Saturday, November 13, 2010

Irrelevant Ramblings Part 2: Help me Bees! and Collaboration

My second collaboration with the grand proprietors of Relevance productions, Trevor and Tom, has proved to be one of the more frustrating and satisfying events of my year. Over the summer I had been developing a large series of images/posters to promote a college theatre run of Dog Sees God; Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. The show is an unauthorized dramedy of a Teenage Charlie Brown. It's a very honest, funny and intense play, and I was almost 85% finalized with my designs when the dream project was cancelled over creative differences with the administrative faculty. The feeling of devastation was equally shared with the other collaborators and designers; but life goes on, and so it was fortunate that Trevor contacted me again with a new project.

Thom Pain: Based on Nothing by is the antithesis of the one man show. Instead of having a linear storyline with the singular character narrating his life in a series of stories that all tie into a neat theme or life lesson, Thom Pain goes from nonsense to little moments to fragmentary ramblings that truly pull into to the random depth of your own mind and how you perceive what is normal in your life compared to his experiences. Performed by renown actor Scott Cox it proved to be an astounding experience for those able to come to that small MET theatre in Kansas City just off the plaza.

For imagery, Trevor had mentioned that several designs had included mainly two things: a pair of glasses and a bee. The glasses were the only object that framed anything in the play (the actors face) and the other represented both a story in the show itself and the eclectics of the play itself. Deciding to go with a more metaphorical route as I did with the design for Dark Play, I decided to literally combine the idea that Thom Pain's mind was alive with sporadic ideas buzzing about like a bee hive. So I combined several composits of a bald man with a beehive shaved to the back of his head. Then I proceeded to find several bee images to swarm the bald dome to give a full realization to the concept. A large golden hexagon framed the head and unified the theme of bees to the imagery. It was on of my favorite designs.

However, this design did not meat the approval of my client and friend Trevor B. Including it's similarity in visual symbolism to Dark Play, he also believed the audience would be confused with Scott Cox's luscious curly hair as opposed to my bald bee enthusiast image. So back to the drawing board; or at least Photoshop. Thankfully I didn't have to look far.

For some of my designs with Dog Sees God, I had implemented the idea of using strong silhouettes with bold colored backgrounds (yellow for the charlie brown character, red for Lucy, etc.) similar to the old iPod adds, but slightly more tasteful. Still in that mood while working on Thom Pain. I created a image of a singular figure in a suit and glasses (another strong image from the play) standing on a series of hexagons arranged in a honeycomb formation, creating a platform like a stage for the lone figure, with a row of other honey combs to add depth.

The inclusions of swarms of bees the removed normalcy of the figure, but the cartoonish look and the dotted lines of the bees themselves made the eminence less disturbing and more of a odd/curious entity. The dotted lines helped to fill in the space at the edges and make Thom's silhouette seem less isolated. Trevor liked the simplicity of the image; it fit with the minimalist style (read- budget) of the play. With a little tweaking the final poster came as this:

I don't wish to currently speculate on it now, but why some people seem to prefer Trajan Font is beyond me. Despite its very comforting square like design, being a comic fan myself, I was very tired of this font after Civil War. But when you are at the whims of a client, some things don't quite go as planned. The white background made the figure crisper, but the yellow of the bees helped the eye run up and down the piece. It was a beautiful thing to see it around KC in 2 x 3 ft. proportions.

The pamphlet was very similar but once again I made an emphasis on hexagons/honeycombs to create a stronger bee theme. Trevor was very pleased with the work. For the show, I even got to be a plant in the audience every night. Thom Pain was picked as the Best Play in Kansas City by the Pitch a few months later. Needless to say I was overjoyed, as was everybody else. More to come soon.

Irrelevant Ramblings to Relevant Theatre: part 1

It's always a good feeling to be apart of something that receives critical praise. At the end of 2009 a good friend of mine began a theatre production company in Kansas City with his friend called Relevance Productions. Their first show was Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, which was well directed, performed, and received; but with little word of mouth about the show itself. Knowing the potential for something good when I see it, I offered what little skills I had and helped them to advertise their next set of productions for the 2010 season.

Carlos Murillo's Dark Play: Or Stories for Boys is a story about the dangers of anonymity on the Internet and those who would exploit it for sexual means or cruel amusement. The poster was alright but the pamphlet itself was fun to create.
My friend requested an image that combined the themes of technology, sexuality, and a hint of danger.
Finding an image of a woman curled next to a laptop on her bed created an intimacy that is implied in the context of the story with online chat rooms, but the shadowing of of her facial features also creates an aloofness and mystery to the character itself. An overlapping of a circuit board gave the appearance that the woman was not as true proponent of real life, once again tying to the stories theme of mixed identities and dangerous games on the Internet. The idea of the image as to create a appealing surreality about the whole affair, and I believe the image achieves that affect.

The addition of binary code to the background of the pamphlet created a texture as opposed to a plain white surface. The mixture of different font's was a way to draw the eye to different sections of the pamphlet. Monotony can prove to be very detrimental to the success of advertising an image; an important lesson from my typography professor.
My friends were very pleased, and the show once again was well received, if only to a small set of crowds. The next show proved to be much more intriguing to everybody involved, including me...

Monday, October 5, 2009

Getting off the Ground: Design Deconstruction

Finally, as promised, I present to you the original drafts to the story logo project from their comic style beginnings to their logo-like transformations. Our class was assigned by professor Babcock to tell three stories: one traumatic; one financially successful; and one good experience; using as few images as possible.
At first I had assumed by "as few images as possible" he had meant for us to try to tell as much of a story using only a small amount of images presented in a comic strip style manner. So my original designs were rough as far a draftsmanship went, but they told three distinct stories using up to four to five panels each.

The first story told of me going to see a great movie with a friend at a movie theatre; Children of Men. I used recognisible (if outdated) imagery to tell the story: using a old projection to indicate a movie, as well as a thumbs up to indicate my enjoyment of the film.

The second traumatic story told of how another friend of mine nearly had his heart stop at a party, and so we to him in an ambulance to the hospital until he recovered. I used stick like figures and recognisable images like a broken heart, a stop sign, party balloons, and red cross ambulance, and other images to clearly create an atmosphere of the tension of the moment.

The third story was a bit more simplistic and less thrilling; I had mad money by designing a cover album from friend's heavy metal band. The imagery was the most simplistic here; using a pencil to show I drew something; the images I drew on; and the money in "$" icon for to show how I profited.

When we first presented them in class; I thought mine had fit about what the professor had required of us. However, there was one person that clearly understood his overall goal; showing three neatly drafted designs that not only used up each of his or her three pages effectively, but only used one panel in a logo style fashion to tell his or her story.
Seeing the more bold and decisive imagery gave me the clarity to make a more efficient revision on my stories, but knowing the cost of simplifying and enlarging my imagery would require a sacrifice in the complexity of the stories themselves.

With the first story, I reduced the story from going to the movie theatre to see "Children of Men" to just seeing a good movie. To show I had it at the movie theatre, the image was turned into a movie theatre ticket. To show I like the movie, I gave the ticket an icon of a projector with a happy face. The design flowed nicely to me.

The second story proved the most difficult to simplify, because the story felt too complex to try to reduce with one image. Babcock suggested trying to combine a two people in a before and after effect, but every attempt to combine to people gave off the idea of a sexual encounter gone wrong than a near fatal heart attack. So I settled on two different variation of the story. One version shows a man with a repaired broken heart, while the other used traffic sign lights to tell the story in three steps; the red light to show the heart stopped; the yellow to show I was shocked back from hiatus; and green to show it was working again.

The third story was easy to retell with imagery. I simply showed a pencil drawing a dollar sign on a t-shirt, which indicated I drew an image for a profit.

Reflecting on the project altogether a month later, I have to say it is interesting to note how much the digital age has done little to change certain aspects of logo design. While technology had advanced the way we transfer information and communicate (as well the the technology itself reducing in size but increasing in function); when I used a image I thought people would recognise, I would often would use an outdated icon that had a more distinguished shape rather than the most modern design. Most film projectors are either on computers now or set on a much larger system than the small projector I drew, but as far a a image people could visually recognize and register as a film projector, that was the most effective to draw. It will be curious to see in the future what logos and icon will endure the farther away we progress from it in terms of relevance and technological development.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Illuminating Illustrators: J.H. Williams III

This week Illuminating Illustrators takes a look at an artist who has gained a lot of recognition by the comic book industry, but his use of colors, line, and space are so unique and inventive it is a shame that the recognition has not extended out into public appreciation. J.H. Williams III has been an illustrator for over fifteen years in the comics industry and has already worked with as the main artist for some of the top creators in their field; including Warren Ellis, Howard Chaykin, Grant Morrison, Chuck Dixon, Greg Rucka, and Alan Moore. Not just a spectacular penciller, Williams ofter does his own inks, paints, and occasionally lettering as well, blending all of the mediums in such a visually appealing way that also tells the story in the most effective manner.

The majority of Williams' career has been working for DC comic, his beginning work as a comic book artist was the 1995 miniseries "Deathwish" and the short lived series "Chase." Recognised more for his developing art art than for the stories, Williams worked on small but unique projects like Howard Chaykin's "Son of Superman" miniseries until his biggest opportunity arrive from one of the most renowned comic book writers of modern history: Alan Moore.

Creator of successful and intellectually stimulating stories such as "V for Vendetta" and "Watchmen", Moore approached J. H. Williams III to be the illustrator for his upcoming comic series in 1999: "Promethea", Alan Moore's 32 issue religious superhero saga in which he used mysticism and deep psychological storytelling to state his opinions on the concepts of religion and the unknown element of life in the adventures of a archaic superherione (a Wonder Woman with more emphasis on the mythology and feminism rather than the issue of sex, if you will.)

Alan's complex storylines and worded imagery were matched above and beyond with Williams choices of inks, digital and watercolors, and mixing mediums for the entire 32 issue run as he served as both interior artist and cover designer from 1999 to 2005. Williams was able to develop and hone his artistic style thanks to the demanding but satisfying writing of Moore.

After "Promethea", Williams collaborated with equally cerebral writer Warren Ellis on surreal science fiction spy series "Desolation Jones"; using his ability to adapt his art stlyle to the requirements of his writer once again. Williams would first get to experience mainstream comic work when he began to work with psychedelic writer Grant Morrison. Infamous for for his graphic and mindbending storytelling on his mental "Arham Asylum" and "The Invisibles" comic series, Morrison asked for Williams to work on the three issues on his second story arch of his current Batman series in 2007.

Using dark tones and sharply designed panels, Williams work brought a new class of visual storytelling to a popular series. Despite the current absence of Batman in the series, Williams continues to work on the current Detective Comic series, which stars the new Batwoman, since 2009 with writer Greg Rucka, this time experimenting with watercolor and harsh digital colors to contrast the lifestyle of the superherione from her regular identidy.

William work continues to impress with his ability to use painted an digital media in such and effectively merged manner, and will hopefully continue to do so in the future. His website can be located here and his flickr account here for more images and contents on his work process.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Seventh Lecture: Digitized Designs

On this following Wednesday it came the time for us to turn in our logo designs on our illustration board.I had two designs prepared; a fruit basket/sailboat and a coffee cup hand with stream for fingers. As I tried to touch up the coffee hand an accidentally split ink over the project and I had to scrap the look. I used a more organic look with the basket when I was experimenting with the ink, and the cup hand was a bit more straight. We compared our logos in class and Babcock appeared satisfied.

With the observations finished we proceeded to follow him into the computer room to learn about scanning and Adobe Illustrator. He used a kind of online chatroom/instruction tablet that let him show us how to scan images onto the computer and how to take the images and give them a cleaner, more professional look using applications on Illustrator such as pens, transparencies, arrows, lines, and magnifying images to get even the smallest details right.

Due to some malfunctions with the scanner, we had to postpone our own work with our logos on the computer until next time. Hopefully, We'll also be able to upload our designs from our storytelling logo project, which I hope to show on our next text. Should prove interesting!

Illuminating Illustrators: Paul Pope

Round two of Illuminating Illustrators brings to the ring a newer artist that has been garnering a bit more attention for his loose but brilliant visuals that he uses for comic books as well as his own clothing line.

Paul Pope has worked for as a freelance artist for both Marvel and DC comics; but made his start as an artist in Japan telling a story of a girl and her robotic guardian in space, called THB, an ongoing series from 1995. Paul eventually worked on DC's mature comic line Vertigo to make two cyberpunk stories, "100%' and "Heavy Liquid",in 1999 and 2003 respectively. Both stories attacked mainstream attention for their youthful pacing and retro futuristic designs reminiscent of "Blade Runner"'s ghetto future cityscape and the tales of the people/technology occupying it.

Pope's style can only be described as kinetic; a pageful of ink strokes that give and energy to his characters in just one panel that some artists cannot pull off in their entire careers. His costume designs are very innovative and are recognized for bringing a more realistic aspect to characters that often would seem ridiculous in real life (Batman, Robin, etc.), particularly when Pope returned to his retro future world with "Batman: Year 100" in 2007.
Set as a detective mystery, the design of his Batman has the look of an intense luchador, turning what is commonly mocked as spandex into a Kevlar/leather mix. One of the more stand out designs in the story is actually the motor-cycle ridden Batman, a intimidating look that would heavily inspire the bat-pod for the blockbuster hit "The Dark Knight."

His story telling is much like his art; fast paced and eclectic, and has won him some of the top award in the comics industry, such as the Eisner Award for his work on "Batman: Year 100", a very prestigious illustration award.

Currently, Paul Pope has finished clothing designs for Italian clothing company Diesel and DKNY, and has moved on to a new comic format idea called Wednesday Comics, where individual stories about certain DC characters are printed each week, with one artist contributing one part of their character's story on one page in a twelve week process. Pope is working on the character Adam Strange. His larger project is a giant graphic novel epic called "Battling Boy" which will be released sometime in in 2010.
Paul Pope's blog is called PULPHOPE his art can be located at under his alias ernest borg9 at

Fifth and Sixth Lectures: Simplifying Symbols and Stylizing Signs

After a leave of absence on Monday to extraordinary circumstances due to illness and medical difficulties, I returned on Wednesday to class to find that not much had progressed from the last class. We still were looking at ways to simplify and improve our logos. The majority of ideas mixed some kind of fruit or food with a human or mechanical device; such as a fruit basket sailboat or a hand in the shape of a coffee cup; a island the shape of a fish and a woman as shapely as a wave.
The idea was to find images that could relate to each other with a small logical connection, no matte how obscure. The thought behind the basket boat came from an old cartoon image of a tug boat, but made me think of all the foreign exchange with South America and the Caribbeans that takes place. I had a woman in the shape of a wave because of the natural curves of a woman but also the idea that several women use swimming as a good form of exercise. Some were just silly concepts; like the zombie pizza, with the droopy pepperoni eyes and melted dead cheese face.
Some ideas Professor Babcock liked; other he didn't believe convey their information well. The one I was having the most difficulty with was the idea of a nuclear bowling alley where the bowling ball had a bio hazard sign on it and would explode against the pins. The ball looked to much like a beach ball, and Professor Babcock concurred with the thought.

Logo designs balance a line between having to portray complex ideas using regular symbols in weird combinations and making sure the images are appealing to the audience/consumers. The professor expects to have a logo made next class on a illustration board, but our next class won't be till a full week later due to First Friday and Labor Day on Monday. I'm excited to try out multiple techniques with my brush, pen and ink.