Prints among thieves

David Witt’s eye-catching punk posters might disappear from dive bars all too frequently, but he’s expanding to other artistic outlets anyway.

Friday is the beginning of 2013's Lowertown First Fridays where illustrator David Witt will be releasing his first hardbound book,

Jaak Jensen

Friday is the beginning of 2013’s Lowertown First Fridays where illustrator David Witt will be releasing his first hardbound book, “Portraits Volume One.” Witt is the official artist of the annual Zombie Pub Crawl poster and has done extensive screen-printed poster workthroughout the years.

Joseph Kleinschmidt

After needing an advertisement for his college band’s show, he designed a comic book-inspired flyer that would eventually carve out his career path. Plastered on various dive bars’ bathroom stalls and entryways, artist David Witt’s first “exhibitions” prompted an explosion of output.

“I figured it’s a way to get my work out there without going through the galleries,” Witt said. “I just stick it up in a bar.”

Early on, his emblazoned insignia (“DWITT”) marked the touring posters for Dillinger Four, among other local punk outfits filling the Triple Rock. He even made flyers for a 30-day run for the venue, an undertaking he attributes to both caffeine and alcohol.

His beer-fueled designs, depicting demonic skulls, monstrous faces and comic juxtapositions, now hold reverence among collectors and music fans alike.

“People will either walk by and ignore it or they’ll see it and like it or they often times, nowadays, they see it and they take it,” he said.

Funding his most ambitious project to date via Kickstarter, Witt’s increasing visibility also marks his entrance into the fine art landscape. The book, “Portraits Volume One,” houses a wide collection of sharp-edged abstract faces against ghostly pastels. Without the constraints of a band or company’s vision, he sees “Portraits” as a culmination of his artistic growth.

“There’s no pressure,” he said. “I’m just drawing and just trying to make something that makes sense in the end. But I don’t have a vision of what it will look like when I start.”

“Portraits” showcases the true boldness of Witt’s science-fiction abstractions as well as his singularity as an artist. Citing his early exposure to ’80s Marvel Comics illustrators to punk music, he creates an ethereal world with just ghoulish portraits of faces in his first book.

“I see faces everywhere — in bricks, a cracked window, every car that drives by,” he said. “The whole idea for ‘Portraits’ came from making scribbles, looking at it for a little bit, seeing a face and starting to flesh it out.”

Countless black-and-white menacing faces explode from one canvas in his cramped studio, a far cry from his band flyers. Witt strives to transfer the fine detail of his “Portraits” and posters to large-scale panoramas.

“It was exciting and terrifying. It took a long time,” he said. “But I definitely want to see how far I can go and bring this amount of this detail to this size.”

His ink and brush still define his artistic arsenal, increasingly rare among graphic designers. Witt refuses to create his work via digital means.

“I just wouldn’t be as satisfied working on a computer because when you’re done you can’t actually hold a finished product,” he said. “Anything you hold after that is a reproduction.”

Imperfections form a crucial and welcome part of his process, a byproduct of the physicality he relishes. Stacks of drawings accumulate instead of digital layers on a computer screen.

“I’m happy to leave flaws in my prints and just be comfortable with it because I don’t want to insult the printing gods,” he said.

Adding his hand-drawn strokes to everything from Guitar Hero II’s fiery menu screen to each undead-infused Zombie Pub Crawl flyer, he continues in the tradition of a DIY aesthetic that landed him gigs in the beginning. Meanwhile, “Portraits” expands his artistic endeavors still true to his motivations.

“That’s always been a huge draw for me — to not copy myself too much,” he said. “I always want to keep building on what I’m doing.”