Monday, December 20, 2010

The Man Behind the Design

If you’ve been following Twenty-Something Theatre you’ve all had the opportunity to see our posters. If you live in Vancouver you’ve probably seen them plastered up in various places around the city.

The man behind the posters is Andrew Lewis and he took some time during this very crazy holiday season to answer some questions for you guys. I first met Andrew in 2006 (I believe) when he was doing the logo design and branding for my family’s business. I had only recently graduated from UVic and was working there while I pursued a career in the theatre. During the process of creating this logo and brand for the company I had the privilege of being part of the company’s marketing team. I hadn’t even really started Twenty-Something Theatre yet. It was still mainly an idea in my head but when I told Andrew about it he put me in touch with Sarah Gordon (who had experience doing Marketing & Publicity for both Gateway and the Vancouver Playhouse) and she really helped me articulate what I wanted Twenty-Something to be. And the rest, as they say is history. Andrew has (with the exception of our first production) been designing our posters and marketing materials ever since.

Andrew’s poster designs for Twenty-Something Theatre have been exhibited in the following biennials, galleries, etc:

International Poster Biennial of Mexico
Plakatok Posters The Pécs Gallery Hungary
Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition
International Poster Biennial of Bolivia
National Gallery, Ljubljana Slovenia
Modern Advertising Magazine, China
Novum Magazine, Germany
University Diego Portales, Santiago Chile
Exposiciones del Espacio Simón, La Paz, Bolivia
ITESO University Guadalajara, Mexico
Palermo University Buenos Aires, Argentina
Rockport Publishers, USA

(Andrew, standing in front of his poster design for our production of The Fever, at the International Poster Biennial 2008 in Mexico City)

So, without further ado, some thoughts on art, marketing and life from the man himself…

1) Tell us how you got to be where you are today? Did you go to school or train anywhere?

I always was drawing, ever since I could remember. It was something that came naturally but not easily so I worked very hard at understanding the process and mechanics of creating images in art. After highschool I studied at Bealart in London, Ontario which was recognized nationally for its fine art program which was based on the Bauhaus school. You needed to take all forms of art study before specializing in one area. Graphics design was obviously my major but textiles was my minor. While studying at Bealart I was offered a job at the London FreePress laying out pages and creating illustrations. This provided a nice income and I travelled to Europe that spring to see art galleries in Paris, London and Edinburgh to fuel my mind. After Bealart came the Ontario College of Art in Toronto whereupon I was accepted on advanced standing due to attending Bealart. This lasted until Christmas whereupon I dropped out to begin freelancing and working for design agencies. I just needed to get on with it and also begin a career. We all take individual paths to get us to where we should be.

2) If you had to choose one, what would you consider yourself to be first and foremost: an artist or a graphic designer?

I’m a graphic artist.

Actually, I look at what I do as “applied arts” in that I try to integrate artwork into marketing. There is SO much mundane, dull advertising and design being done compared to what has been in design history. Just look at the incredible posters of Paris, circa 1895-1910, this was “The Belle Epoque” of posters and where Henri Toulouse Lautrec created his posters (note: he designed only 34 posters) and many other designers. Advertising during the 1960’s also was very imaginative, same goes for the 1970’s when you had Milton Glaser and Push Pin in New York creating the best design (think, I love New York logo). Compared to today where it seems due to the economy, corporate marketing departments want to just play it safe and not create fresh new ideas. Yes, there are exceptions but this is not the direction taken globally. So to answer your question properly, I am an artist that uses graphic design to create a business in order to use my artwork in a continual cycle.

3) How important is it for artists to understand the business side of creating art and in this case specifically marketing?

This is where so many artists fail in not knowing that art is business unless you are financially secure and independent. Though Henri Toulouse Lautrec was a true bohemian and lived in Paris along with his Moulin Rouge absinthe fueled cohorts, he was financed comfortably by his family. He had not a single worry about money and lived very well in order to create his art. I feel creating artwork is a privilege and one needs to put in place a strong business plan to fund this personal venture. I would easily say I design and create art 20% of my time, the other 80% is running my studio, dealing with clients, finding new clients, collecting money owed and dealing with the endless accounting headaches and then... Revenue Canada, not to mention the latest icing on the cake – the HST. It takes guts and a strong belief in your own work and ability.

4) In your words define “marketing/branding”?

These are two very different animals, and I shall try to simply explain the difference.

Marketing is once you have created a product or perhaps a theatre production and then getting this noticed through the various forms of available media. It is simply creating interest or attention in the public’s mind in order to buy in or desire ownership of this thing or event.

Branding is creating a unique presence within the marketplace of a company or product by the use of design and complete overall unity of the look and attitude of that company or organization. Just think about the difference between Tim Hortons and Starbucks and how they project their images onto the public. It is the difference between an urban cool, hipster latte and a homey, honest, suburban regular coffee.

5) What is the most important thing to consider when it comes to marketing something like the arts as opposed to another business?

I have had the privilege to work for numerous arts organizations here in Canada and the US including many in New York City on and off Broadway. Marketing the arts is (I feel) very different than marketing lets say Black and Decker tools. The arts must address not only the obvious arts community but also must reach out to the community that does not necessarily buy into the arts. There are so many layers of sensitivity that one must keep in mind while creating an advertising or promotional campaign. For example, lets look at creating a poster for an opera production and all of the players you have to be working with. First you have the Artist Director that has their own vision for that production but also for the season of productions and the overall direction he/she wants to take. The General Manager whom you would think would not be involved in the creative aspect, always wants to add their thoughts. The Communication Director, the person who has hired you to create the poster, has their own agenda in terms of overall look and graphic feel. The production itself has a Director, whom has a vision, and the Playwright (if available will add their ideas and visions for how to represent their work). You must mind read all these subtle messages even before you read the script or research the production in order to create a poster that will appeal to these various egos and personalities but ultimately sell the production itself. It can be a horrific experience!

6) When you sit down to begin work on a poster design what is the first thing you do?

Understanding the essence of what the subject, topic, production is and then distilling it down to the simplest form is the complete process for me. It doesn’t matter if the poster is for a theatre, a social commentary or commercial poster that is selling beer, creating an image that peaks the imagination is critical, also conveying the message in an immediate manner makes for the best posters.

7) In the theatre world (and I imagine other sectors as well) there is an ongoing question as to the importance of posters and whether they have any real impact on a public that is so inundated with images and advertising on a daily basis. As someone who is internationally recognized for his poster art what are your thoughts on this topic?

Posters help sell a production and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Just stand in Times Square, and look up to see huge, billboard images taken from theatre posters. The poster is the business card for a particular theatre production and initially begins its life out on the street but then the image migrates to online ads, print ads, programs, t-shirts and to billboards. If it is successful, it helps maintain the branding of that production, just think of The Lion King image. It pops to your mind immediately, there it is living in your imagination and represents a memory of your experience seeing that show or you wanting to buy tickets to that show.

8) What is the best thing about your work?

My posters and international recognition have taken me around the world 2-3 times. I have been invited to have my work in exhibitions, biennials, teach at universities in China, Japan, Europe, US, Central and South America. I have met the best international graphic designers living today – period. They all have one thing in common; they are all humble and honest people that leave their egos at home locked up in a small box.

9) What is next for you?

The immediate future is I am in Paris in February teaching at a fantastic University and having an exhibition of posters. Following that I will be in La Paz and Santa Cruz in Bolivia, Caracas in Venezuela, Veracruz and Guadalajara in Mexico and Helsinki in Finland attending poster biennials and having more exhibitions. Also, just trying to manage my studio...

(Andrew's solo exhibition held at the Espacio Simon Gallery in La Paz, Bolivia)

10) As an established professional in your field, if you had one piece of advice for an aspiring youngster, what would it be?

Read as much as you can and not just about design or art.
Ask questions.
Talk to professional designers, artists, research them, hunt them down, hound them, ask more questions.
Think bigger.
Move away from your hometown, that is very good for you.
Work hard, don’t be lazy.
Less Facebook and more drawing.
Never be satisfied with your first, second or 20th idea.
Every student around you is your future competition.
Learn art history. Learn design history.
Working in art/design/communications is one of the most difficult ways to make a living and live a life, brace yourself for one crazy roller coast ride...

Great words of wisdom! Many thanks again to Andrew for taking the time to answer the Q&A!

~Sabrina Evertt
Artistic Producer

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