Poster Process: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Michael Buchino
3 min readNov 6, 2017


You don’t need to make a full synesthetic leap to find music in the words of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Melodic language set to poetic rhythm with a healing timbre—it’s all there.

So when Julia McNamara and I were tasked with creating the promotional poster for Book-It Repertory Theatre’s adaptation of Caged Bird, the Reid Miles’ Blue Note Records oeuvre was at the forefront of my mind. I have long admired his ability to convey the style, mood and tone of music using line, shape, color and pattern on countless album covers.

Inspiration: Reid Miles

Meanwhile, McNamara was experimenting with constructing the bird from rough blocks cut out of paper. At once, their layered wings would create depth and motion while their swooping form would add direction. Marrying these two approaches would prove successful aesthetically, and in turn make for one of our favorite collaborations to date.

Bird Shapes Cutouts by Julia McNamara

The most conceptually challenging moment was finding the right typography. We erred on the side of Blue Note, distilled through our patented process—hand-drawn, fat Bodoni! While uplifting, it was a bit too cheery and struck the wrong tone. I don’t remember exactly what inspired the final letterforms, but we eventually found something that felt uplifting and complemented the cadence of the repetitive vertical lines.

There weren’t too many steps from our concept sketch to the printed poster. Despite its crudeness, the initial scribble over coffee bears a great deal of resemblance to the final art. Without further comment, here’s our process:

Original Concept Sketch
Playing with Form, Color, Scale, Rhythm
A Better Bird
Color Combos
Final poster image for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by is the illustration studio of Michael Buchino and Julia McNamara.
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Michael Buchino

Michael Buchino is an art director, designer, illustrator, animator, educator, letterer, et ceterer.