Under the Skin

Problem Definition
The goal of this project was to design a poster for a cultural event using stylistic influences from a specific art or design movement. The poster should reflect the target audience or the event and have strong visual appeal.

The event chosen was Under The Skin, a collaborative work between Wen Wei Dance and the Beijing Modern Dance Company, which examines ideas of cultural and personal identity. The target audience for this event would be young adults between ages 18 to 25 who are interested in trends and cultural events in their area. The art movement that influenced the design of this piece was the busy postmodern style. I wanted to create my poster to have the same aesthetics as Theatre Junction Grand’s brand, which had a very tactile, hand made feel.

Data Gathering
Information was gathered on Under The Skin performance, the two companies performing the event, Wen Wei Dance and Beijing Modern Dance Company, the company hosting the event, Theatre Junction Grand, posters from the pop, constructivist and postmodern eras and posters from other dance and performing arts events. Research for this was conducted through lectures and books on art and design movements and styles, the Internet and collecting print ads for Theatre Junction Grand.

Through this research I found that the Under The Skin contemporary dance performance was an investigation of cultural and personal identity, from the inside out, and how each informs one another. However, beyond the surface differences, under the skin our underlying humanity is the same.

Additionally, Under The Skin is a collaborative work between the Wen Wei Dance and Beijing Modern Dance Company. Vancouver based Wen Wei Dance was formed in 2003 and offers a fresh voice in dance, one that is inspired by the evolving Canadian cultural context, which is made up of many experiences from a variety of cultures. The company was founded by Wen Wei Wang, who returned to Mainland China for the first time in 20 years to collaborate with the Beijing Modern Dance Company and choreograph Under The Skin.

My researches also lead me to find information on Theatre Junction Grand, who are hosting the performance in Calgary. Theatre Junction Grand’s vision is to create a space to think collectively and to activate the individual as a participant in vibrant society, where the artist and the spectator bring theatre to life and make apparent its diversity, vitality and necessity. As Calgary’s ‘culturehouse’ of contemporary live arts, the theatre is the ‘junction’ where people, ideas, and art forms converge to celebrate differences, open new possibilities and move in new directions.

Also, their website, newsletter, leaflets and flyers all have a very tactile hand made quality to them, often combining handwritten type with computer type. Their advertising can be found in areas in the heart of downtown Calgary, such as Arts Central.

Additionally, other references collected where posters from the New York School, pop and postmodern eras. New York School poster style used an implied grid as it was influenced by Swiss design, but was less formulaic and often included hand rendered type. Its main focus was the concept behind the poster, with the materials ranging from illustrations, photographs, or collage.

Similar to New York School style, pop posters often included hand rendered type. Pop culture imagery and references were used, colour was saturated or discordant, bubble type was favored which all lead to them looking very visually complex.

Like the pop era, postmodern posters also incorporated pop culture imagery. Posters from this stylistic period often incorporated hand drawn elements with computer and/or photographic attributes. Historical references were also used in pastiche and thus resulted in them being quite visually complex and information was not always clear.

Further poster references collected were those used in other dance and performing arts events. Dance event posters were often light and had a lot of movement to them making them energetic and playful. I felt since this suited liveliness of dance my poster should incorporate these attribute too. Other performing arts event posters often included a scene from the play or live performance, which subsequently due to lighting on stage made the posters predominantly black with dramatic shadows.

My final concept for this poster originated from the title of the performance, Under The Skin. From this I decided to incorporate the sense of multiple layers, thus adding a three-dimensional element to the image. Through experimenting with the initial paper models I decided that undulating strips of paper would work best for presenting information in a poster format as I could position text in between the strips at different proximity to the camera, as well as giving the poster a playful sense of movement that would be appropriate to a dance performance.

The idea to have oriental patterns on the strips were chosen to reference the two Chinese dance companies collaborating on the piece together. Some of the strips also have household scenes on them such as a table set for dinner as ones upbringing and experience also influences a person’s identity as well as their culture.

The sense of lighting and shadows developed from the visuals of a live performance, where the lighting is an integral part of creating a mood and dynamism to the show. This influenced me to position the lighting in away that would create interesting shadows on my three dimensional object to be photographed.

The postmodern style influenced me in making my piece busy and visually complex. However, I chose to keep this contained in certain areas to retain the hierarchy that a poster needs. Additionally, a characteristic of this style is to incorporate hand drawn with computer or photographic elements. This influenced my decision to create the title text of the piece by hand and incorporate the other information, such as date and place, through the computer. Also, this stylistic characteristic helped to develop the concept to put both realistic scenes and oriental patterns with the more handmade people cut outs.

Due to Theatre Junction Grand’s energetic vision and mission statement, the contemporary nature of their aesthetic and the locations they advertise in I concluded it’s target audience to be unmarried and childless young adults between 18 – 25 who have a disposable income and are culturally involved with the arts scene in Calgary. Knowing this helped me to define my target audience.

Strategy for Solution
An alternative idea generated based on my research were cutting out several dancer shaped people, staggering and layering them on top of one another and incorporating the text amongst the layers where the cut outs would show them through. Also, another direction I could have taken would be to create the type from the title of the piece using various objects that one would encounter through the process of growing up and photographing the objects from a bird’s eye view. However, I chose not to go in these directions as the undulating strips of paper worked best for a poster format as I could position text in between the strips at different proximity to the camera, as well as giving the poster a playful sense of movement that would be appropriate to a dance performance.

Factors that were taken into consideration when deciding on the final solution were making the text legible, having a clear sense of hierarchy, making the visuals of the poster stand out, appealing to the target audience, making the poster relevant to the event and keeping the aesthetics of Theatre Junction Grand in the poster.

To maintain a clear sense of hierarchy within the poster the title of the piece was done by hand and made to be the largest and whitest elements of the poster. It is also situated on the upper third of the page and when photographed the camera was set up to focus on the text. The black background also gave the text a high level of contrast making the letters stand out. The cut out dancers were originally white but I found that they were competing with the title for the viewers attention. So solve this I changed them to tints of grey and blue so that the title would have the greatest amount of contrast against the background.

The date would be the next piece of information that I wanted the viewer to see. Although the same size as the other computer rendered type, this was achieved by making the text white thus increasing the contrast against the background making it stand out more so than the dance companies and location. To further increase legibility of the text I separated them from the busier elements of the page and gave them plenty of room at the top of the composition for the eye to locate the information with ease.

To make the visuals of the poster stand out I found making the piece three-dimensional and getting the lighting to create shadows on the piece to create an interesting photograph which would catch viewers attention. However, to ensure that these visuals were targeted to the demographic of culturally involved young adults the poster had to have a slightly playful feel to it, which I feel the undulating paper does.

Moreover, this playful quality suited the type of event well as it is for a modern dance performance. Contemporary dance tends to be less formal and more expressive than a dance such as ballet, which is far more ridged and structured. I feel that since the piece if more playful it caters to the style of dance. The black background and use of shadows also suits the live performance aspect as it replicates the visuals of the stage.

I found that since the pre existing aesthetics of Theatre Junction Grand were already so strong I did not want to stray from this too much as the event is strongly tied with them in Calgary. This affected my decisions to make the piece less clean cut and allow more jagged edges to suit this hand made quality to the theatre companies brand.

I feel that I succeeded in solving the problem as my design for the cultural event poster for Under The Skin used stylistic influences from the postmodern poster style, reflected the target audience and the type of performance, has strong visual appeal and does not stray too far from Theatre Junction Grand’s brand identity.

I believe what is most successful about my piece is the concept behind it and how the poster ties well with the live performance aspect where similar to a stage, there is a strong sense of background, mid-ground and foreground. However, to improve on this piece I would work on the kerning of the text more as the 2011 is not kerned correctly with the two 1’s spaced too far apart in comparison to the 2 and 0.