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Acclaimed graphic designer Margo Chase shows how she created a beautifully hand-lettered poster for a special appearance at the Santa Barbara chapter of the AIGA. In this installment of Start to Finish, watch as Margo carefully creates a design with ink and paper and then refines the composition with the aid of a computer. The end product is a stunning, organic statement of style and grace that is refreshing in our world of too-pristine computer graphics.
I was asked to give a lecture on my work a couple of months ago up in Santa Barbara by the local AIGA chapter and they offered to let me do a poster to advertise the event. The fun part of those is that you get to do whatever you want. They're pretty much like please just design a poster. As long as it has the date and the time and the location, it can say anything else or look like anything. So it was a really fun opportunity. The challenge was that I didn't have very much time to do this because we were really busy, and I have to these kinds of projects in my free time outside of my normal job.
So I wanted to do something that was hand-made and hand-built lettering because that's kind of what I'm known for and something I really love doing. So I knew I wasn't going to have the time to do something where I started out with something hand-built, hand-drawn and then completely developed it to something really clean in the computer because that takes too much time. So I sort of intentionally went after something that was going to look hand-built and I knew that I can just draw it and kind of leave some of the flaws in the final thing on purpose. So that's what I did.
This is the final poster and it's small, it's 11x17 and it's really nicely printed. They did a beautiful job. So when I started, I do a lot of my lettering with like really basic materials. This is a permanent fine point Sharpie pen and Canson tissue. And I started out by just doing some thumbnail ideas about kind of what I wanted the poster to look like and these are really loose, and there are just a couple of versions, so I did one loose one and then I kind of draw over the loose one again, a couple of times to sort of tighten it up a little bit, and then I retrace that one again, the third time.
And right now, I'm starting to get a lot more refinement in the letter shapes, but it's still really tiny. But I'm getting banners and the feeling for the style of the lettering that I want. Once I get to something that I think is pretty tight at that size, I actually make an enlarged photocopy of it which is -- so this is like one size up on the laser copier downstairs, and then this is a larger magnification. So you can see it's really, really raw and all the flaws of my original really tiny drawing are here.
So I take this version, which is bigger, and I redraw over that again, so I take another piece of clean tissue and I take the same pen and I start drawing over the top of this. I'm kind of experimenting when I'm here. I'm like adding some leaves and I'm kind of working out what I think I want to do with the letter forms, liketo where I want the curls to be and where I want the swashes to go. I might do this a couple of times, like I draw this version, and then I'll draw over it again.
Each time I'm drawing over it, I'm changing things a little bit. Like I'm working out how these curls relate to each other and where this shape goes and how it connects to the banners here. And I'm experimenting on this one too. There is a few more little curlycues and some leaves that I thought I might want, which I eventually eliminated from the final piece of art. So this one I've actually drawn all the outlines, put the thicks and thins where I wanted them to be and then started to color it in by hand. So that I can start to see where the weights are and what the actual sort of overall color of the piece is.
I don't really like where I drew this S the first time, so I fixed it. And then I traced over that whole thing another time. I also made some adjustments to the G and to the relationship of the cap M and the cap C and how that relates to the banners. So each time I'm redrawing this, I'm making further decisions about how I want it to look and how I want the proportions of things to relate to each other.
And so I was pretty happy with where this one was going. So I drew over it one more final time, and this time I did it in a much kind of rougher style. I drew over it with this but I left in a lot of sort of lumps and bumps in the final drawing on purpose. Then this actually gets scanned into the computer. So I take basically a high res scan of this really lumpy drawing and scan it in. So from here on, I'm adjusting both things in the computer and things by hand.
So I take this final piece with all its lumps and bumps, and I scan it into the computer, and once it's in the computer, it looks like this. And my scan I've actually cleaned up here, the original scans actually look more like this. You can see the smudges and there is the sort of grayness of the actual scan. So I actually add contrast to clean this up, so it becomes a high contrast black and white scan. You can see there is lots of funkiness here. So I do some of the cleanup in Photoshop like I sort of adjust things.
I zoom in and I might clean some of the lumps up a little bit or places in the scan where the black doesn't come out perfectly dense, I will actually make that black. So that I get in that pretty clean black and white image. Then I kind of look at it and I look at the shapes and I see where I got, and I try to decide if this is exactly how I want the lettering to look. In this case, I looked at this G and I thought oh, it's kind of hard to read that. People may have little trouble. So I thought I wanted a different version of the G. So I went back to my sketches and I drew over my original drawing and I created a different G, slightly different version of the lowercase G and then I scanned that in.
So that's a separate scan. So I just took that G shape and dropped it in to the final, into an adjusted final scan, which is here. So you can see each time I've scanned things, I've adjusted and cleaned things up a little bit further, so this is getting a little bit more refined. And eventually, once I'm happy, at each generation of the scan you can see it's a little bit more cleaned up here. It's got that adjusted G and I'm cleaning up and making some of the thins a little thinner and I am adding a little bit to some of the thicks.
And then what I do is I place that scan in Illustrator and do an autotrace of it. This one has actually been colorized. When it first starts out it's black. So it looks a lot like that. Then you'll notice there are some lettering in the banners here that I added and that I actually decided I wanted to not add that in clean type. I wanted it to also feel hand-drawn. So I went back and actually went back to my tissues, and I drew that lettering again by hand and fit it into the banners of the scan, so that it kind of has a really rough quality.
And then I scanned that in and autotraced that. So by the time you're done, you get everything is kind of hand-built, but it's a digital version of hand-built. So I'm getting pretty close to where I'm happy with this lettering now and its all vector. You can see the outlines of everything. While I was working on the idea for this poster, I was kind of playing around with some different options. They were at first interested in doing this as a letterpress print job. So I thought, it would be really fun to do kind of a split fountain ink treatment with one big sort of plate on some kind of hand-made really rough paper, cardboard or something like that.
So I was playing around with that idea and when I sent up the original draft of the poster to the AIGA, they realized they couldn't make a plate big enough to make this really work. So we decided to do it as a 4- color process print job instead. So then I sort of changed direction a little bit about how I actually wanted to create the artwork. So my original idea was this kind of red to orange split fountain sort of almost like a little psychedelic, little more postery feeling on like kind of a wood-brown background. Instead of doing that, I went to back to Photoshop, and I have this piece of a mirror that it's a photograph of an old vintage mirror that I found, that I actually just put the mirror on the scanner and scanned it and it has these kind of cracks in it and it has a lot of patina in the glass.
So I tried to keep as much of that as I could in the scan. I think you can kind of see I've messed around with the color adjustments, adding some hue adjustments, and playing around with the curves until I got an image that kind of felt like what I wanted. And it kind of has a really nice silvery odd just sort of distressed quality which I really liked. So then I stated playing around with okay, how I put the lettering in there, so that it actually has some kind of beautiful quality. So here is my scan and I am dropping it in on top and I can, if I basically multiply that, I can sort of see where my position of my lettering is and get it arranged.
And I knew I had a block of copy for date, time, and location that needed to go down here. So that's my position and then what I did eventually was I created an inverted inversion of this basic file. So I basically took the background, made a copy of the layer, and I just inverted the color. So I have the negative of the mirror lying on top of the positive, and then I take my lettering, and I make it into a mask.
That way, you can see that what's inside the lettering is actually now the negative or the dark version of the mirror lying on top of the highlight or the light version. And then all the cracks that come through here are then reversed. So the cracks continue through the lettering and make it really feel like its part of the background. Then I wanted just a little bit more integrated feeling. So I added a texture filter to it. I added a little bit of a deboss. So if you go there, it's got a little into one of the-- I am not a big fan of Photoshop filters in general, but I love the Bevel and Emboss stuff.
So I went to Emboss and I gave it a little bit of a negative, just really slight super tiny to make it feel like it's actually kind of inside the mirror. So this is the final Photoshop file and I knew my final poster was going to be an 11x17, so there is actually a little bit of bleed here. So I took this Photoshop file PSD with layers actually, I didn't flatten it into a TIFF, and put it into InDesign.
So here's our InDesign mechanical. You can see it, actually there is the bleed and then there is the type that had to be there and it's just in black. So it overprints the background and it's got the logos and things that had to be there. So it's got the date, time and location, so people knew where to go to see me talk. So the poster was used to promote a lecture that I did in Santa Barbara, and the title of the lecture is called Keep It Fresh 20 years of Design, since I've been doing graphic design for a long time.
The Keep It Fresh is a theme about how to stay inspired and stay involved in your work after 20 years, which some days is kind of a challenge. So it's basically an introduction to I just talk about the kinds of projects we do and my involvement and the studio in general, and how we all work. And I give examples and sometimes I show a lot of the strategy that goes into the projects, sometimes I show inspirational images and where we got the idea to do things. I mean I love getting a chance to do these kinds of projects because basically I get to do whatever I want which is fun and I don't always get to do that with my clients.
And it gives me an opportunity to kind of play and explore an idea that maybe I've been working on or thinking about and apply it to something that I know will actually get printed. So it's great. It's fun, and it's a little bit Zen working on things that are hand-drawn like that. I can sit during staff meetings and kind of doodle, which I actually did with some of these early drawings. They happened while I was listening to something else or sitting on a conference call. So it's a chance to kind of integrate my own work into the design process, and stay connected.
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