Yep: Nope (Part I)
Preface: Cool Word Combinations That Just Mean “Collaboration” and a Moderate Dose of Excessive Self-Importance
This is a story of syzygy and synergy. Or, rather, the story of the byproduct of that story.
Our heroes aligned and allied to illustrate and design four posters for a theater—whose plays had not yet been written (they were still being adapted from their respective looong books)—regardless of working 280 km apart and despite only affording two weeks to finish and, of course, the mitigation of their own overwhelming personal life obligations.
But in the face of adversity, our heroes forged forth!
Book-It Repertory Theatre in Seattle hired Julia McNamara and me to make pictures for their stories—four posters for new play adaptations of novels: A Tale for the Time Being, Treasure Island, A Moveable Feast and Welcome to Braggsville. Aside from each poster posing their own individual challenges, we decided:
- the body of work should exhibit cohesion.
- the body of work to look different from its environmental peers.
- the body of work should look like a new us, instead of bits of McNamara and pieces of Buchino mashed together in a peanut butter hamburger.
These criteria would not act as a cascading infinite regress of if-thens, but rather a Möbius strip with each informing the other.
To test Our Big New Style, we would need to agree on what we wanted to make, not just what we were capable of making. We quickly concluded: if it wasn’t fun (and good), we weren’t going to make it.
Welcome to Collaborationpanicville
Very much in the spirit of The Postal Service, we would address these stipulations while passing images to each other via Dropbox. We began with Welcome to Braggsville, in which four naïve UC Berkeley students from different backgrounds intersect and change forever through a sequence of chaotic events in a small town south of the Mason-Dixon line.
After a phone call, McNamara ordered some lettering from me. I asked her to draw some heads.
Having worked together since 2009, we had built up enough trust for this very scary next part: I would mess up her art. Then she would mess up mine. Back and forth forever until no one could tell whose art was whose.
I arranged the heads and letters and colored them brown and yellow. McNamara deconstructed the Confederate flag and added its stars and bars, changed the colors and threw in some brambles. It was bold and jumbled simultaneously. All of a sudden, the image told the story of Braggsville.
Within just two passes, we also found the foundational elements of our poster series — crude, humanist linework in bold, high-contrast colors forming a top-bottom diptych comprising illustration up top and title, credits and logos below.
We felt pretty good. We were confident we could reproduce the style and format quickly and well. Cohesion, check. We knew the work would separate itself from the cacophony of visual debris in coffee shops and billboards around Seattle. Distinction, check. And the art looked like neither one of us individually, but something we both created, together, in tandem. Our Big New Style, check check check!
We just needed to tell the client.
A fortnight till deadline, we presented our Braggsville comp. Book-It’s director of marketing (our client), a co-artistic director and the adapter/director were all available to see it firsthand and provide feedback on the spot—a rare and welcome and actually-kinda-a-little-bit-unnerving opportunity. Thankfully, McNamara’s confidence rubbed off on me by the end of the meeting. Also, by the end of the meeting: we had garnered praise and approval. This train was in motion, full steam ahead!
McNamara and I made a few tweaks to the original, adjusting color and chaos, but keeping the concept and composition. Sometimes you just need to play with options to see that the first thing you got was what you wanted. And for the client, that rang true with Braggsville. The final poster is remarkably similar to the image we originally presented.
“Now that bird,” [Long John] Silver would say, “is, may be, two hundred years old, Hawkins — they live forever mostly, and if anybody’s seen more wickedness it must be the devil himself. She’s sailed with England — the great Cap’n England, the pirate. She’s been at Madagascar, and at Malabar, and Surinam, and Providence, and Portobello… She was at the boarding of the Viceroy of the Indies out of Goa, she was, and to look at her you would think she was a baby.”
In Treasure Island, a parrot named Captain Flint foils Jim’s plans to make a clean getaway. It is a constant symbol of piracy throughout the tale. Applying an Arcimboldo effect with the parrot doubling as the eyes and nose of a skull would spell the kind of danger and adventure we aimed to convey. Just call me Dalí.
In our presentation, we also proposed this Treasure Island thumbnail sketch. This sketch was as tiny as a thumbnail and I actually doodle this tiny, and it was enough to stir excitement in the client.
After Book-It approved the thumbnail, the biggest hurdle was execution: I couldn’t figure out a way to illustrate the concept properly. Enter McNamara. She redrew my sketch. Then I redrew hers. I think we went through three rounds of this before we landed on a parrot/skull shape with which we were satisfied.
I Wish Medium Supported Rubrication: I only ever look back into the sausage maker and sift through the scraps when I write articles like these. My favorite bits here are the changes to the skull mandible, initially formed by the title, then an island, then a simplified island, then a boat, back to the island, back to the pirate ship, each iteration demonstrating distinct successes and failures in form.
Instead of directly manipulating each other’s work, we would redraw the entire thing, adding possibilities and suggestions. We had stumbled upon a new way of working together. Where one of us lacked, the other would contribute — whether it was art direction, adding or changing elements of the composition or literally redrawing the damn thing altogether. We weren’t only comfortable with this dynamic, we thrived on it.
A new development was afoot…
Stay tuned for “Yep: Nope (Part II)”, in which our valiant paladins join forces to illustrate two more posters—huzzah!—and register a new url—gasp!—in the face of an encroaching deadline.