ArtsAlive.ca – Persuading Presence
image:Tour the Collection With guest curator Scott McKowen

Tour the Collection
With guest curator Scott McKowen

As a poster artist, I approach design through a problem solving process. I start with a concept, trying to understand what the play is about, and then I find a visual metaphor that communicates that idea through a single image.

The process can be challenging because plays are generally about more than just one thing. Therefore, how do you pick the right image? Will everyone who sees the chosen idea understand it? Is it even possible to convey the dynamic experience of live performance within the boundaries of a two-dimensional poster?

While reviewing the posters in the NAC Archive (which took an entire week!), I was amazed at the inventive approaches graphic designers have taken to solve these problems. I saw so many examples of how designers created a synthesis of words and images that transformed the function of printed advertisements into works of art in their own right.

The Road Map for the Assignment

I think of the play as a road map for any graphic design assignment. The first page of a script usually indicates the time and place in which the story occurs. I read the text to get the story in my head, but at the same time I’m watching for clues from the playwright about the world of the play.

For example:

  • Is the style of the play realistic, abstract, or surreal?
  • What is the emotional tone and temperature of the story?
  • What are the social conventions in the world created and what is their effect on the characters?
  • What historical events were happening at the time the story takes place?

The play itself is always the starting point for the work, but there are different ways of interpreting the text. The director and designer might have a specific concept in mind to bring the world of the play to life on stage. A chat with the director early in the process can help ensure the poster accurately reflects the production. A costume or set designer can often provide visual references, like paintings or photographs, which have inspired the production concept.