Assessment Piece 2 - Assignment Three: A Poster

A poster

The brief for this assignment was to design an illustration for a poster for a music event. From the options given, I chose to create a poster for a jazz evening because of the striking visual imagery that came immediately to mind.

Before doing anything else, I did a little research about posters, starting with a definition. The Cambridge English Dictionary currently defines a poster as: a large picture, photograph or notice that you stick or pin to a wall or board, usually for decoration or to advertise something. Understanding what makes an effective poster was crucial to me creating my own successful poster for a jazz evening. “By its nature, the poster has the ability to seize the immediate attention of the viewer, and then to retain it for what is usually a brief but intense period. During that span of attention, it can provoke and motivate its audience- it can make the viewer gasp, laugh, reflect, question, assent, protest, recoil or otherwise react. This is part of the process by which the message is conveyed and, in successful cases, ultimately acted upon. At its most effective, the poster is a dynamic force for change.” Timmers, M. (1998) The Power of the Poster. London: V&A Publications

I then started researching jazz posters on Pinterest to get an idea and feel for content and aesthetic. Below are a few typical of those I found. All feature instruments, with some featuring people playing them. The illustration is quite graphic in style with bold line and colour. The typography is usually sans serif and non fussy. Some of the text used is quite quirky as shown in image 4 below. All four posters capture immediate attention through the striking artwork and colour choices. The two featuring the musicians have captivating movement in them while those featuring solely instruments seem more static.

Apart from my original mind images of jazz and the images I saw while researching jazz posters, my knowledge of jazz was very limited so I started with mind mapping, written and visual. First, I drew instruments I associated with jazz and wrote down things and people connected with jazz that I knew.  I then used internet searches to add to the written mind map and finally highlighted the words I wanted to use as a basis for my artwork. I also used this to create myself a mini brief for the type of jazz evening I was making a poster for. A twenties style jazz night in Chicago. I researched Chicago venues and thought the Houses of Blues fitted perfectly due to jazz having roots in blues.

Next I made a collection of jazz images and posters on Pinterest connected with the words I had highlighted, then made a moodboard using the images that most portrayed the feel and ambience I wanted to create in my poster.  The images I selected to use were mostly from the twenties, art deco in design and included posters for music evenings and Vogue covers from that era. I love the elegance of the 1920s and this was a decade known as the jazz age so I thought it would make a beautiful aesthetic and illustration style for a poster.  The images I chose also gave me the colour palette which I have shown further on the mood board through colour swatches.

References for moodboard images: From top left: slashnology.com, rewindvintage.com, splashnology.com, nanlawsontumblr.com, reginacarter.com, charlestonchallengedownunder.com.

While researching jazz musicians I found that most of the key figures were men and that most images that come up in searches depict men playing the instruments.  Women sang, but they rarely played the instruments. This led me to search for women jazz musicians. There are quite a few contemporary ones so I added these to my mind map and moodboard. Visual images from the twenties heavily feature women due to the radical change in fashion the decade brought so it seemed fitting to have women musicians as a theme in my artwork.  

To me, jazz is freedom, it can be improvised.  Likewise, the dance of the era, the Charleston, gave the dancer a sense of freedom that previous dances hadn’t.  Both are full of energy and movement and this is what I wanted to portray in my poster. I am inspired by the work of Jules Chéret and in particular posters he created for dancer Loïe Fuller. They are so full of life and movement and imbue performance.

Before I started creating thumbnails, I drew some jazz poses from silhouette images to support with my figure drawing for the poster.  I then turned some of these into female poses, trying to add more of a sense of movement. At this point I also drew some twenties figures from observation (glamourdaze.com). When creating my visuals I used an artist’s dummy to help get proportions right because I couldn’t find any images with the positions I wanted to portray.

When creating my thumbnails, I referred back to previous exercises illustrating visual space and viewpoint to ensure I explored all options for composition. I explored changing the number, size and positioning of the musician figures. I tried whole figures and some that were more cropped, large figures in the foreground with smaller in the background, and some with more equal sizing. All thumbnails though show the content face on. I didn’t try out viewpoints from above or behind because I knew I wanted to engage the viewer of the poster by connecting them with faces. I also thought front and side views would create the most movement in the image.

The thumbnails I thought were most successful in communicating my idea were the ones with larger figures taking up most of the frame. I chose two that were quite different to each other to produce visuals from.

I felt that having the piano player at the front worked best out of the two because the wave of the piano created the sense of movement I wanted. I felt that the continuation of sway from the piano to double bass complimented this with the other two figures fitting each other in shape and movement too. The second visual didn’t have the movement and The cropped foreground figures in the second visual made the image seem rather stilted, like the movement had been stopped.

Once I had chosen which visual to use, I created stronger line version to be scanned in order to make a colour visual in photoshop. The colours used were from my moodboard. My original intention was to use hand drawn text on my poster so I drew it onto tracing paper and explored laying it in different positions on a printed version in order to find the best one. If working for a client though, I realise I would need to include it on the actual visual so that necessary edits can be made before the final artwork is submitted..

I chose to make watercolour my prime media for the final artwork in keeping with the twenties art from the Vogue cover from my moodboard. However, in order to keep developing my use of photoshop, I decided to create the content and the background separately, then assemble it digitally.

This proved very tricky though with the white background being very difficult to remove effectively. I tried many different methods after googling the issue but none of them worked well enough. This first attempt is shown below. There is a lot of white that hasn’t been removed and there isn’t a crisp line around the foreground content. This did give me the opportunity to further explore how the poster looks with text. I had created a second colour visual with text this time!

For my second attempt, I went back to basics and did all the artwork on the one sheet of paper. The paper was scaled slightly down from A3 size. Starting again gave me the great opportunity of being able to make improvements and changes to the original. In my first version, I was trying to make my illustration a little more graphic in style, with colour in shapes rather than my usual more textural style. When completing it the second time, I stayed truer to myself and I felt so much more confident and enjoyed it much more. I feel that the face of the piano player is much improved and I prefer the piano without the black outlines. The text used in this is my hand written text, created after researching deco fonts and added in photoshop.

I also made the same poster using a font I had previously purchased. This font however doesn’t include numbers so I had to use numbers from a different font. I had to try a number of these before I found one that fitted well!

Having completed this assignment I wanted to refer back to the quote about successful posters earlier in this post to see whether my poster achieves its aims. I think my portrayal of women musicians in an Art Deco style creates enough interest to seize and hold brief attention. It is clear from the text and the artwork what message is being conveyed and the type of evening being advertised. The movement I have managed to incorporate adds life to the poster to engage and motivate the viewer, an important feature of posters for performance. I think the colour palette supports the poster in catching the eye. My use of light colours on a dark poster creates a contrast, with the eye being initially caught by the bright white of the piano.

If I was to undertake this assignment again, I would explore adding more distortion into the figures and instruments. I have used a little stylisation but think there is scope for more. I learnt a lot about using watercolour on large areas while completing this and will continue to explore letting the medium’s ‘free will’ do some of the work for me.