• By: OLM Staff

Bluesfest’s poster child

Photos by Andre Gagne. Poster images supplied by Dave O'Malley and Aerographics.

At 65-years-old Dave O’Malley is hardly a kid but for the last 22 years he’s been the poster child of RBC Bluesfest. Should you pass through the Canadian War Museum you can take a trip down festival memory lane through the amazing artwork O’Malley and his crew at Aerographics have created over the years. You can even get some to display on your own walls.

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O’Malley has been drawing since he was a youngster. Airplanes, ships, trains, cranes, any type of machinery fascinated him.

During the purple haze of the psychedelic ‘60’s, his obsession turned to the hand-made fonts often seen on popular posters of Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane at the time.

It was less interesting subject matter, he admits, that saw his artwork take a more professional turn.

“The business got started in 1976, when a former class mate of mine asked me if I could illustrate a book he was working on,” says O’Malley.

“It was the height of the oil crisis in the ‘70’s and the book was about insulating your house. Not the most exciting subject, but it was related to architecture and it got the ball rolling. I never looked back.”

Artists like Guy Billout, Michael Schwab and Neal Aspinall were all early influences on the technique O’Malley would craft into his own style. He would volunteer his skills on any project he found interesting.

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Money, he says, was third on his list of things he was looking to gain. Working with people who understood emotion and design as well as latching his name onto projects that he was passionate about were more important than the financial gain.

To this day, many of those passions that fire O’Malley up creatively revolve around music and aviation. That kid who used to draw planes went further than most even dream of. Outside of his aviation artwork, O’Malley is also a lapsed pilot and former head of the National Capital Air Show. Along with Mike Potter, he helped develop Vintage Wings of Canada, a not for profit organization that collects historically significant aircraft to fly and display.

When not designing new works, O’Malley writes a historical aviation story each week to share with the 13,000 subscribers on his blog.

Planes, music and graphic design, O’Malley would be fortunate enough to combine all three of his loves when he launched his company. He admits that he sort of just fell into things one day when he had to quickly come up with a name for some business cards.

Aerographics Creative Services was what he settled on and the name stuck. It was always his hope that, somehow, he’d be able to evoke the company namesake and work aviation into the mix one day.

Now, that’s a big part of what they do.


“I was a pen and ink drawer right from the get go and I came into graphic design more than 15 years before the arrival of the computer,” O’Malley recalls, adding that he still hand draws his posters before working on them digitally. “Computers opened a vast world of previously unimagined imagining.”

Though he doesn’t remember the specifics of how he got involved with Bluesfest, he is proud of the 22 year partnership with the festival’s Executive Director, Mark Monahan, and his team.

“I usually meet with Mark and we discuss whether the poster will be theme related or headliner related.  The problem with using a headliner is that it cuts out all the other acts which may or may not be even more important. Headliners are reluctant to sign a poster featuring another act so we usually go to developing the year’s theme into a poster such as the big red Cadillac for Bluesfest Goes Hollywood, an old motorboat for Take Me to the River and a circus tent for Carnival of the Blues.”

 This year, with no specific theme, they went with a design that featured headliner Billy Idol. It wasn’t the only design on the table. O’Malley also presented a design that featured country star Brad Paisley and another that attempted to use the O-Train somehow but, in the end, it was Idol’s signature look that was the deciding factor.
It allowed for a unique display of the other festival acts appearing as strands of Idol’s iconic punker hairstyle.

“His hair and rebel yell are so identifiable,” says O’Malley, who used a photo by Clay Lancaster as a reference for the artwork. “The image was loved by everyone and the manner in which the line-up acts are displayed is the visual pun or punch line.”

O’Malley says he has received a lot of positive feedback for the posters over the years. They hang in the Bluesfest offices and his physician has them displayed in his waiting room. As the artist, his personal favourites remain his earliest designs in 2001 and 2003. Being part of the festival is a highlight of O’Malley’s year not only when it comes to the artwork but, also, as a fan in the crowd.

“Ottawa would be a lot less interesting and exciting without Bluesfest. It animates and electrically charges the summer and brings to life this city better than any other festival in the year. That is undeniable. But I think it makes us feel proud that little old boring Ottawa is not quite as staid as people might think it is. The bar set by Bluesfest has forced other festivals to step up and be great as well.”

Posters can be purchased at the Poster Gallery inside the War Museum with all proceeds going to Blues in the Schools.