Back when I was doing fairly regular work for Time Magazine, one of their ADs—Irene Ramp—asked me if I wanted to do a poster for a reunion benefit concert for Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel that was to be held in Central Park. Irene was a friend of Paul Simon, and so putting Mr. Simon and myself together was fairly easy. Because of the many intervening years, I don’t anymore have my preliminary drawings or sketches for this piece, so here I would like to talk about my inspiration and how my ideas for the poster came to be.
Even as a young boy growing up in Brooklyn one of my passions was star-gazing. I remember saving up my meager allowance for months until I had enough saved ($42.15) to buy my own telescope. With my trusty “Jupiter” telescope (Made in Japan) I charted sunspots, gazed upon the craters and mountains of the moon, and saw the rings of Saturn. To help me find and recognize the constellations in the night sky I used a wheel chart I bought at the Planetarium called the “Star Explorer”. Apparently I was a young nerd in the making!
In addition to its usefulness I was fascinated by the graphics and the design—the representaion of the various star magnitudes by differently sized circles, and the seeming randomness of the star map in contrast with the beautiful geometry and design of the mechanism that made it all work. This strange beauty, born of utility, would stay with me for many years.
I had purchased the Star Explorer during one of my visits to the Hayden Planetarium. At my insistence, my parents took me there many times. The Planetarium was attached to Manhattan’s American Museum of Natural History (dinosaurs!), and I just couldn’t get enough of it. Whether it was seeing how much I weighed on Jupiter, or being able to touch an actual meteorite—or even just admiring the wonderful black light murals—I loved it all! But the best part (of course) was the sky show under the Planetarium dome.
Since 2000 the Hayden Planetarium has been housed inside the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, and has been completely revamped and brought up to date.
While the changes were needed, reflecting all the new technology and discoveries made since I was a kid, much has been lost, and I greatly miss all those things that had initially attracted and charmed me.
One of those things was the incredible look of the Zeiss Mark II projector. To me it looked like an alien spaceship or some sort of insect/monster. The new projector is a bit more high-tech and to my mind a little more visually nondescript. The other is that the projection dome is lacking one feature which I thought was great—and that is the wonderful silhouetted NYC skyline that surrounced you as the lights went down, simulating dusk.
I’m not the only one who thought the interior and projector were beautiful—it was the subject of a Fortune Magazine cover by John Cook.
Note the prominent role played by that skyline silhouette in his art. When you settled into your seat for the sky show, having that skyline surround you really made you feel connected to both the sky and to the city—it was as if you were laying down in the middle of Central Park (which is right across the street) at night, and were gazing up at the stars surrounded by the city. For me that was really magical. Actually adding the local environment to star charts and such was nothing new as is clearly shown in vintage charts such as this:
All these things were in the back of my mind when I met with Paul Simon to discuss the direction the poster would take. Just the fact that the concert would take place in Central Park on a warm Fall evening led me to start thinking about what it might be like to be at the concert, listening to music under the stars. That led me to thinking about how much I loved the Planetarium (just minutes away from the concert site) and how it felt to be there, about my telescope, about star charts, but most of all about that magical NYC skyline. I knew that I had to incorporate them all into my poster. Luckily all parties agreed! The concert was a great success, attended by half a million, but the best thing was that despite the fact that it had rained all that day, the clouds parted and the stars came out.
The posters had been sniped up all over NYC before the concert. If you were lucky, you were able to snatch one off a wall without destroying it. Despite the fact that T-shirts were produced and were for sale at the concert, there actually were never any officially sanctioned posters for sale anywhere. Over the years I’ve had many, many people write to me wondering where they could find a poster. I never had that many myself, having given away to friends and acquaintences what few I had. But luckily I kept one. Now I am very happy to be able to say that I am producing a limited edition of the poster myself, which I am making available through my Illogator site.
These posters will be 18” x 24”—the original size the poster was produced at, and will be signed by yours truly. I scanned the original poster myself, and spent days retouching the scan until it was absolutely perfect. These digital prints (or giclées) actually look better than the original. The original printing was done on fairly inexpensive paper, but the edition I produced is on a much better stock—which allows much more depth of color. If you’d like to find out more about the new edition, just click HERE, and you’ll be taken to my store—where you can also see other items I have for sale.
In 2005 I was asked to create a promotional poster for an exhibition of music-related graphics that was to be held at the Forest Lawn Museum in Burbank, California. The show was to be called “Revolutions”, a name that was a stroke of genius from the fertile mind of my friend Brad Benedict—creator of Capitol Records’ “Ultra-Lounge” series.
“An art show held above a cemetery?” one might ask. Attending events at cemeteries is nothing new for Angelenos who for years have been picnicking and enjoying movies outdoors on warm evenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Actually the Forest Lawn Museum is a wonderful venue, set atop a hill in Burbank with incredible panoramic views of the entire city of Los Angeles—not unlike the sweeping vistas one experiences from atop the Getty Museum on the other side of the city.
The challenge was to create an iconic image that could represent all the incredible diverse types of art that have been—and continue to be—created to accompany the prodigious output of the recording industry. I felt that a representation of the human eye (even though to some it might seem a bit clichéd) should play a prominent role in the design. So, with that in mind, I started thinking about the work of two of my favorite artists: A.M. Cassandre and Renée Magritte, and the work that they had done with the motif of the human eye. One of Magritte’s most famous and intriguing paintings is called “The False Mirror”:
When I took a look at this famous piece, I realized how powerful one simple image like this could be. Next I took a look at some of Cassandre’s work and realized that he had returned time and again to this highly symbolic motif. Here are two magazine covers he created for Harper’s Bazaar:
It then occurred to me that the pupil of the eyes could be made to represent a vinyl record label and the iris represent the LP itself. What better way to represent the visual art of the recording industry?
I wanted to “frame” the poster to help amplify the idea that this was an art exhibition, and I remembered a series of album covers that Capitol Records released between the late 1940s and the early 1950s that all used a very graphic “frame” on the cover over which they would attach a smaller label containing the graphics for that particular recording. I believe it was a kind of an early “branding” that Capitol Records was attempting so that people could immediately identify the recordings as belonging to Capitol. The covers with the frames appeared on Capitol’s 10” extended play recordings which usually contained three to four songs per side, as opposed to the one song per side that was commonplace up until then. These 10” recordings were the predecessors to 12” long playing records. Here are a few examples:
To accomplish this “framing” I decided to photograph a wooden door in my studio, cut the photo up into strips, and then alter the color and make it more graphic through the magic of Photoshop. Here’s the portion of the frame that runs along the bottom of the poster:
The idea for how to treat the headline, the title of the show flowed directly out of the word itself: “Revolutions” I would treat it in a very graphic way, but I would reference the brush lettering of hand-painted placards that are often seen at “revolutionary” demonstrations and protests. Although I would not follow it stylistically, the banner for the Polish “Solidarity” movement that helped bring about the fall of Communism came to mind:
So with all the elements of my design firmly in hand, I began assembling them into a pencil drawing and presented it to the Museum:
My design was quickly approved, and so I set about the work of putting it all together. The most difficult part in creating the finished art was how to render the “pupil” and the “iris” of the eye. Working in Adobe Illustrator made it fairly easy, creating it in sections and using the gradient tool. Below I’ll contrast the sketch I did with the finished art—it’s a very tried and true method for rendering a shiny vinyl recording:
As I mentioned, like most of my art, I created the final in layers in Adobe Illustrator. Creating the art in layers allows a lot of flexibility when designing a complex piece like this one. Here is a representation that demonstrates how the different layers all fit together:
Earlier in 2014 the Forest Lawn Museum contacted me again to let me know that they were going to hold another exhibition “Revolutions 2” on the 10th anniversary of “Revolutions” in 2015, and asked if I would prepare another poster for the upcoming show. I told them that my idea for that would be to suggest a continuity between the two shows by literally repeating the first poster. I explained that giving the second poster a new color palette would provide enough differentiation between the two shows. The folks at Forest Lawn agreed, and I began work on “Revolutions 2”.
To help make the new palette more coherent I created a gradient between two of the dominant colors I selected, then was able to pick out intermediate colors for the background:
The new poster would have abbreviated copy, so I needed to slightly reorganize some of the elements and add a “2” to the title. I also needed to change the subtitle to “The Art of Music” from the more cumbersome “Artists Who Rocked the World of Music Industry Graphics” (quite a mouthful!). Finally a shadow was added behind the title to help give the piece a little more depth, and (for reasons I cannot recall!) I reversed the direction of the shadows on the frame sections.
Below are the two posters—separated by a decade and side-by-side. To be honest, in my opinion the later poster is more successful. I think the colors work better and are more pleasing.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, as of the date of this writing the show is up at Forest Lawn. But the big star-studded event opening will be held at the Museum on Saturday February 28th from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. It’s quite a bit larger than the 2005 show with over 175 paintings, photos, sculpture and prints from over 30 artists (including five pieces by yours truly). If you are a lover of album covers or posters, this is an event not to be missed!
Opening Night at Forest Lawn Museum.
Ten years had slipped by since I completed my work on the Fruit and Vegetable stamp series for the USPS back in 2002 (read Part 1). But then in May of 2012, when I was contacted by Art Director Antonio Alcalá of Studio A in Washington DC about another stamp project, I started thinking about the ill-fated Fruit and Vegetable stamps that I had done a decade earlier. To make a long story short Antonio agreed to re-present my original Fruit and Vegetable stamp comps at his next meeting with the USPS. It didn’t take long for him to get back to me with an emphatic “Yes”—the Post Office was indeed interested in reviving this theme for a new set of stamps!
Of course I was hoping that the USPS would pick up the designs I had done without any changes—but that was not to be! Of the six different fruits and vegetables that we had chosen in the first go round the only one to survive was Sweet Corn. The new list was this: Cantaloupes, Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, and Watermelons, and the series was to be called “Summer Harvest”. One thing that worked in my favor was that we kept the same overall size for the new stamps.
When I started working on this new project I wanted to differentiate the stamps from each other as much as possible. I started by trying to have fun with different elements such as the “USA” and the denominations, and by choosing different color palettes. You’ll see that in many of the earlier stages I was trying to design these graphic elements differently from one another. While the earlier stamp designs held together because they all shared my aesthetic vision, it became clear that the new stamps were going to need to be much more uniform in approach, sharing similar design elements and color palettes. This made the challenge a little more difficult than the first series, but I decided that despite the uniformity challenge, I would still want to differentiate them as much as possible. So one thing I did was to give each of them their own distinct lettering style.
It turned out that because we were keeping the basic design for Sweet Corn, that design also served as a template for the others as well. Starting with the original Sweet Corn design from 2002 (below at upper left), here are a sampling of a few of the iterations as they progressed—with the final approved design at the bottom.
In the end the palette changed to one which could be applied to all the stamp designs. Also, note that the Sweet Corn lettering is a bit bolder on the final design (below), making it a bit more legible at the stamp’s small reproduction size.
Before I had gone that far with it, the stamp depicting Squash was (pun intended) squashed. This was as far as I got before Squash was eliminated from the group.
The Watermelons design was a bit more problematic than the others. For some reason the layout depicting a vertically oriented watermelon with a slice in front did not meet with USPS approval. So I opted for the more traditional approach with the watermelon leaning at an angle. Another problem was the length of the word “Watermelons”: I needed to really condense and overlap the letters so that they would be legible at the tiny size they would reproduce. Also, it was felt that in the earlier iterations the letters were a bit too pointy, and so you can see those modifications in the later stages.
The biggest stumbling block for Cantaloupes was how to render it—what to do about its textured skin. You’ll notice that the texture went from fairly realistic and finely detailed earlier on to a much, much simpler depiction by the time we got to the final approved design.
In addition to re-using the Sweet Corn design from the ill-fated 2002 set I also saw the opportunity to recycle the earlier design for Persimmon. It seemed perfectly suited to adapt for Tomatoes. This design then came together fairly quickly. The two smaller color versions (below at lower right) may seem quite similar, but they have several important differences: 1) the background color on the later design is brighter, to be more in line with Sweet Corn, 2) the shading on the two tomoatoes on the right changes a bit, and 3) I re-did the leaves with more detail where the branches meet the tomatoes.
A significant difference in the final version of Tomatoes is that I reversed the colors of the type so that now all four of the stamps had white type (for consitency).
I think the similar palettes, the bold white lettering, and the consistent nature of the borders and the other design elements create a group whose individual members stand out as unique. But they all seem to work together as a family as well.
Here’s the series together in their booklet form—which will be available in June 2015 (just in time for Summer), and will be sold in booklets of 20.