Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Capitalism and Customer Moat: Post-Poster Post


Several months back, I was contacted by a gentleman in Seattle about illustrating a poster. The poster was part of the promotional campaign around his book, Customer Moat, which outlines a specific business strategy. The poster is a visualization of the more aspirational aspects of this strategy (and a more ethically-based implementation of commerce overall).

Projects can begin in a variety of ways. Sometimes I'm given a general concept and asked to come up with ideas that will communicate the concept and its purposes clearly. Sometimes the client has a starting point or a number of potential ideas and the project begins by exploring these ideas and figuring out which ones best accomplish the goal. In the case of this poster, there was a fairly specific concept before I even put pencil to paper ("fairly specific" seems like kind of an oxymoronic term, doesn't it?).

The concept even had a rough sketch with a number of notes outlining various details and aspects of the poster. Although I really enjoy developing an idea through the concept process, sometimes it's nice to have the specifics laid out in advance. With the bulk of the idea already in place, my job in this instance was simply to bring that idea to fruition. In a way, my jobs here were to visually interpret those specific ideas and then to execute them in illustration form. I still prefer the job title "illustrator" to that of "executioner", though.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well...about that...

Here's the sketch and the reason that, even with the idea pretty much hammered out in advance, this STILL wasn't exactly a cake walk:

The layout of this puppy took a goodly chunk of time. A couple of reasons include:

-Size: This poster is big. 30" big. The bigger the poster, the more time it takes. Period.
-Detail: There's a lot of it.
-Revisions: See the three panels in the shield section? Each of those had to be re-done at least three different times. There was a very specific look and feel the client wanted for each of those characters. It took us a little while to figure out how to visually convey that look.

I wasn't keeping track of how long the layout process took, but it was longer than we expected. Still, it was worth it to finally hit the mark.

Next up, the outline:

This ended up being the fastest part of the process. It usually is. With all the t-crossing and i-dotting taken care of in the layout phase, the outline was just a matter of sharpening the lines and cleaning up the details. Still, with this amount of detail, the outline still took about a week.

Next up, flat color:

Ordinarily, I wouldn't share the flat color. I tend to think flat color looks bad, regardless of the project. But in this case, there's something worth mentioning. Depending on the project, flat color can be either pretty straightforward or very very complicated. For this project (as you might have already guessed), it was the latter. Yes, this was due in part to the degree and quality of the detail. But more importantly, the complexity stemmed from the elements being both visually and conceptually disparate from each other.

Lemme explain: This poster has a number of different elements (the eagle, the swords, the banners, the various elements within the shield, etc.). Those elements vary widely in a visual sense: size, shape, complexity, etc. But they also vary widely conceptually. The elements outside the shield are all visual metaphors; they represent the nation, war and peace, money, history, etc. The inside of the shield are still technically metaphors in the sense that these are illustrations of people who represent real people, but the metaphors aren't as abstracted as the other elements. They vary pretty widely in the degree of the relationship between the metaphors and the reality of the thing being represented.

We're starting to get into complex territory here, so I'll cut to the chase. Flat color was super complicated to figure out on this poster because, even with the substantial amount of difference between each of these elements, they all had to be in the same poster. Conceptually, they're related to each other. But visually, it was reeeeaaally hard to make these elements mesh into one cohesive illustration. However many revisions I went through in the layout sketch phase, I went through far more in the flat color phase. It was, as Ned Flanders would say, a real "noodle scratcher".

Once I came to a solution I thought was decent, it was on to final color:

Final color is my second favorite part of the process (the sketch being first). Cliche though it may be, final color is where an illustration comes to life. Depth and richness of color and lots of fun detail get added in the final color stage.

So there you have it. This project was an intense amount of work and a genuine challenge, but I'm pretty satisfied with the result. As skeptical as I was at certain points (and there are almost ALWAYS points in every project where I sincerely ask myself, "Is this thing even going to work?"), I think this did turn into a decent, cohesive illustration.


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