I’m lucky enough to say that I have an extremely enjoyable, fulfilling career, instead of a monotonous job. But even so, the best of careers can have its peaks and valleys, days that end too quickly, and days that seem to stretch on, bending time and space. For people in the creative industry, it’s amidst those slow days–those valleys–that you need to refill your creative inkwell. At some point during my time here at MadisonMott, I began to devote a portion of my week to keeping on the lookout for the next creative trend, the next hot typeface, or design technique. I found a ton of inspiration on design blogs, and in communication arts illustration and design annuals. As time went on, I found myself being most enthralled with illustrations. Something clicked, and I remembered that at some point in my life, I wanted to be an illustrator. What I realized was that it wasn’t too late. I decided I needed to find ways to roll that skill set into my design work, but I was a little out of practice.
Through some connections, I was able to do some pro-bono work for my local community theater, the Town Players of New Canaan, who perform at the Powerhouse Theater, at Waveny Park. The Powerhouse Theater has been in business since the 1940s, and back then, some fantastic illustrators, art directors and designers from the city (Mad Men, most likely) donated their time to producing their posters. In modern design and illustrations, particularly in the space of gig posters, and cult classic cinema, there’s been a resurgence in “retro” sensibilities. Designers are looking backwards to the 1960s golden age of advertising for inspiration. Adorning the wall of the Powerhouse Theater, you will see gorgeous examples of this era.
I decided I needed to challenge myself to make posters that could hang comfortably with the likes of these classics. Each and every poster I’ve worked on for the Town Players has been its own classroom for me. For each poster, I asked myself, “Which style best suits this subject matter?” The result is a body of work, built up over the last few years, that–stylistically at least– has few commonalities. You might see some textures and type treatments that look distinctly “me”, but overall, I’ve made the conscious choice not to put “my style” or my “stamp” across these posters. This has meant that I’ve had to learn several different ways of rendering characters, painting scenes, laying out type.
About a year ago, I pulled the pin, and bought myself a Wacom Cintiq Tablet. It has over a thousand levels of pressure sensitivity, senses the angle of the pen, and because it’s a screen, has a 1:1, instant feedback feel, allowing you to free yourself of the awkwardness of drawing with a mouse. With a few custom brushes I found online (for free!) I’ve been able to bring an organic quality to my work. This lends a lot of authenticity to each design. Doing all of this pro-bono also takes away some of the pressure of time and budget, I could challenge myself as much as I wanted to, which usually amounts to 3AM work nights! It’s a great feeling though, to get lost in the work, listening to great music along the way.
A great side effect of all this work is that I’ve been able to bring these new skills back to MadisonMott. The new fonts I unearthed, the new Photoshop brushes, and techniques, the shortcuts I stumbled upon have all influenced my work here, in pieces like our SONO Restaurant week ads, our work on Casa Hines, and even Ironworks, a real-estate project with a bit of a grungy edge to it. It’s good to pursue something creative outside the daily grind. Get lost in the woods of creativity, because when you get back to civilization, you’ll have the survival skills to knock your next design out of the park.