illustration

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This is where I talk about my work, my discoveries, my creative process, and the ins and outs of marketing in the arts.

Chesapeake: the process

May 27, 2011
Chesapeake final poster

This is the final poster I created for the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company 2011/2012 Season, and in many ways the easiest of all three. (Note, I’ve included the black border around the image as a reference for the image size, but it will not appear in the final artwork.)

Chesapeake is a lovely one-man play that practically hands you a buffet of metaphor and imagery to pull from. Briefly, it is the story of a performance artist who is maligned in the press by a conservative senator, who is attacking the artist and his work in order to look good in his re-election campaign. The senator’s plans are to abolish all public funding for the arts. To get even, the artist kidnaps the senator’s favorite dog, a Chesapeake Bay Retreiver, intending to train it to be his own dog, but he ends up getting into an accident (involving water) and dying. When he wakes up, he IS the dog, and goes about trying to manipulate the senator into NOT defunding the arts. The story is full of reincarnation, religious imagery, ethical considerations, politics, art, and even real heart. As I said, it’s a great play.

Chesapeake final poster

With so much to work from, what image does one choose to represent such a multifaceted play? In Mourning Becomes Electra, I had the problem of not enough imagery and metaphor to work with—this play almost has too much!

As you can see from my first round of sketches (left), my instinct was to highlight the transformational element of the play, of the man becoming the dog. I played around with images of a dog silhouette inside that of a man, and vice versa. The color scheme of red, white, and blue seemed entirely natural for this play (it’s about art in American politics!); I started with those colors and I never questioned that. Also, given the duality of the concept and how I had been using fractured planes of color in the rest of the season’s posters, I looked for a way do the same with this composition. The dichotomies are obvious: art vs politics, liberal vs conservative, self-serving vs generosity. Given that red and blue are the chosen colors of Republicans and Democrats, that also seemed like a good conflict to evoke.


Chesapeake final poster

Because the production will play in spring 2012 and that’s a big election year, the company’s marketing director suggested we push the politics and make a poster that looked like a political poster. I immediately began researching political posters and, big surprise, found that they all kind of look the same. I went with this layout to build mystery about who the person in the poster is, with a bone bow tie as a subtle clue about the dog.

The artistic director put the kibosh on this whole concept—he felt the dog bone was too subtle and a little confusing, and he also felt that a political poster design for the show was likely to be mistaken for an actual campaign poster during an election time. So I went back to the drawing board and read the play again


Chesapeake final poster

The next idea I had turned out to be perfect. There are two instances in the play where a dog rescues one of the characters from drowning. More than just an event, it’s an act of salvation, and an image which could evoke the power of change and redemption that the play explores. So I created this mockup.

Everyone was enthusiastic about it. However, when the marketing director revealed it to the artistic director, she began by described what I was going and THEN showed him the piece. He found that, based on my description, he had been expecting something more fantastical; he had assumed that the dog would be larger. So it was suggested that I make the dog much, much larger to create a surreal element to the design and highlight the dog’s importance. I was game for that. So from this mockup, I played with sizes and colors, and just basically tightened everything up.

I wish I had more sketches to show you, but in this instance I worked directly from photo reference for the dog. (Go try and Google pictures of dogs swimming and find an image of what their legs look like underwater. They don’t exist!) Perhaps the most difficult final consideration was finding the right colors of red and blue to prevent weird color vibration when juxtaposed. That took a good deal of staring at Pantone swatches…

Speaking of color, all of the final images I’ve shown you here are based on CMYK colors, but I’m planning on having the final posters and postcards printed using spot color. CMYK is the process of mixing cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to achieve colors, and unfortunately does not result in very vibrant colors. Spot color process uses actual mixed inks whose chemical composition is dictated by Pantone in order to be consistent everywhere. Because each of these final images is a three-color piece of art, I have very specific colors in mind that aren’t quite what you would see in a CMYK process (or on your RGB monitor). It may seem like splitting hairs, when when you’re only dealing with two colors (and black) in an image, picking the right colors is really important.

Mourning Becomes Electra final poster Changes of Heart final poster Chesapeake final poster

Next week, I’ll show you the Season and Subscriber Brochures I designed using this same design aesthetic to tie the entire season together. Until then, have a great Memorial Day weekend!

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