, hard, on pipes every single day. It made me feel crazy and cramped and like my life sucked but now I recognize that it was actually super important to have the chance to train my brain to stay focused regardless of whether I’m happy or comfortable. I work much more efficiently than I did even a year ago.
Dan: Oh man, we’ve actually been working together forever…we had a few pre-Landland endeavors (read: cramped basements and makeshift living room print studios) that really helped us figure out what we wanted the Landland thing to be and what we didn’t want it to be. I think that a lot of what our studio is and how it functions is a reaction to everything that we saw as interference with being productive and all that. As far as things I’ve learned as we’ve been building this thing, I think the most important thing we’ve done was to stay as small as possible for as long as possible. We’re both really cautious and reluctant to jump into unnecessary risks, especially as far as increasing our overhead is concerned. I feel like we’ve been really good about only upgrading things when we needed to, or when it was really clear that it would help us do our jobs better. It would have been really easy to just get a giant loan and spoil ourselves with weird speculative “necessities” and then end up really struggling to stay afloat.
PD: What is the first thing you do to start your day in that big, beautiful studio of yours?
Jes: It depends on what I’m doing that day, but I usually try to have some kind of minor organizational task to help transition my brain from sleeping to creative mode.
Dan: My days start and end at weird times. I’d like to say that it starts with me coming in all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and sitting down to make a concise and manageable list of the things that need to get done before I can go home again, but that only happens sometimes. A lot of times I’ll wake up here after a couple hours of sleep, and the first thing that makes sense is to take a short walk somewhere so I can get some air and fake like I’m commuting. Then I email a couple of people and scrape together a list of the things that I’m most behind on and work forward from there.
PD: Life is hard. How do you get through difficult days to make a deadline?
Jes: We are both great at pep talking the other. One of the many benefits of having known someone for over a decade: I usually know exactly what he’s insecure about and what to say about it, and vice versa.
Dan: Like Jes said, lots of pep talks. We try to keep morale really high here, which usually isn’t all that hard given the fact that we get to do this for a living. But it’s especially crucial when tension’s high and we’re really fighting against time to get something shipped out when we need to. I have this horrible-but-very-useful thing I can do where I just stay up for days at a time to finish what needs to be done. It’s probably shaving years off my life, but at the moment it feels a lot better (or maybe just less worse?) than blowing deadlines. It’s really not that bad—usually it’s a lot of drawing, which means I can just throw on some TV shows or listen to music and it’s sort of meditative. Or it’s a lot of printing, in which case the music is a little louder, but even at its worst it’s never as bad as other jobs I’ve had that were way less rewarding.
PD: What was the first piece of art you ever fell in love with?
Jes: Stephen Gammell’s incredible illustrations for the book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I still think about those drawings all the time. They were perfect children’s book illustrations—related to the text loosely enough that my little brain was able to go into the drawing again and again, endlessly finding more information and further narrative, well past the point where the stories themselves had become old hat.
Dan: Actually, it’s funny, but I’m going to go with Stephen Gammell as well. Those drawings really messed me up…they messed a lot of kids up. I remember taking the first Scary Stories book and trying to hide it from myself, because I’d just open it up to that full page drawing of the skinny lady face and just stare into her no-eyes for hours. So I’d hide it, and then sheepishly sneak it back out and just flip through the thing, terrorizing myself. The stories were never as interesting as the drawings, and a big part of the genius of it was that instead of just showing some sort of scary wraith or whatever in some scene, there was a weird interaction with it…the creepy thing was happening to you. The empty eye sockets were totally trained on you. The creepy stringy shadow thing was making its way over to where you are. As an aside, they just re-released that book with all new art, and it looks horrible. Worthless. Whoever made that thing—and the decisions leading to that thing as it exists now—should be ashamed. And fired. In front of his kids.
PD: If you could get in your car and drive anywhere on the continent, where would you go?
Dan: I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t do that. It’s the greatest feeling—and really necessary sometimes. I am a road trip person, through and through. I’d like to go back to the Southwest and spend a lot of time in that desolation. I feel like it’s the closest thing to space travel that I’ll ever see in my lifetime. I’m originally from southern Utah, so I have a real soft spot for the canyons and mountains down there. I’d also like to see Alaska. I hate flying in a real big way, so the only way I’ll probably ever get up there is to make the drive. What I’ve seen of Canada is really incredible…that’d be a big part of the fun for me. I’d also like to see Miami someday and just revel in the weird artifacts of their cocaine industry. I have this weirdly romantic idea that everything there used to either be a bank or a car dealership for money launderers.
PD: Was there ever a commission that made you weak in the knees with terror or honor?
Dan: The first thing that comes to mind is that Cap’n Jazz poster we did. I completely ended up talking Tim into doing posters for their reunion tour—it seemed silly to me for them not to have something like that for this—and as soon as I actually had to sit down and work on it, I was like, “Fuck. How am I going to pull this off?” I have a sort of mental inventory of things that I’d love to do for certain bands and clients if ever asked; I have a whole slew of ideas for bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor (it’ll never happen) and the Mountain Goats (more probable?) and Lungfish (so unlikely!) and Will Oldham (maybe?)…but I’d never once entertained the idea of Cap’n Jazz getting back together until it was actually happening. So yeah, how do you make a high school version of you proud in 2012? I feel like maybe they had to answer the same question. In the end, I ended up mostly just art directing Jes on it—I totally bailed. I still really like that poster, and how it could just as easily exist in 1996 as it does now, but I bet a big part of that is that I can’t totally take all the credit for it. If that makes any sense.
The second Phish poster we did was sorta nerve-wracking, not just because it’s such a big deal to work with them, but mostly because we had such a weird and horrible response with the first one (from fans—not from the band. I guess they liked it). I actually got hate email after that one happened, from people who drove all the way across Colorado for those shows, who were so enraged by how ugly my poster was that they cried, and it ruined their show because they couldn’t commemorate it AT ALL, etc. This second one was all love though—enough nice emails from really excited people to make up for all the stomach-sinking and nail-biting the first time around.
PD: Will there always be a niche market for limited-run screen print posters?
Dan: Hopefully enough to keep us going. I feel like as long as there are bands, we’ll at least be able to make an argument for making posters for them. In a lot of ways, I feel like the poster thing is getting bigger as a result of record sales going down. Bands want something to sell on tour, but nobody’s really buying physical records anymore. Either way, if this whole thing tanks, we’ve got back-up plans. A good thing about a weirdly ambiguous name like Landland is that we could really be anything. Landland could just as easily be the name for my system of caves up in the mountains full of animal bones and half-legible journals if it needs to be.
PD: If one of Jessica’s pale, wiry figures encountered one of Dan’s broken-down marquee jungle gyms, would they attempt to restore it back to its original stoic glory or would they rather disassemble it further in order to build some new kind of wonderland structure?
Jes: I think that having come from a world of much wonkier planes and angles, they would be completely disoriented by such accurate rendering of space and structure and wind up in a corner somewhere, curled and whimpering.
PD: What piece of business advice would you give a young creative person looking to make a living on their craft?
Dan: It’s a lot of work. There’s the fun work, which is making stuff, and then all of the not-fun work, which is building and maintaining websites and dealing with taxes and trying to figure out how to always stay moving. It’s also a lot of discipline. It’s really easy to look at downtime as some sort of break, but the best thing is to make sure that you’re always pushing something forward. If you don’t have projects or clients hiring you for projects, switch into self-direction mode and make something. Always stay moving.
PD: What Minneapolis bands make you most proud of your city?
Dan: Skoal Kodiak. I don’t know what their out-of-town shows are like, but here in town, they’re really these amazing events that sort of transcend the normal relationship between viewer and participant. Really amazing to see. Midwestern kids all dancing like one giant ocean organism—this is a major feat here. The whole show smells like one giant armpit, in the best way. Our collective armpit.
The other secret weapon we have—which I guess is actually not so secret anymore—is Ben Ivascu, drummer for pretty much everything around here (Poliça, P.O.S, Marijuana Deathsquads, STNNNG, and a million others). Lots of respect for that guy and his dedication and ability, on top of being one of the nicest people ever. He’s usually the best part of any band he’s in, and considering how good some of his bands are, that’s saying a lot.
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