Welcome to the first installment of RokRiot Reveals—a series of interviews dedicated to designers and their creative process. These posts will uncover the inner-workings of the creative mind by sharing the sketches, inspiration and motivations that drive design solutions.
RokRiot is fortunate enough to kick off this series with designer Brian Reed, otherwise known as Reedicus. Brian has a portfolio full of amazing gig poster designs, and for RokRiot, he chose to dissect his work for “Justin Lacy & the Swimming Machine”:
Why did you select this particular project to share?
BR: To be totally honest this poster was the first one created because a band contacted me to do a poster. All of the other posters were done more out of a creative exercise and trying to help get folks out to the show and help the bands put a little gas in the tanks as they continue on through the tour. Most of the time I showed up at the venues with posters printed and handed 40-50% of them over for the bands to sell or do what they liked.
Justin Lacy contacted me by email asking if I’d help them out with their Kickstarter event to make their record. I was, and still am, honored to have been apart of this process.
What is your typical design process for a poster like this?
BR: Most all of the posters start out like any idea as sparks and fizzles in your brain. Some make it out into sketchbooks and roughs. Some stay as sparks or shrink as the boat sails away from the dock.
“What is the purpose of the piece?” is usually a good question to ask yourself before starting most of the time. Simply put, define the problem you wish to solve. With others posters, there is just an image that is just scratchin’ at the back of my head to get out.
Thumbnails and sketches are where the process takes physical form and becomes tangible. It’s were you get to see if that “brilliant idea” really is great or is a hair-brained and never gonna fly. Roughing out the idea and the composition is key.
This particular poster started with an old school scuba diver suit, that had water swirling around him. There seemed or felt like it was missing some of the bands personality. There is so much layering to the music of Justin Lacy & the Swimming Machine that a single scuba diver wasn’t gonna cut it.
From the roughs I usually get a sketch that I like, flesh it out and then scan into the computer. From there, the rendering will be reworked even further, to make sure the composition is working. Redrawing or reconstructing in Photoshop or Illustrator, respectively. I am most comfortable in Illustrator, as I can resize anything at any point and never loose the crisp quality I love about vectors. Most elements that are scanned or redrawn in Photoshop are then brought into Adobe Illustrator and live traced. Nothing overly new about the process there.
What was most challenging about this particular design?
BR: The first concern from the band when asked what they thought about Mermaids was…”don’t want a half naked lady or the little mermaid on the poster” and understandably so. What I wanted to try and get at was more of the mystery surrounding merfolk. Doing that with 2 colors to work with their budget was doing to be the tough part. I absolutely love the process of over printing colors to get richer colors and subtile nuances help give visual interest. Personally, if you spot something thats been there the whole time and you catch it on the 3rd or 4th time, that makes a great poster. Since we were going for two colors I knew right off I’d like to use a colored paper to help give the image some extra punch. I may have duped myself in this thinking since I used white as a color…However, it’s still more interesting than if it had been on white paper.
I’d have to say this was the most illustrative poster I have done to date. There was quite a bit of drawing, redrawing and then some more drawing that went into the piece. Trying to get the figure to be right was also tough. Sure there are plenty of mermaid references out there, but not to many mermen.
Trying to walk the line of gracefulness that a creature of the sea must have and some masculinity was something that was harder than I had foreseen it to be. We all think of those connected with sea gods like Poseidon, Neptune and Triton as having solid, gladiator like stances. I didn’t feel that putting a strong “static” form amidst the flowing water worked real well. I wanted the figure to be strong and move with the water. Hopefully, this execution was successful.
Another element that I wanted to try and build with this image was a strong use of negative space that can tell you as much or more, than a straight forward line drawing. By not divulging the subject with lines, your imagination will connect the dots and fill in the blank spots. Basically, drawing in such a way you think I’m better than I am. (Hope that makes sense.) This is a much harder task to accomplish than I originally thought. Mike Mignola is one of those artists that does this and makes it look easy. I could stare at his work for hours. He has a wonderful ability to craft the page with dynamic lighting. A perfect example of less is more, if you will. He’ll essentially carving the figure out of the shadows using wonderfully placed highlights. I had started out trying to capture this with this poster. I thought it would lend itself to the underwater mystery that I was trying to build. In the end, I think I more or less failed at in this particular effort. I defaulted to my “coloring book” approach, do the drawing and then color it in. This is something I’ll be trying to push myself with in future work.
What did you want to ensure it communicated?
BR: While I was researching the bands sound and influences I ended up on there bandcamp page. Among the tags listed at the bottom were americana, murder folk, the swimming machine, western, gypsy, folk rock and Wilmington. Murder Folk, Western Gypsy and Folk Rock were the ones that struck a cord with me. I am a sucker for a good western, probably even bad ones. Reading these descriptions was the turning point for the thumbnails and when the scuba diver got kicked out.
Gypsies were now the focus. Why? There is a general mystery surrounding them. Are they good, bad or misunderstood? How do you make the leap from western gypsy folk music to merfolk? Mermaids, to me, are the gypsies of the sea. I envisioned the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey as mermaids. Singing there songs to the sailors (drifters, for your western reference) with this new sound that was nothing like anything they had heard before.
The music of The Swimming machine is like nothing I’ve heard before. Even listening to the bands Kickstarter video, where they each describe what it sounds like you get answers from “sounds like a fight broke out in a hobo boxcar”, “somewhere between a gypsy hair band and a freight train” to “a baby nursery inside a factory”. Basically, a uniqueness of the music would have been the main thing I wish to convey.
What was the client’s initial reaction to your work?
BR: Through the process I would send some little updates to the client to let them know how things were going and the like. The first little sample I sent was a rough format composition of the figures with swirls around them. Not really super refined. I wanted to make sure the merman wasn’t to feminine for them. They came back and said that they had some thoughts but didn’t really want to say anything and let the image come together and see where it went. That was probably the coolest thing about the project, that the client would just give over total creative freedom and “go along for the ride”. I think the more they talked with me the more excited they got about the process of the drawing and screen printing.
They asked if they could come shoot a little video and ask some questions about the process of the image to the printing. You can see some of the sketches and drawing that went into the poster from their video. I was thrilled to have them be interested in the process and work that went into the design and printing of the poster.
Did you learn anything new from this project?
BR: It feels really good to help someone else reach a goal. I was watching the Kickstarter backers right along with the band. There was a group victory for them to have raised enough support to make the record and I am happy to have been apart of that process.
On a production level, I think every time that you print a poster in your studio you learn something about the method or process that will stick with you. Getting a good color match is more important than I have first thought for this piece. The first color mixed was far more blue/navy than I wanted after it printed. Cleaning the screen out and setting it back up to try and make sure the color was better is always a hard lesson to learn. How do you figure out the colors are right before printing them? I am still trying to figure it out.
Creating a typeface or custom drawing an elegant, flowing type treatment was more time consuming than I had originally thought. Some of my first stabs were really rough and didn’t work very well. I probably spent as much time on the type as I did for the image. In all I think I put close to 53 hours into this poster from start to finish.
Brian was kind enough to sport some RokRiot gear (the now out-of-print “Rokbrand” facepaint tee) in his profile photo (top). More designs available over at rokmerch.com.