Yee-Haw Industries

Published in Panhandler Issue 5

Yee-Haw Industries has been covering America with unique, art-like products since 1996. Partners Kevin Bradley & Julie Belcher opened up shop from a back-40 barn in Corbin, Kentucky, with salvaged, antique equipment previously put to rust. Their vibrant, folk art, wood cut prints of country music’s classic stars, such as Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn, caught eyes and told stories. Handmade posters featured stranger-than-fiction characters, like ass-whooping grocer Cas Walker and daredevil icon Evel Kenevil. Soon, modern music acts including Steve Earle, Buddy Guy, Trey Anastasio, Lucinda Williams and Southern Culture on the Skids began commissioning promotional posters and album art. In 1998, having outgrown the bluegrass barn, Yee-Haw moved to a 100+-year-old building on Gay Street in historic downtown Knoxville (just a few doors down from where Hank Sr. was last seen alive). They began offering tours of the Yee-Haw studio in action and mainstreet store to sell their wares. When not creating original fine art prints, commemorative and promotional posters, stationery and greeting cards, invitations and announcements, Belcher and Bradley can be found lecturing across the country or serving as judges for national art and design competitions. Yee-Haw’s work has been honored by selection to PRINT Magazine’s Regional Design Annual for eleven years running and has been reviewed and featured by The Washington Post, AIGA Journal, FSB Fortune Small Business, Southern Living, Esquire, American Illustration 21, and was recently published in The Art of Modern Rock, the Poster Explosion. On the client side, Yee-Haw has done fine illustration, as well as design and letterpress, for the likes of RRL-Ralph Lauren, The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, Mountain Stage Radio Show, Appalshop, The Wall Street Journal, MTV2, and the Cartoon Network and Jack Daniel’s. The studio has recently collaborated with the National Gallery of Art to design & produce a unique line of Dada merchandise, available exclusively at the National Gallery for the duration of the 2006 Dada exhibition.

Yee-Haw Industries writes:

If there’s one question we get on a daily basis, it’s got to be, “How do ya’ll do that?” Letterpress posters, prints, and fine art all require a step-by-step process to go from an idea in our head (or your noggin) to a hang-on-the-wall finished product.

“So what’s the difference between carving into linoleum or into wood?” Wood is very tricky to carve, especially with fine typography and illustration. Linoleum, while still requiring practice and skill, tends to go faster. A general rule is that “production” posters—those for bands, theatre events, readings—tend to have very little lead time; hence, their carvings take place on linoleum. More often than not, fine art prints or posters don’t come with a tight deadline and allow for the more time-consuming practice of carving wood.

We start out by sketching our ideas on paper. This is the first testing ground for designs and illustrations, as well as original typography. It’s in the sketching process that we determine how many colors a poster will require.

Working from our sketches, we begin the carving process. Original designs and typography must be transformed from their life on paper to a format that can be interpreted by the press, i.e., carved blocks. A different block is carved for each color used on a poster. If we’re using four colors, we must carve four different blocks. All carvings are mirrors of what the final design will be (so they’re actually done backwards) and are done on either linoleum or wood.

Selecting and laying out any lead type, wood type, typography, or dingbats is done during the proofing stage. This is a painstaking process, often involving tweezers (for the tiny lead type letters) and lots of ‘furniture’ (the shims that don’t print, creating leading, word spacing, etc). The entire poster is created on the press, proofed, then completely disassembled to begin the actual process of printing.

Each block is run on the press separately, again, beginning with the key block and ending with the lead and wood type, and dingbats. Start doing the math on this, and you quickly realize that everyone who works at Yee-Haw has a pretty good right hook. The average four-color poster goes through the press four times for one final print. If that poster is ordered in a quantity of, say, 200 posters, that’s 800 press runs for one order. But there’s another factor to consider, the waiting. These are heavy-inked posters, so in between each run through the press there must be an 8-hour drying period to let the colors set. When you’re printing, you gotta print, and when you’re drying, you just gotta wait.