Another real life brief
This poster design was required with a relatively fast turnaround and was completed over about one week. During that week I only had a few hours to spend on it in spare time and it’s an example of getting to the finished work without being diverted. It is interesting once again that I can work in this way – direct to the end product – when in other work I’ve done on this course I’ve had trouble finishing the designs. Somewhere within me is the potential to make these two extremes meet in the middle so that I can call upon the speed and gearing in my work that I need to apply to each and every piece.
Six on Six
The background to brief was known to me before I was given the task of producing a graphic image. Six different contemporary theatre plays to be performed on six dates over a two week period. One image was required to advertise them in the style of a ‘festival of contemporary theatre’, the image to be used for posters and flyers – text, dates and box office phone numbers etc to be added, not part of my brief, but I had to account for space on an A-sized page to accommodate thee details.
The title was a given “Six on Six” with the suggestion that “Six plays on six days” might also be included to explain what the title meant.
There are some ‘given’ facts that relate to this brief that are simply assumed because of the working context:
- Flyers are a single-sided A5 sheet, portrait, school logo located at top right, rest of head space to be blank
- Posters may be produced but are rarely necessary
- Digital versions required
I started off doodling the various ways that I might have 6 things. 6 Plays ‘in’ 6 Days was literal; I was toying with carbon rings (from watching Breaking Bad) which are hexagons; dice patterns and then the grids were pixels where I tried using six squares to make a ‘6’ shape, but six squares is not really enough… you need about 9.
In a previous stage show I had built some small, ornamental bridges so I put six people on six bridge planks… they weren’t coloured red initially… but after staring at this image for a while, as well as the grids, I thought about a calendar and how each of these might be a date square. Before colour printing became ubiquitous calendars were often printed in black and red… the red was used to highlight Sunday and holidays. Colouring the squares in red was a way to signify importance to those days… ‘red letter days’ perhaps.
I carried on looking for significance in the boxes – putting the ‘6’ from the title in a box and looking at how it arranged. I had an idea that the title itself was one on top of another – stacked, a 6 on a 6.
Taking my figures a bit further I looked at using a figure 6 as the head – could that fit with a stylised figure?
Searching the web for other significant occurrences of the number six I discovered that there are six basic emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, Surprise and Disgust.
At this point I started to develop an Illustrator prototype:
I showed this to the client for proof of concept, with the caveat that it was a quick workup of a concept and that I would want to flesh out the figures, who gave the following feedback:
- ‘6 on 6’ isn’t clear as the title… it’s broken up
- Maybe need the month in there ‘March’ as the dates are there
…and asked me to develop it further.
After re-arranging the title I was not happy about the numeral ‘6’ as it became less of a title… but I lked the idea of the six being in a box more like a clendar. By playing with the words and shapes onscreen I discovered that the letter ‘S’ at the start of ‘Six’ being in the box could lend itself the same meaning visually even though it was a word.
I straightened the ‘bridge’ into a grid because it felt more like it was part of a calendar and a bridge had no meaning in the required message… other than being where figures might stand, but the core message was that they were dates.
By now I had a plan for the figures – I had decided to draw each as one of the six emotions and set about discovering how to draw such tiny faces with expressions of those six emotions.
After a while I discovered that the stance of each figure was going to communicate the emotion perhaps as much as the expression, so I started to work out what each stance needed to be in order to doubly affirm each emotion, and which figure would be which emotion. The latter I tried o work into the existing stances which were initially drawn just to portray a range of dynamic poses but it turned out to be easy to allocate an emotion to each one.
Experimenting with drawing ‘Surprise’ or ‘Fear’… these look kind of ‘angry but scared’!
I also needed a way to flesh-out the figures, partly to support the facial image but also so that their overall impact on the page was bigger than a stick drawing.
I worked through to try to discover the minimal set of mark that could represent each emotion. The eyes became the primary messenger using eyebrow position in a very bold way.
I had started to draw rough outlines of the figures to see what space they might occupy and see if I could move towards some kind of appropriate style.
Here I blocked out the space that each figure might occupy..
…then started to draw them in.
Putting ‘March’ behind the figures helped them, but was less good for the word ‘March’ itself.
At this point they reminded me of Matisse – Blue Nudes – so I worked towards that slightly, although not by directly referencing the art initially.
Following the Matisse idea loosly gave rise to another – that of making the faces into masks. This fitted nicely as we are already familiar with the drama masks of ‘Comedy’ and ‘Tragedy’ used, notably, on road signs to theatres in the UK. In this first version I put in the masks in various shapes to see what worked.
The addition of some empty squares behind the figures helped both to unify the design… so that the figures were seen in a collection rather than being six individuals… as well as to suggest more about it being a calendar. I moved ‘March’ into a less prominent position and tried to reduce the overall space used to allow more the the other information to fit.
March moved around a bit to try other possibilities and I worked through the figures trying to refine the style – a way of drawing the feet and hands across all of the figures for example.
I found that I needed to try to make each face equally prominent and that the ‘masks’ looked better if presented like faces (attached to the head) rather than masks (in front of the head).
I introduced some lines on the figures to help define arms and legs… this was drawing slightly on the Matisse figures which have these indicators but nothing else to suggest a 3D figure etc.
Finally I put the text in front of the ‘Joy’ figure to ensure it’s readability.
Throughout the process
I didn’t have a specific time when I defined the colour pallet – throughout the process I was trying different things. It was requested that I have a bright rather than a dark overall look.
Although it occurred to me that I could change the colour of the figures away from its Matisse influence the alternatives did not appeal. It then came down to finding a background colour that would support the figures, the red boxes and whatever the colour of the text was to be.
At one point I did have 6 colours in the design including the background colour – these were the red, white and blue, plus the lines on the bodies and the lines on the faces (expressions), and the background. The final version used the background colour as the lines on the bodies and the blue of the figures for their expressions, reducing the overall colour count to four: Red, White, Blue and Yellow.
I was always concerned with the look of the lettering. I had chosen Arial Bold because of its affinity with the utilitarian calendar -the idea that these calendars would be printed in a business-like way avoiding ‘cute fluffy kittens’ etc. This progressed usefully when I needed to alter (reduce) the visual impact of the line of text which I did by making them into outlines only. Arial Bold looks really good in that format because of its even ‘fatness’ on all of the letter parts.
I varied the outline thickness and used kerning to make the letters actually touch. When seen in this compacted form it might be the empty inside space that is read as the letter-shape rather than the outlines which become a sort of background.
Arial’s other favourable attributes include the horizontal ends on most letters which chimes in nicely with the grid format of a calendar.