Local graphic illustrator designs art for artists

Jul 15, 2016

For many musicians and bands, summer is the time to get out and tour. And when they’re out on tour, posters are needed to help promote the different shows.

That’s good news for Emma Berger

She’s a graphic artist from Traverse City who designs everything from posters to t-shirts for bands across the country. Her work has brought her in contact with artists like Brandi Carlile, who performs tonight at Interlochen Center for the Arts


When she was in high school, Emma Berger's favorite musical artist was William Fitzsimmons. He’s a singer-songwriter who’s easily recognized for his large beard, and unique sound.

"The way he sings is almost like he’s whispering to the microphone," Emma explains. "And he was just a really interesting character to me.”

So, Emma painted a watercolor of William Fitzsimmons, and on a bit of a whim, decided to email a copy of the painting to him. Fitzsimmons responded, and asked her if he could use the art on apparel and other merchandise. 

That's when Emma says she knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

Musician David Ramirez sells apparel designed by Emma Berger.
Credit Emma Berger

“I kind of scratched going to veterinarian school and making money," she says. "And decided I wanted to work for the people who were inspiring me, which are musicians.”

Emma Berger says she enjoys the challenge of capturing the unseen– drawing from the lyrics and sounds she hears and creating something two-dimensional. She says the projects she does with bands are typically much more creative than projects with other clients.

“The most freedom I have, basically, is when I’m designing with musicians," she explains. "I like having that opportunity.”

Emma Berger designed a poster for Brandi Carlile's 2016 Summer Tour.
Credit Emma Berger

While studying at the University of Michigan School of Art and Design, Emma was able to connect with Brandi Carlile. During her senior year, she designed a print which was auctioned off at one of Carlile’s charity events. Emma was grateful for the opportunity, but thought that was it.

"I had no idea that a couple months later they’d come back and say, ‘Hey, do you do t-shirts too?’"

Now 25 years old, Emma Berger has worked with other artists like, David Ramirez, Father John Misty, Penny and Sparrow.

A design she made for Nathaniel Raitliff & The Night Sweats was even used as a backdrop on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, during a performance by group. 

She says much of her success is simply about the right timing. She also might rely on a common connection, or use Instagram to target a band she's interested in working with.

“It’s all about who you know, and not making enemies, and not being creepy," Emma says, laughing. "And knowing how to draw I guess helps too.”

Beer can art designed by Emma Berger for Beards Brewery of Petoskey, Michigan.
Credit Emma Berger

She doesn't make her living entirely from the music work she loves so much. So, she freelances other graphic designing jobs like website layouts, pamphlets, even beer cans. It’s necessary work that helps pay the bills and keep her mind creative.

“I like seeing my stuff out in the world and having people enjoy it," she says. "I think that...and my dog licking my face every morning is what makes me get up.”