By Trina Calderón

Derek Hatfield Designs Posters for the Scene

For artist Derek Hatfield, making psychedelic poster art was an organic evolution. He’s one of the Skull & Roses big four poster artists this year, which includes Chris Gallen, Owen Murphy, and the one and only Stanley Mouse. That latter legend is part of what’s broadly known as the big five, the founders of the San Francisco psychedelic poster art movement which also includes Wes Wilson, Alton Kelley, Rick Griffin, and Victor Moscoso. Our ongoing coverage of poster artists is important to the Grateful Dead community because we’re highlighting the cool lineage that continues today for so many bands and venues that have the privilege of hanging these posters and offering them for sale to their fans. 

Originally from Peoria, Illinois, Derek is a restless creative. “I’ve always been artistic ever since I could hold a crayon, really. I’ve always drawn whatever I saw, whether it was other paintings, drawings, or nature. Later, being into music, I just got drawn to the album cover art and poster art. I started looking into it and, obviously, I started recognizing the names on all this art, the big five of San Francisco psychedelic artists, and I was just drawn to it. It caught my eye. It was colorful and it wasn’t traditional,” Derek related. Initially he studied photography in Chicago and carved out a good career in advertising.

Alpine Valley in 1989 was Derek’s first Grateful Dead show and he probably got about 80 or 90 shows under his belt by the time Jerry left the building. Enamored with psychedelic music culture, he noticed a friend on social media making gig posters and realized he wanted to do that too. “I had already established myself as a commercial photographer, but my buddy was more of an art director, and he was doing these gig posters on the side. I was like, ‘wow, how are you doing that?’ And he’s like, ‘Illustrator and Photoshop.’ I’m like, ‘I know those tools really well.’ I started seeing more jam band posters on social media, and, I just said, ‘Hey, I’d love to do that,’” Derek remembered.

Moving out to Austin, Derek began working more in digital design. In 2015, he created his first fan art poster for Phish playing at Austin 360 Amphitheater. He posted it on social media and received positive feedback immediately. “People liked it. I printed out some and I went to the show. I advertised it on social media and it sold out. People loved it, and I kind of took off from there,” he explained. A long-time fan of the non-traditional style of Van Gogh, Derek embraced the opportunity to make trippy avant-garde images and the process complimented his professional career. “I was designing these posters on the computer, sometimes sketching it out on paper first, but then, ultimately designing on a computer so it can be printed,” he related.

Derek made fan art for Fare Thee Well and started to feel the momentum; his work was popular, and he cultivated a fan base. Getting hired and working closer with bands, he found his stride and was able to connect the right ideas into great poster art. He shared, “If it’s for a poster for somebody that I’ve already done, I already know what they’re looking for. If it’s somebody that I haven’t worked with, I look at some of the things they’ve done in the past or I’ll ask what the things are they’re looking for, what are the things they don’t want to see. Psychedelic art is more freeform and it’s about the music. I just start to put together ideas, sometimes I use a mood board, or screen shots of things. I like to mix up themes, whether I want to work with nature or animals and things like that. Then they’ll give me inspiration, but inspiration comes from not only the music or the band themselves or maybe a particular song, but it also has to do with the venue or the city that they’re in.”

His artwork caught on early with Conscious Alliance, a nonprofit organization out of Denver that feeds families of communities in need by collaborating with musicians and artists to host food drives at concerts and music festivals. Derek can’t speak more highly about their mission and his chance to work with them. “They really gave me one of my first opportunities, and their mission is to feed the hungry. Whether it’s in the Colorado area or whether it’s in, for example, let’s say Chicago. They’ll want to partner with the band, the venue, and the food banks that are in these cities so they can feed the needy. Feed the hungry. They commission artists to create a poster for that particular event, and that poster gets created, printed, and they take it to the event and all of the concert goers that are attending can bring, I think it’s twenty or thirty nonperishable items to the show and give those in exchange for a poster,” he said. Derek has made posters for String Cheese Incident, Mumford and Sons, Umphrey’s McGee, and My Morning Jacket to support the good Conscious Alliance cause.

This April, Derek will have posters celebrating 420 at Skull & Roses music festival. He’s still designing the final image but shared some small details, “I know there’s going to be some skeletons and with 420, I started thinking about the background of 420. The historical background of it, what it represented and meant to the community and to music really and went from there. I know that it needs to be psychedelic. I mean, that’s my style; and it’s the style of the festival as well.”

Images Courtesy of Derek Hatfield


Trina Calderón is an LA-based writer, proud to be a part of the sunshine daydream of the Grateful Dead.