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The man behind the Waterfront Blues Fest posters

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For 18 years, one artist has been the go-to man for creating the popular Waterfront Blues Festival poster.

Gary Houston comes up with the vision at his Voodoo Catbox Studio. This year, KOIN 6 News met with him as he was in the home stretch to finish work on what will be the lasting image of the 2018 Blues Festival.

“I feel really honored, lucky” Houston told KOIN 6.

Some of the posters Gary Houston has created. (KOIN)

The poster starts with an idea.

“This year, I was thinking a lot about Elmore James,” he said. “Very ruckus, very loud, kind of think 50s punk rock.”

Houston brought up the idea to the longtime festival artistic director Peter Dammann.

He found out this year marks the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the blues legend — known as the King of the Slide Guitar. In fact, Thursday started out with a tribute to him by the Rose City Kings.

It’s months of work for Houston in his North Portland studio — sometimes starting as far back as January.

Houston stores all the Waterfront Blues Festival posters he’s created in the past in the old Portland Woolen Mills Building.

Inspiration for this year’s poster came during a stop in Kansas City.

Gary Houston working on the Waterfront Blues Festival poster in his North Portland studio. (KOIN)

“I thought I had the artwork nailed down and I saw a piece with a farm worker,” Houston said. “The stance and the weight, and it was just kind of seeing that and thinking ‘Okay, I gotta reconfigure this whole piece’ because that is the way he is going to be playing.”

From there, Houston created a drawing — then a scratchboard before it was scanned onto a computer. Then, some posters were printed along with t-shirts and postcards. But the work didn’t stop there. Houston started the tedious prepping for the limited edition screen-printed posters — creating one color at a time.

While Houston told KOIN 6 News he “always” wants to go back and make changes, his posters never seem to disappoint.

“I want everyone to be happy with the work,” he said. “I guess it’s more about the honoring the legacy of the Blues Fest.”

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