Assignment: Nutcracker campaign collateral

For our sixth and final assignment in my GRC 41 class, the instructor asked us to create an advertising campaign of print collateral for the annual performance of the Nutcracker. We were encouraged to use any software options we felt best fit the four-piece project. Fonts and images had to reflect the style and content of the performance. We were encouraged to research as many aspects of the play as possible to better understand the history.

Since I had never seen The Nutcracker, I decided to spend the first week doing research. I started by flipping through thousands of Google images to see how different troupes varied in their visual approaches. I also went to YouTube and watched more than a dozen performance excerpts and movie trailers. I then started my reading with the Wikipedia entry on The Nutcracker to get the nuts and bolts of the storyline, and I clicked through to source links and sidebars whenever any tidbits struck me as interesting.

I decided to focus the visual part of my campaign on the simple, iconic image of a nutcracker doll. I found an easily traceable nutcracker online, popped it into Adobe Illustrator CS4 as a layer, and then traced over top of it and colored it in using my newly acquired pen tool skills from the previous assignment. I chose all basic colors, so that they’d not only stand out but also tap into the childlike vibrance of the story. I spent the second week working on the drawing.

In the third week, I popped my freshly drawn nutcracker into Adobe InDesign CS4, where I designed the poster first, then the ad, then the postcard, then the ticket. I stuck with simple font combinations from the Futura family, trying to tap into the fun aspects of the play but also trying to maintain some of its venerable, sturdy history.

Also in the third week, for a last bit of inspiration as I was putting the finishing touches on my collateral, I checked out the 1993 movie version of The Nutcracker from the Fresno County library. Directed by famed Russian choreographer George Balanchine and featuring the New York City Ballet, it stars a young Macaulay Culkin in the lead role and was narrated by Kevin Kline. Watching a ballet about a heroic prince and a rat king wasn’t exactly how I would normally spend a weeknight at home, but I still liked the experience.

Plus, it was funny watching the Home Alone kid do ballet alongside the pros.

Assignment: children’s coloring book cover

Two penguins are better than one, even if one's drawn a bit wonky.

Hey, man. Let me ask you something. If somebody draws something and then you draw the exact same thing right on top of it, without going outside the original designated art. What do you call that? … I don’t know, man. TRACING?

For our fifth assignment in my GRC 41 class, the instructor asked us to create a book cover for a children’s coloring book. But there was one catch: We had to use the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator CS4, one of the hardest tools in the Adobe Creative Suite. From there, we could choose one of three provided coloring book covers to try and replicate. I picked the “Gigancolor” cover of a penguin in his winter garb, surrounded by snowflakes. I loved that little penguin at first sight!

The instructor showed us how to insert the model book cover into the Illustrator document as a layer, and then hide it behind the main working layer. That way, we could basically trace each piece of the existing cover with the pen tool, one tiny curve at a time. The pen tool is a maddening little gadget, especially for someone like me who doesn’t have much experience with Illustrator. But I picked up the basics quickly enough to knock out my new penguin friend as best I could. The replica is not perfect, of course, but I’m proud of the final result–especially considering it was my first ever time using the pen tool. Pictured above, my version is on the left and the original is on the right.

And I’m totally fine that I traced it. No need to put a pen in anyone’s thorax or anything.

Assignment: promotional posters

For our fourth assignment in my GRC 41 class, the instructor asked us to design a series of promotional posters for three very different events– a hardware convention, a symphony orchestra benefit for a botanical garden, and a student film festival.

The assignment said that the images should be dominant in the composition and communicate clearly by themselves. The text needed to be supportive both conceptually and compositionally. And although the poster subjects were very different, each 11×17 poster needed to family together as if they were displayed all at once. The assignment was to be composed primarily in Adobe Photoshop, with some typographical help from Illustrator and/or InDesign if we chose to use it.

I spent the entire first week researching the three events and conceptualizing the audience and purpose of each poster. I also brainstormed simple, iconic images for hardware and retailing, orchestras and botanical gardens, and movies and film festivals.

I decided that my unifying element would be a simple studio photograph composed and made specifically for each poster. But there was one problem, though: I don’t know anything about studio lighting and photography! So in the second week of the project, I enlisted the help of my friend Craig Kohlruss, a longtime photojournalist at The Fresno Bee where I used to work. Craig very graciously volunteered his time to compose, light, and make the photos. Craig also arranged for the photos to be taken at the downtown Fresno studio of Ryan C. Jones, a commercial photographer with tons of cred among Fresno creatives, so I could make a new connection.

Having a chance to work with Craig inside Ryan’s studio, and then take the two of them out to lunch afterward to pick their brains about photography, was truly a gift. I especially appreciated their encouragement in pursuing photography not only as “art” but as a real job that demanded and deserved real compensation. I loved hearing their stories about their own struggles to get started in the business.

The studio photos would not have been possible without the help of several good friends who loaned me their props. Thanks especially to Tracy Stuntz, my wife, for the flower arrangement; to Ana Marin, an investigator for the USDA, for the trumpet; to Reaz Mahmood, a multimedia artist and journalism instructor, for the violin; and to Joy Quigley, a filmmaker and the president of Fresno Filmworks, for all of the film items.

Finally, back in the graphics lab, I worked last week to typeset the content and work the typography. Using InDesign, I matched the font and color choices to what the organizations had on their respective websites, and then I converted the text to outlines and placed everything into Photoshop, where I did the final scaling and design. I think the results are clean and simple, especially since I don’t yet know a lot about Photoshop.

Above all else, this assignment taught me that asking people for help can yield unexpected and inspiring results. The concept of the posters was mine from start to finish, but without a lot of help from my friends– especially from Craig behind the lights and the camera– I would not have been able to execute that vision.

Assignment: SFMOMA brochure

For our third assignment in my GRC 41 class, the instructor asked us to build a 12-page brochure featuring the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. We had four weeks to produce the brochure using Adobe InDesign CS4. He asked us to include a dozen or so basic content elements, but the font and design options were pretty much wide open. I decided to make Fresno mixed media artist and filmmaker Teresa Flores the “featured artist” in my brochure.

After struggling with Illustrator in my first two assignments, I was relieved to get my hands back on InDesign, which is a familiar program for me. My basic layout plan and color scheme was built to mirror and complement the SFMOMA website. I didn’t get too far out of my comfort zone in terms of experimenting with the boundaries of layout and design. But I’m very happy with the clean, organized finished product. Every spring, I compile and design a similarly sized Fresno Film Festival program for Fresno Filmworks, but that layout has now become pretty standardized. So it felt great to tackle a bunch of new content.

Disclaimer: The photos for this project are liberally borrowed from random websites for the purpose of the class. If you are the copyright holder of any photo posted here and object to its use, please contact me if you would like the photo credited and/or taken down.

Assignment: holiday web icons

For our second assignment in my GRC 41 class, the instructor asked us to develop a set of “holiday web icons” using the shape tools and lines tools in Adobe Illustrator CS4. The tools used included: square, rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon, star, flare, line, arch, spiral, rectangular grid, and polar grid. We had to make 55 icons total, on one 8.5 by 11 inch artboard. He asked us to start with the basic main tool shape and then add elements, gradients, colors, line strokes, shadows, etc. We could focus on any one holiday or season. I chose summertime.

I have used Illustrator very little in the past, so the program is basically completely new to me. These icons are pretty simple due to my limited Illustrator skills. But also, web icons are meant to be simple, because they appear very small on a website within text. I do hope to revise this assignment for the final portfolio. But for about 10 hours of work and some light reading in my Illustrator quickstart guide, I’m pretty happy with it.

Assignment: talk through fonts

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For our first assignment in my GRC 41 class, the instructor asked us to create an expressive word for each of 10 words. No images, no color. Black and white only. And as an added challenge: We could only use the Helvetica family of fonts, with any weight or variation within the typeface. We designed the words on 10 different 8.5 by 11 inch artboards, so we were encouraged to think big. I saw the assignment as “talking through fonts,” and I thought it was a great way to get the class started on the first night.

I’ve always loved fonts, so I particularly enjoyed this assignment. It reminded me of when I first started designing, as a typesetter at the old Fresno Bee Neighbors publications in 1994-95. We literally had only a dozen fonts, and the advertising reps were always pushing us to deliver “something different.” That was a great crash course for me in stretching my font use, and this assignment plugged me back into that time.

Footnote: Check out this Helvetica blog for some laughs.