Pat Hamou Explores the Nocturnal Allure of his Haunting Illustrations & Designs

Interview With Pat Hamou, One of the Best Contemporary Gig Poster Artists

Pat Hamou is a Montreal-based illustrator and graphic designer. After graduating from Dawson College with a degree in commercial design in the early 1990s, he began designing show posters for local musicians and alt-rock show promoter Greenland. Between 2000 and 2006, he worked as a graphic designer for the Montreal branch of the English label Ninja Tune. His posters were part of the “Music on Paper” exhibition presented by the Osheaga Festival. He combines the precision of graphic design with craftsmanship. His graphic design blends his detailed personal style with his interest in music and vintage gig posters. In his drawings and illustrations, he explores new ways to tell stories and create compositions. His creations offer gateways into magical worlds inspired by mythology, history, nature, and elements of dark shadow. In the age of social media, while the internet has replaced traditional flyers, gig posters provide a tangible connection to music. He uses strong and dynamic compositions to create deep connections between music groups and their fans.

Pat Hamou’s official site, Facebook & Instagram

His impressive client list includes evenko/Live Nation, CBC, Jack White, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, The Tragically Hip, The Black Keys, Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, L’Arbe a Boutielle Press, City and Colour, Cardboardbox Project, Lasso Festival, The National, The Raconteurs, Phish, Trey Anastasio, La Tribu, Massey Hall, Polaris Music Prize, Our Lady Peace, Concordia University, and others.

What influenced your decision to pursue a career in design? Which illustration from your childhood inspired you the most? Can you discuss the personal and professional influences in your life?

I think like most artists it all really starts at childhood. All children draw as part of their developing process it seems and many stop drawing at a certain age,  partly due lack of interest, new interests, and of course realise there is no real natural ability to continue. Those who love to draw continue on- even if it doesn’t end up being their calling in life.

I drew constantly as a child and took my main sources of inspiration from mostly comic books. They were cheap to buy, the pictures and stories sparked my imagination, and were really the building blocks of my drawing skills … As I grew older into my teenage years I was pretty sure I wanted to pursue a career in the visual arts so when high school ended I made the decision to enter an Art College. I really did not see what other direction my life could have taken in hindsight. My other big passion was music, but there were no aspirations or burning desire to make music, but simply enjoy what it brought to my life. I feel fortunate that those two passions came together in a way.

Through his illustrations, he connects the people and souls of the night with musicians

© Pat Hamou

What aspects of being a designer do you enjoy the most? What does it mean to you to be a designer? Can you share your experiences from the beginning of your design career, including early challenges and how they compare to challenges today?

I enjoy it on a few different levels. I love the problem solving and idea stage when you are trying to come up with the proper visual that best represents what you are working on at the time.Most of the time I enjoy the actual act of ‘creating’, when you are alone in your psychical space, and also your mental space , pencil or pen on paper, and you are lost in your own world for a few hours.

My early career was a bit of a rocky start. After art school, the normal thing expected was to go out into the commercial art world and try to find work with advertising agencies, company staff jobs, etc. I found out soon enough that that wasn’t really what I wanted to pursue. That the work was dry and unsatisfying. But I really wasn’t sure still what it was I wanted. For a while I wanted to pursue work in comic books and even did some early on. 

Eventually I landed a job at a record distribution company who wanted an on staff graphic artist. It was sort of the perfect marriage of my two big passions and I worked there for a few years though it was mostly graphic design work as oppose to illustration.

Also, many  friends and people around were musicians and I would contribute artwork for their bands which was the seed of my work with the music industry.

Also, at that age I didn’t want art just to be my whole life as I wanted to experience the world more so I would eventually end up going on tour with one band who were good friends and I would get to see the world a little bit. I would design their t-shirts and would be their merchandise person on the road and it was a great growing experience and also lots of fun. Creating art is a solitary existence much of the time, and I wanted to have a little fun in life as well. 😉

I had a few full time positions in my start working with record labels and such,  and around 2007-2008 I decided to pursue a freelance career full time.

To the question of the challenges today – creatively they are generally the same, though with age comes a few more responsibilities. The main challenges of freelance creative work is basically the ups and downs of a life of self-employed freedom. Security is never guaranteed but it’s the price you have to play with to be free to pursue your creative life.

QOTSTA poster
Queens of the Stone Age © Pat Hamou

How do you stimulate your creativity when starting a new project? Could you describe your creative process from concept to completion? How long does this typically take?

Because the majority of my work is within the music community, I try to approach each project with that certain band and their music in mind. I try to settle on a direction that will connect to the band and its environments and that their fans can connect to as well. The concepts generally with some basic research. Sometimes it’s the band’s music and lyrics, or specific album themes or tour cycle. I will sketch some ideas on paper figuring out my images and composition. Once those are approved, I draw up the initial drawing by hand and then scan them into the computer to do the colours. This entire process can take from 2-3 weeks, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. It depends at times when the work arrives and when the deadline is,

The National © Pat Hamou

Can you share how you balance your perceptiveness and ideas with customised design while keeping your personality? How do you optimise an idea while keeping your own complexity?

Well I always approach most work with what excites or intrigues me visually first, and then hopefully that carries over to the client and what the project requires. If my personality comes through in the work it’s from the visual ideas presented. Sometimes you have to compromise as it’s still commercial work, and the client may have specific ideas in mind. Sometimes it is a good marriage of both people meeting in the middle. But, the more changes and requests are made, the more at times I start to feel less connected to the work in the end.

It’s not a bad thing though as again, you are trying to satisfy someone who is paying you for the work and they may have certain ideas they want to see.

You need to accept the position you’re in when in those circumstances. Not every job needs to be a form of pure expression. If that’s what you want then you can pursue a life of fine art and hope for the best. But if you work as an artist for hire, you need to be flexible.

Jack White poster 2
Jack White © Pat Hamou

Does your style reflect the way you see the world? There is a project you have achieved that represents you most? Can you tell us about it?

I don’t think there is one project, yet anyway, that represents me the most. I would say the general body of the work for the time being speaks to that more. I feel fortunate that I can make a living through ideas and creating  – and the way I see the world through my particular visual lens.

Many mainly connect the tradition of taking something to the grave or in the coffin to the Egyptians. My first time in a morgue I heard “You can choose to put meaningful objects related to the deceased, but not plastic please!” I was very struck by your illustration of a skeleton in a coffin hugging a book. Can you please share with us your relationship with reading and its impact on your creativity?

Reading is a huge part of my life and always has been since I was a kid.

Books are important to me on many levels. They inspire me endlessly and sometimes that’s reflected in the work I do. I have a rather large book collection and I am a collector for the lack of a better word, especially art books. I am surrounded by them in my studio space as well as other parts of the home. Their presence gives me this strange comfort that can’t really be explained. I am always unsettled when I go to someone’s home and there are no books to be found, like there is an unbalance in their place.  The image of the skeleton with the book for that poster for The Raconteurs was actually inspired by Saint Augustine himself who was quoted “ The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page” I was very taken by that quote, and since the show was taking place in St. Augustine, Florida, that image of the skeleton in the coffin holding book popped into my head. I think it’s still one of my favourite posters I’ve done.

Your graphics style is very detailed and intricate and you open various portals that connect multi-dimensions between history, life, and death. How important is it for you to keep an open portal to build new ideas and creations?

I think maybe you may be reading into my work more than I would 😉
My intricate and detailed style reflects sort of my bigger influences in old pen and ink illustration among others things. The entire process can be very time consuming but there are times when things are working well that I reach a meditative state.  So what you are seeing is the result of me reaching almost a different state of mind on paper.  The gig poster world can be a very good place to work out different ideas,  and come up with moods and atmosphere that may reflect your current state. And sometimes you just want to put together something fun because that’s  needed for that particular project.

© Pat Hamou

Graphics nowadays play a growing important role in communication and promotions. Do you think the approach to design during the Social Media era changed?

No, not really. I still approach my work the same way and I can only speak for me. Social media has had many benefits for artists to get their work seen by an unlimited amount of people so that’s definitely a positive. From that I’ve been able to get more work and a higher profile so it’s been very beneficial that way. But you know, you can’t fall into the trap of how many followers and likes and so forth get in the way of your creative process. You are at the mercy of algorithms and there is not much you can do about it. While much of the work lives online, the nice part of something like gig posters are that they are an actual, physical object, outside of the digital media landscape. I always get more satisfaction when someone compliments my work in person, in front of me, than some strangers digital heart or thumbs up ;).

RALPH © Pat Hamou

You create wonderful design art illustrations for music bands. People nowadays download music for free, compared to the past, do you think that this affects the role of music-related artworks?

I don’t think so. If anything I think the continuing popularity of music posters is a result of the digital download and how music for many people is like something in the air, something you don’t touch anymore. It arrives from some other place straight into your world with no effort. People still crave physical objects, and for some, if they are not buyers of physical LPs or CDs,  gig posters may help that void. They may also want a reminder of that special show they just saw. Also the fact that the posters are all limited editions adds to that special element.

Images courtesy of Pat Hamou

Last Updated on June 27, 2024 by retrofuturista

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