Backstage Pass: How PHAME artists designed the poster for "The Poet's Shadow"
Backstage Pass is a series of blog posts spotlighting PHAME’s production of The Poet’s Shadow, on stage at the Hampton Opera Center this August. Follow us backstage to hear the stories behind the opera, interviews with the cast and crew, and more!
How do you translate the feeling of a story into images? How can color, style, and imagery work together to create a mood? And how do you balance necessary text with your design?
These are just a few of the questions asked around the table in this spring’s Graphic Design class, where PHAME students were tasked with designing the poster for The Poet’s Shadow. With the help of their teacher, Jess Leftault, they began the process by brainstorming ideas and by meeting with their clients, PHAME’s Executive Director, Jenny Stadler, and Associate Director of Communications & Academic Affairs Anya Roberts.
Next, they talked about the opera’s story line, and how that might translate into images. The Poet’s Shadow is a contemporary fairy tale that focuses on a young woman named Elizabeth whose poems take on a dark life of their own. But rather than concentrate their design on Elizabeth, the class decided to aim their attention at another character: a rose that lives in Elizabeth’s garden.
Like many fairy tales, The Poet’s Shadow is a story of good vs. evil, and the class had to decide how to communicate that fight in their design. They decided that the dark poems, which become a sort of monster in the story, could appear as a shadowy hand holding the rose. By overlapping more flowers on top of the hand, and by making the hand less opaque than other elements, they hoped they could imply that good and evil occur in the story, but that good will win.
Once they had decided on these central design elements—the dark hand holding a rose with more flowers overlapping the hand—the next step was to choose the title font. The body font was already decided—it would be PHAME’s house font, Calibri—but the title font was up to them. They knew they wanted it to feel like fonts used for traditional fairy tales, and started by looking at examples. A lot of fairy tale fonts they looked at were intricate and beautiful, but they were hard to read, and the class knew that accessibility was very important. In the end they chose Footlight, a serif font that was easy to read but still felt a little enchanted.
At this point, it was time to combine images and text into a digital design. The students drew flowers and traced them using graphic design software on iPads and they added colors that they felt were warm, inviting, and a little magical. They placed their text around the imagery, added a PHAME logo, and shared the design with their clients over in the PHAME office.
At their next client meeting, the class listened carefully as Jenny and Anya shared their feedback on the design. Overall, Jenny and Anya liked the concept, but thought the flowers were drawn too much like cartoons and the colors weren’t matching their vision. After they left, the class had a lot to talk about, specifically about the flowers. Would drawing the flowers themselves work, or was there another way? It was then that their teacher, Jess, suggested that they could use stock imagery.
The term was almost over and there wasn’t much time left, but in the final week the class put together a series of mock ups that incorporated different styles of stock imagery. One had simple graphic flowers, one had vintage-inspired flowers, and one had flowers drawn in the style of watercolor. They looked at the designs with different background colors, swapping in deep green, blue, and purple.
There was so much happening in the new designs—new imagery and new colors—so the class decided to hold a vote. They filled out ballot slips indicating which kind of flowers they preferred, and which background color. The result? They liked the watercolor style flowers best, in part because many of the opera’s sets will include watercolor paintings by the Art & Set Design class. And they liked the dark violet background. Jess met with Jenny and Anya and made a few more changes based on their requests: she added more flowers, changed the hand and background to a watercolor style, and added the rest of the text.
Here it is:
Isn’t it fantastic? We think so. Stay tuned for more stories from behind the scenes of The Poet’s Shadow, and don’t forget to buy your tickets!