Photo by Renee McMahon
Just back from six weeks on the road with their metalcore band Demon Hunter, having headlined a tour through 34 cities,>"/>
Photo by Renee McMahon
Just back from six weeks on the road with their metalcore band Demon Hunter, having headlined a tour through 34 cities, brothers Don and Ryan Clark certainly look like young punks raised in the Sacramento hardcore scene. Dressed all in black, tight jeans, Vans, full tattoo sleeves protruding from T-shirts, hair cut close to the skull, they have a quiet, coiled straight-edge quality as they hunch forward in their chairs to talk. However, we aren't sitting in a bar or backstage area littered with beer cans, crumpled panties, and coke residue.
Indeed, we're surrounded by vintage toys (mainly robots and monsters), old wooden lead-type cases, mannequin hands, photos of musicians, family, and children (Don has two), shelves full of art and design books, samples of the Clarks' award-winning graphics for bands including the Foo Fighters, Chris Cornell, and Korn, and posters for Bumbershoot and Sasquatch. There's no music playing at the moment (though the walls are lined with CDs), only the hum of several Mac workstations. The Clarks' year-old design firm, Invisible Creature, leases space in Queen Anne above Tooth & Nail Records, where Ryan is art director.
"We do everything ourselves," says Don, the older sibling by four years. (He's the one standing in the above photo.) "We illustrate ourselves, we do Photoshop." And the two are entirely self-taught—or one might say DIY, per their coming of age in what Don calls "the MTV2 generation, the Vans Warped Tour generation. It was the CD '90s. Touring was our art school." Album covers and band posters were then a dying art; instead they took their visual cues from graffiti and skateboard graphics by Jim Phillips and others. "We always had Thrasher lying around," says Don of the influential skateboard mag, but their focus was on creating music—not designing its packaging.
The two had separate bands when they signed during the mid-'90s to Tooth & Nail, the prominent local label run by Brandon Ebel that's known for carrying discreetly Christian-identified acts. Don came to Seattle first in 2000 for a dot-com job, and Ryan soon followed. Here their interest in creating art finally blossomed. "Ryan and I have always been into art," says Don, who ventured into the commercial field with Asterisk Studios (Tooth & Nail being a principal client). Ryan recalls of that new digital terrain, "I didn't know anything—not even what a megabyte was."
But a few years later, Ryan's been nominated for a Grammy for his CD jewel-box designs, and Invisible Creature has begun adding a few nonmusical clients like Nordstrom and the Oregon State Lottery.
Both are acutely aware that their music-world canvas is quite literally shrinking. They've been able to create the occasional 7-inch or 12-inch record cover, but even the tiny CD jewel box is fast disappearing. "It is limiting, but it's also challenging," says Ryan, who unfolds the insert for a Hawk Nelson CD into a board game that can be played on the floor. At the same time, with downloads dominating the music biz, Don sees a new interest in posters, something larger, a more tangible, visual token of one's musical taste—it's "a bit of a backlash. It coincided with the iPod era." They point to the Flatstock poster exhibit at Bumbershoot '03 as helping reignite local interest in the old dorm-room idiom. "It's very much a collectors' mentality," adds Ryan. (They sell posters via their Web site.)
Returning from the road doesn't mean returning reluctantly to their day job. Invisible Creature is one of the Clarks' two thriving, parallel-yet-related professions. Demon Hunter is neatly tucked away, like their guitars, for another hiatus until they begin writing and rehearsing new songs. Of their commercial design clients, says Don, "More often than not, no one knows we're in a band." Before turning back to his computer, Ryan adds, "You have to stop one to do the other."—Brian Miller
The Clarks' Picks
BEST PLACES FOR VISUAL INSPIRATION: Bluebottle Art Gallery, Roq La Rue, Frye Art Museum, Pixar movies (Don: "I've already seen Wall•E three times"), the Olympic Sculpture Park, and more estate sales.
BEST TATTOO PARLORS: Super Genius on Cap Hill, Liberty in the U District.
BEST USE OF A SATURDAY MORNING: Estate sales, the SoDo antiques mall, Fremont market and antiques fair.
BEST ITALIAN FOOD: Via Tribunali.
BEST CLOTHES SHOPPING: Red Light and Blackbird.