“I love the colors!”
“Your textures are amazing!”
If I took the time to track and rank all the responses I’ve ever gotten for my gigposter work, these two would handily take the top two positions. And while it’s great to be complimented on anything at all, I have to admit that it makes me wonder sometimes if I put too much emphasis on the color palette and the “feel” of my poster work. Sure, it would be a little weird for anyone other than a fellow artist to say, “hey man, love that poster. Great sense of dynamism and perspective!” but still…I have to wonder if my work gets over too easily on tone and texture.
It’s for that reason that I decided I needed to do a quick break and departure from all the usual tools in the box. I would make a new piece on a quicker turnaround. Hours rather than days or weeks. No pretty colors. No airbrush stippling or gradients. Just hard edges and contrast. Line and text. And maybe I’d use the limitations of both to create motion and a kind of texture through cut and (forgive my pretense but) deconstruction.
Fate winked in my direction with the late April 2019 appearance of The Messthetics with Craig Wedren (and local noise and fury practitioners Drug Apts) at Harlow’s in Sacramento. All three acts have at the very least an adventurous spirit and would be amenable if at least not furious at me taking some artistic license with their show poster. So that’s where I put my head at.
I’d been here before. Ten years ago. I did several months of posters where I used no color at all, as a way to focus on composition, and it worked out great. Coming back to color after that gave me a greater sense of how to balance color versus composition. This was going to be a little different, in that I was going to limit myself even further by taking tone and photographic imagery out of the mix. What could I do with just contrast and shape?
I did allow myself one concession in that the final print would be on special metallic paper. The thing about minimalism is that it can read as merely plain if you dont allow yourself a few bold moves to suggest the notes you aren’t playing. As with 2008’s Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit poster, I would do this one as a rich black print on speckled metallic silver cardstock. This would have the added effect of giving things kind of a brutalist (yes, I know this isn’t the real definition of “brutalist”) bent and doing so would serve the overall design mission and also feel in line with the vibe of the performers on the lineup.
I wanted to hub the piece around deconstructed type as a piece of typographic art so that’s where I began with the Messthetics band name. I used Illustrator’s pathfinder to cut and fuse and rearrange the type, bending it in on itself so that it could churn and roil and twist and flip. You should be tricked into feeling like it was a static object in motion, like an optical illusion.
Initially, I figured this one would be entirely text based but the thing about my process is that the process itself is very much part of the …er…process. Often it’s during the creation that the best inspiration happens for me. I’d allow myself to move the goalposts out a bit and add a grid and some graphic elements to play with positive/negative space so that the churn of type had some playing field to stretch and pull against. Even here I kept things minimal, creating a horizon of somewhat irregularly spaced stripes (I always try to put in some analog-esque imperfections to keep the work from looking too digital), anchored by an angled circle and shadowy human figure to give viewers an anthropogenic entry into the composition. The real fun came from adding a bit of faux dimension by giving the figure a reaching shadow that stretches up out of field a bit. This ended up being the right move since it’s the part of the poster that most people focused in on and asked about. It added a bit of mystery to it all and people love coming up with their own interpretations of abstracted images.
Finally, I indulged my love of sterile information architecture by gridding the show information across the top of the poster in quasi-Swiss design style. I figured having a small sober patch to counterbalance all the craziness below it would help to even things out.
In the end, the bands loved these and were really psyched that I put that much thought into how to visually represent their music, which is one of the greatest complements you can get when making show posters.