ArtsAlive.ca – Persuading Presence

A Career in the Arts: Graphic Artist

Introducting Barbara Irving: Graphic Artist

There are many people employed at the NAC working to support the arts we see on stage. Barbara Irving talks to us about her involvement in the creation of the posters and other materials that promote the extraordinary artists who perform on our stages.

For more information on the graphic processes that Barbara uses, see Graphic Art Processes.
image:Barbara Irving. Photo credit: Ben Ballon © National Arts Centre
Barbara Irving. Photo credit: Ben Ballon © National Arts Centre

Describe what do you do in the NAC

I produce graphic artwork in the form of invitations, flyers, posters and other assorted print media pieces to help promote performances, events and artists at the NAC.

What is your training?

I received my training at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto. I took a four-year arts program that covered all aspects of commercial and fine art.

What are the technical processes involved in creating a poster?

Posters are typically created using the following processes: traditional offset press, digital press, photocopying in black and white, and in colour on large format inkjet printers.

What factors govern the choice of using one process over another?

Time and cost typically govern my choice of process. If a project needs to be turned around quickly I will go with the newer technology of digital printing over traditional offset. The quality of digital printing has greatly improved over the last few years. If you lack time and you don’t need to print a huge quantity of posters, sometimes digital printing is the best way to go. I would choose traditional offset printing if time allows because of the quality and flexibility of choices in paper stock. Digital printing is often limited to certain paper stocks that are compatible with this method of printing.

What is your favourite process and why?

I prefer the look that can be achieved through offset printing. The digital processes are achieved with a different ink coverage that often aren’t absorbed into the paper stock the same way as printer’s inks. Sometimes the finished surface of a digitally printed poster damages more easily. I feel that traditional printing produces a superior, longer lasting product.

How has computer technology changed the way posters are created?

At the NAC today, we create artwork for posters on the computer rather than by hand. In the past, a graphic artist would work on an illustration board using media like water colours, acrylic paint, or pen and ink. The same graphic artist might also have created text by cutting individual words or phrases from galleys of type provided by a typesetter. The finished design would then go to the printer to be photographically scanned. Offset printing uses four colour plates: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. There is a metal plate for each of these colours showing one colour in tints and tones at various densities. The poster has to pass through all four inks to achieve the final four-colour product.

With the advent of computer technology, many of the hands-on skills like typesetting, drawing and painting are passing out of existence. I can remember working at a light-table when I was at art school, and using pens, pencils, paints and brushes. Today, I make posters on the computer, and send them in digital files to the printer.

What are the important questions you consider when thinking about posters and their use?

Do they communicate the intended message? I like to keep the end-purpose in mind. Some posters are artistically beautiful, but it’s necessary to ask if they communicate their purpose clearly to the audience.

We create posters to promote shows, to get audiences in to see the artists. It’s important to give a sense of the tone of the performance through the poster as well as provide the important information such as time, place and ticket prices.

How would a student on a limited budget go about creating a poster for a school show?

After spending some time planning the text and conceiving of a design, a student could create a poster using basic computer software programs and traditional forms of cut and paste. Images can be created by hand and scanned into the computer, or designed on the computer. Photographs can also be imported as jpeg files. For formatting and displaying the text, students can choose from a variety of fonts. Texts can be displayed in myriad ways: vertically or horizontally, with bolding or italics, and with spaced anyway you please. With a creative eye and some experimentation, voila! You’ll have created a poster and will be ready to print your finished work on a desktop printer. Multiple prints can be photocopied, or digital files can be printed elsewhere, by a printing company.