Recently, I did a commission for a play that was written by my good friend Frank De Francesco. I’ve never done an illustration specifically for this form of media, but it’s very similar to designing a cover of a comic book, or how I approach personal illustrations for that matter, because I’m always trying to tell a story with my art. So it wasn’t a far stretch for me to create this poster especially since there was a story already connected to what I’d have to create. Having a narrative in mind for an illustration helps in creating the composition, and gives a focus as to the direction of the look, which helps me visualize what it will look like in the end.
In this case, this was based off of Frank’s screenplay, which he said was a modern retelling of Four Rooms, a play about 4 interwoven tales set in 4 rooms with a bellhop as the main character tying them all together. Frank not so coincidently was the character of the bellhop so I had a likeness to go with as well.
I’ve done commission work for Frank before, and I also know his personality, so capturing his character for me was very familiar. His direction on the piece was also due to his familiarity with my work. Over the last few years, I’ve created a series of prints to sell at comic cons, known as my classic monster series. In these prints is a similar compositional motif, where the main character’s bust is to the left, and there is a series of spot illustrations depicting a story with the character on the right, and on the bottom is the name of the monster. He wanted me to do the play poster similar to this style motif, which helped with the direction of the composition for me.
After chatting with Frank a bit about the play, which takes place in four rooms of a hotel, I knew that on the right it would show the four rooms somehow, as well as have the name of the play and other pertinent information. With that in mind, I came up with idea of having a cut away of each room on each of the four floors of the hotel, and Frank would supply me with content. It’s very similar to coming up with the layout of a comic book page, where there are panels that break up the composition. So I guess a story was taking place on each story of the building. Coincidence? I think not!
With the composition in place, I next started imagining the colour scheme, and decided it would be more visually interesting if each of the rooms had a different hue. This would give each story a different emotional impact, as colour choice can evoke this. The final aspect of the poster before I could start was what was happening in each room and the actual text that would go on the poster.
At this point, I have a complete visual in my head of what the illustration will look like, and so now it’s just a matter of using this map to get it from my head to the drawing board. I will first draw a thumbnail of the illustration, which is a rough pencil drawing of the composition. Sometimes I put colour in very roughly as well, but this is for myself and not for the client. I just want to see what the finished illustration might look like, and often the colour changes as I go anyway. However I do want the client to see the pencils, so I send them the thumbnail for approval. This is where they will get a clear idea of the finished illustration, and it’s at this point that they can make changes.
Frank is an artist’s dream client. He trusts my judgment and lets me go in the direction I think best. His only suggestions after I showed him the thumbnail, was to put my likeness in one of the rooms, and to change the text slightly. Otherwise I was free to proceed to the next stage, in this case a finished illustration. Sometimes I show the client what the colours would look like before I render them, but as I have worked with Frank before, I was permitted to go to finish without having to do that.
After the thumbnail stage, most of the major decisions have been made, so now it’s just a matter of trying to recreate the image I have in my head as accurately as possible. And after years and years of experience, it’s getting closer and closer. This is where my skills come into play and all of the tools I have acquired over the years.
Once the illustration is finished comes the unveiling for the client. I send a lo-res image of the piece and wait for a reply. Usually it’s in the form of an excited email, but in this case it was an excited phone call. He loved the illustration, and as a storyteller himself, wanted to learn about some of my storytelling decisions, to be specific, what the series of cats meant throughout the poster.
I always try to put a lot of layers of detail in my illustration, so that when a client looks at it repeatedly, they will see new things each time. In this case Frank had noticed the cat that I had drawn multiple times throughout and wanted to know why I had done so. As a visual narrator, I take many things into consideration to make the composition of an illustration work. One of which is eye movement.
There are usually many visual cues that I put in so that the audience knows where their eyes should look first, and then second and then so on. One kind of cue is a character or object that can help lead the eye. This kind of technique, helps move the story. In this case I used the black cat to show which room to start at, and then where the main story focus is happening in each room. Why I used a cat was for a few reasons. I wanted something that has great movement in and of itself and has lots of variety of shape and line. A cat is a natural choice because of this. The other is that through a cat’s movement of shape and line it has a lot of emotional presence. It can evoke the emotion of what the human is feeling such as, fear, surprise, indifference and so on and therefore give a bit more emphasis to what’s happening visually. This all adds up with the colour theme and content of each room, to give a multi-dimensional composition that hopefully allows the eye to linger a bit longer or sweep over the illustration multiple times. All any artist really wants is the attention of the viewer. Oh, and one last thing about cats. There lots of fun to draw!
All in all this was a very satisfying commission to illustrate. Having a great client to work with, fun subject matter and a very strong direction for the composition, makes a big difference in how the illustration comes out. Plus I had never done work for this kind of media before, so now I can cross that off my bucket list. And subjectively, I believe this is one of my best! So there you have it, ladies and gentleman, an in depth look at my process for a theatre poster. Now let the show begin!
Showtime: May28th-31st, 2015