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lang-arch-HZSometimes when you do something really fast, it works out.

A couple weeks ago, I got a message from Bozeman Actors Theatre asking if I could do a poster for them. Sure, I said, but I was just about to leave town, so I’d do it when I got back.

Assuring the company that they would need to check on permission requirements before using the cool Darren Booth illustration they’d found on the web (here), I left for a two-week vacation, planning to do the layout when I returned this Monday.

Unfortunately, the theatre company didn’t see my email, so when I got back, there was no illustration, and little time to get one. I offered to draw something similar to but different from the image they liked. Not a knock-off, just something in a similarly handmade style that features a profile of a man and woman.

I had three days to go from zero to completed tickets, posters, social promos and ads, so there would be no time for dilly dallying.

The play, by Julia Cho is set in an archive of languages where the main character is a linguist (hence the archaic, but quirky, cassette tape image). It revolves around issues of difficulty communicating. (Or that was my take-away from a brief conversation with BAT.)

I used a texture from one of my oil paintings as a background and drew naive style figures on my Cintiq, filling them with more oil painting texture. I downloaded a cassette tape shape as an eps from and filled it with textures from the same painting. Then, I drew a squiggly heart using a chisel pen in photoshop, filling it with oil painting texture and connecting it to the cassette. The style of the cassette doesn’t really match the rest of the art, but I liked the idea that it would make a viewer wonder. Plus, frankly, I didn’t have much time to mess with it.

I feel okay about how it came out, and better yet, the company accepted it with no revisions! It has kind of an awkward “Punch and Judy meets Balinese shadow puppets” feel, and I think the scripty letter tongues will be eye-catching on bulletin boards.

james4HcampYouth organization “needles” stakeholders with a non-traditional outreach campaign

When this youth development organization approached me about an outreach campaign to educate friends about their statewide youth camp, it was important to take a personal approach that stood out from other communications, yet cost very little. Rather than a mass-mailing, they wanted to connect with a limited number of stakeholders, face to face.

The last thing we wanted to do was splurge on a glitzy print campaign, so we worked together to create a simple memento that money can’t buy: a breath of air straight from the camp attached to a frugally printed card that reads “The sweet smell of success is in the air.” The back of the card ties in with the message, “Allow us to needle you for your support.”

Interns and volunteers pitched in to help package a whiff of fresh air from the outdoor haven of friendship and hands-on learning that the camp offers to Arizona kids. They gathered fragrant pine and cedar needles from the 55-acre camp’s forests and filled small muslin bags, hand-decorated with rubber stamps.

The “Sweet Smell of Success” outreach effort was all about the importance of the life experiences that the camp offers. It’s a place where kids can learn responsibility, leadership and teamwork in a beautiful outdoor setting. Focusing on the intrinsic worth of those experiences seemed more appropriate than printing up a sheaf of paper that’s likely to go straight to the recycling bin.


2014 card (front)

2014 card (front)

2014 card (mailing side)

2014 card (mailing side)


I just completed the Verge Theater 2014-15 season postcard. My goal was to make the layout as useful as possible while promoting the theater’s new name and brand.

Things I did to improve legibility and usability:

Increased size of card — By increasing postcard size from 5.5×8.5″ to 6×11″ I was able to take advantage of the same non-profit mailing rate, but have additional real estate for information. By sourcing a Montana printer that could do the work for less than half of the cost of previous (smaller) cards, I was able to offer the non-profit savings while increasing the size of their info-packed card.

Organized information in tables — Since the postcard is a go-to reference for users, I wanted to make it easy to locate info. Tables are great for that.

Made headings bigger — It’s easier for readers to access info on demand when the headings make a clear break between blocks of body text. (It goes without saying that I used consistent styles for headings and body text.)

Changed color scheme — I selected warm background colors that contrasted well with text colors.

Gave photos their space — It’s never ideal to use several small photos instead of a large one, but Verge wanted very much to convey the breadth of their offerings. To help give the photos impact, I clumped the small photos into one visual element and let them occupy a prominent area of the layout. (Screening images under text detracts from both, so I try never to do it!)

Cropped photos judiciously — Although this year’s photos are not larger than last year’s photos, they appear bigger because I didn’t try to include a whole scene in a small photo.

Minimized decoration — With so much information to convey in such a small space, I took out decorations that weren’t integral to the Verge brand. (The Verge logo is the star of the layout. Colors, photo selection and brand-appropriate fonts help to convey personality without adding clutter.)

Things I did to promote the Verge logo and brand:

Accentuated the logo — Since the logo is new, I made it large and prominent. To help focus attention on the logo, I mirrored its sloped shape in the placement of the photos and main headings.

Used branded wording — In a branding discussion, Verge identified “edgy, intimate, lively, humorous, inventive, fresh and quirky” as pillars. I included phrases like “dive in” and “the little black box on the edge” to tie in with brand vocabulary.

Mentioned non-profit status — One thing that non-profits often forget is to ASK their supporters for support. By including “A great way to support a great non-profit” after the season ticket copy, I made it clear that buying a season ticket is not just a way to save money, but a way to support a worthy non-profit.

Here’s a quick before and after comparison of last year’s and this year’s cards:


Actors Theatre of Montana's August: Osage County poster, before and after triage

Actors Theatre of Montana’s August: Osage County poster, before and after triage

My notoriety as an unpaid graphic design triage nurse must be spreading! I got a call from the Actors’ Theatre of Montana on Sunday morning. “We have our poster started, but it needs help, and we need to put up the posters this week…”

The poster they had underway was a valiant effort. The problem was that the photograph had backed the designer into a corner, and the result was a little bit too jumbled.

Sometimes I liken graphic design to gardening: Good gardeners aren’t afraid to dig up a few plants! It’s hard when you’re told that you have to use a certain photo, or that this text all has to go on there, but in order to make a piece that does its job, sometimes you have to do some slashing and burning.

And thus began my little makeover project: My goals were to make the title text as large as possible and make the dates more prominent. I wanted to retain the list of actors, because this cast is a huge list of Montana’s best talent. (It’s gonna be a great show!) I also wanted to accentuate the Ellen Theatre logo, because the Ellen is a beautiful old theater that has a great reputation for quality productions (not to mention a cool logo).

One of my missions in life is to convince clients that ticket info can be pretty small. FIRST catch the viewer’s attention. THEN make them fall in love with the event. Once they’re in love, they will get out a magnifying glass to read the rest, if necessary.

Orange Photographie had provided a variety of nice shots, so the first thing I did was select a photo that I felt would be easier to work with. Following is a simplified step by step of the process of getting from point A to point B, using PhotoShop to manipulate the photo and InDesign to set the text and arrange the layout. (Click on the first circle to arrow through the steps.)

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