Saturday, June 18, 2016

Opera Fairbanks: Run of the Valkyries 2016

That time of the season when I come up with something new and fun for a favorite repeat client: Opera Fairbanks' annual "Run of the Valkyries" fundraiser. This made the ninth consecutive year I've been honored to create a whimsical poster + tshirt design, and as usual, I turned to the previous body of work (culled from the "Commercial" works on-line portfolio) to start doodling up some concepts in that vein of material. The challenge is to keep it fresh but familiar, and I figured a bear needed to finally have its turn as the model.

When it rains it pours: I was deluged with freelance gigs right in the middle of a really busy time, so another challenge besides fighting off not just physical fatigue, but also "repetitive logo syndrome." Nine years is a long time to cultivate a cohesive, signature body of work, so a problem is how to keep coming up with something new, yet still keep it looking like it's yours. I started with the concept of having a salmon run ("RUN" HA!) but bailed on the inevitable complexity so it was mothballed until it could be potentially rolled over into next year's design (nothing like having work in the mental bank). The core idea was retained from the above-posted initial sketch.

Then the next stage was penciling in tentative details like the dates and such, to be proofed at this point before committing to inks. To be sure though, what with the digital phase at the end of the process there's always additional opportunity to edit and tweak components of the design. But I still much prefer having as much of the elements as possible out on the proverbial table when starting to experiment.

Imagine my dawning horror over realizing that I'd been essentially plagiarizing myself - maybe that assessment's bit harsh, more like just playing a broken record in my head and repeating myself artistically. More like falling into a predictable rut of my own making, or just simply creative laziness under pressure, which can happen when one is absolutely overwhelmed with stress. Mainly I was struck with the fact that there would be two races (see earlier Parkie-Pine post) within weeks of each other and both running equal marketing efforts that featured my work: stylistic similarities aside (which is an asset, since they are commissioning work that's recognizably mine) the designs were just too close for comfort. The solution was to push through and explore what for me is a new departure, specifically from my instinctual circular template. The above sequence of screen-grabs highlights the continual reworkings I go through, sometimes even after investing significant time to arrive at a variation on a theme that will ultimately be discarded. Not all that different from the original series that resulted from sitting down with blank sheets of paper and pencil, just with a different tool.

I actually started moving in this "squarish" direction last year and was pleased with the subtle break from tradition, and also really dug the stark contrast between the bold black against a more organic outline of the character. Adding the floating cascade of cartoon notes was the trademark touch, and the final draft got an enthusiastic approval. Then it was time to work up concurrent variations using the core design for both the full-color poster and the tshirt.

Above is an example of what the deign would look like as printed using a single-color and utilizing the color of the tshirt as an element, in this case white ink on a tan background. The process usually calls for something known in the industry as a "reversal," which is markedly different aesthetic than just simply using a light-coloed ink with the original line art (ie instead of printing as black, every line would print as white, which results in it looking more like a weird negative). This one-color option is often a more attractive and economical route to go as well, as each additional color requires another separate ink and thus screen, which will begin to add cost to the total, overall price per unit.

For the full-color poster I oscillated between two extremes: crazy color versus simple blocks of boldness, so I kept pushing out and then pulling back (think kneading mental bread), playing both ends against each other in hopes of eventually arriving at a happy medium. The subtle bas-relief of the raised lettering added a spiffy embossed effect that further enhanced the contrasting aesthetic of a computerized, mechanical flavor against the funky flat colors + robust rounding of the bear.

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