Friday, February 2, 2007

Poster: Clarion West (2005)

The last 4 years the Clarion West staff have asked me to design the poster for their yearly reading series. This was the 3rd poster that I created for them. Each year I've used the same headline type and then designed the posters around that, keeping a core look and feel, while creating a unique look for each year. Eileen Gunn has an excellent design sense that thankfully strays away from the often boring and poorly-executed visual tropes exhibited in science fiction/fantasy/horror visual art. Because of this, she's really wanted to open up the poster design for Clarion so that designs aren't so sf-centric, but perhaps broader in appeal.

This design contains images from a multitude of sources. The red "painterly" background came from a 1950s War of the Worlds film poster. The monsterish shadow from some other 1950s monster flick poster. The man in the foreground left is an sf illustration inside-joke, since it's from a small detail of a Frank Kelly Freas illustration. The guys-with-swans motif was an old engraving. The orange sun motif was sourced from the back of an old paperback edition of House on the Borderlands and I believe was illustrated by Jack Gaughan. And I forget where the rest of the little people and other bits came from.

This brings up a never-ending conversation about the controversial nature of image appropriation in graphic design. There are designers that abhor the very thought of using material that wasn't created directly by themselves (unless the material is outside of accepted copyright range.) And then there are graphic designers and photomontage-ists that are more comfortable with the idea, and cognizant of the idea of "fair use." The "fair use" legal argument for me is in many ways aligned with a moral artistic argument. No one condones stealing, and stealing is obvious when you see it. But I don't have a problem using visual imagery in my designs that wasn't created by myself as long as the material is used ethically and is internally reviewed by myself in light of four factors:

1) How much of the source material are you using? If your design is entirely comprised of or based on a single source, or if your design is only 5% different than the source material, then that's a red flag.

2) Is the way in which you are using the source material transformative in any way? Does my design use the source material in a way that transforms it visually, contextually, or otherwise, so in a sense, am I creating a unique work of art, or is the artwork still overwhelmingly derivative of the source material that I'm incorporating.

3) How is my resulting artwork going to be used? Is it going to be on t-shirts selling across the nation in Urban Outfitters or is it for a screenprinted poster of which there were 300 copies printed and posted within the confines of the city of Seattle. Am I making money from the artwork, or not? All these questions need to be factored in.

4) Does the use of said source material within my design impact the potential market value of the source material? This sort of related to #2. If your design is sufficiently transformative, there shouldn't be an issue.

In any case, as in all of my posters, I've used numerous different visual pieces, and stitched them together into the below poster. 18" x 24", 4 colors, screen printed by Brian Taylor and Heather Freeman at Patent Pending Press. The orange ink was overprinted on the red, and the white of the headline type and the "ray of death" was overprinted onto the black, so the print order was 1) red, 2) orange, 3) black, 4) white.