Some years ago, UNC Chapel Hill cell biology professor Bob Goldstein was talking to his fellow colleagues, admiring the gig posters that indie bands attached to telephone poles around town. The pieces were beautiful but ephemeral, making them inherently precious. “They often get rained on, or stolen, so they’re super short-lived,” Goldstein recounts. And he wondered if he could bring that same promotional energy to the lecturers at his own university.
Over the course of 50 original prints, Goldstein has realized his vision again, and again, and again. But luckily, unlike the gig posters that inspired him, his posters live on–you can see all of his work on his Flickr page, Gig Posters for Scientists, spotted by BoingBoing.
“I love that band gig posters often look like a labor of love, done by someone who really admires the music,” says Goldstein. “In general, after learning about the science for a poster, I really admire the science.”
Goldstein’s posters are visually varied, ranging from psychedelic print negatives, to sharp infographic visualizations, to turn-of-the-century scientific etchings, to understated watercolors. They really are like gig posters for scientists, because the design is born from fandom of the research itself.
“I generally spend some time getting to know the scientists’ work–something I like doing anyway, because learning about diverse fields of biology helps inspire creative ideas within my own field, I think,” says Goldstein. “Then at some point some inspiration strikes for something I want to represent, and I mock it up on paper or in Photoshop, and let it sit for a few days or more, come back to it, and often find I want to start over. That process doesn’t eat much time, but can only happen if I start early.”
Goldstein then screen-prints a few dozen copies of each poster in a shed behind his house, and his kids often help deconstruct how to produce the designs. When screen printing, each color of ink requires an additional pass across the print. At the scale Goldstein works, he spends a few hours per layer, printing two, three, or even as many as six layers per poster.
Though Goldstein invests plenty of time designing and printing the posters, his side project moves far quicker than the months or years that go into his work as a scientist, where he focuses on biological development from a single cell and how that impacts everything from birth defects to cancer.
“It’s like whittling, I suppose… it’s just fun to make something that I thought of,” he says of the posters. “And it’s a nice weekend break and foil to research, which I do or think about at work and at home much of the time, but which doesn’t produce tangible products as quickly.”