Case Study 002: Poema

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Posted: Sunday, November 22, 2015

Case Study 002: Poema

I’d like to start off by encouraging you to watch the “Forget You in LA” video and then strongly encourage you to buy Poema’s Pretty Speeches EP. 

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The Subject

I have been listening to and following Poema since they became a band in 2008. I have probably seen them perform 30+ times and they were gracious enough to play the first dance at mine and my wife’s wedding. They are really all-around great musicians and very sweet young ladies. They moved out to Nashville a few years ago and have been really developing their musical style and although you can still hear the echoes of what makes Poema Poema in their current music, it is a far distance from their early musical efforts. They have matured and evolved into this new style while maintaining their musical integrity. I’m a fan (to say the least).

Deriving a Story

The first step I took was  to totally immerse myself in the subject and all of the elements. By absorbing myself I was able to see the type of story that I wanted to tell. The story will present itself better by doing this. 

I listened to the song on repeat and watched the video multiple times. I wanted to spend enough time with the subject to be familiar, but not too much to where the details overwhelm the story. I wanted to be able to interpret it in my own voice.

The video had a lot of elements that seemed random, but they were emphasized so I have to assume they were highlighted for symbolic, stylistic, or metaphoric reasons.

I took note of every scene and wrote down everything that appeared. I rewatched to see which scenes or elements had more screen-time or were repeated.

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I wrote down the lyrics and studied them. The lyrics are very literal and tell a story. The video contrasts the literal lyrics by appearing to be random and haphazard. 

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After studying everything I had to distill everything and decide what elements to use. I was going for something very specific as far as the style of the layout. I wanted this piece to be very different from my other caricatures. I wanted more of a poster design feel to it. 

There were two layouts that came to mind. One was the cover to The Room: The Definitive Guide and the other were some of the art prints created by Dave Perillo.

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What I wanted to stay clear from is directly copying from the style references. The error that I see a lot of artists do is take an image for reference and directly copy it. That is the WRONG way to do it.

Absorb yourself in consuming a style and sleep on it. The next day try and emulate it from memory and you’ll find that your mind will fill in the gaps with your own personal touches. Never have the reference open at the same time that you’re working. The temptation to copy will be too great.

Thumbnails & the Process of Creation

Next I drew out thumbnails. Thumbnails are key when creating a layout. Never, EVER [emphasis added] start by designing directly onto the computer; you will waste more time this way and your designs will come out more mechanical-looking and less natural. By drawing thumbnails you are creating a map for reference when you go to the computer or preferred media.

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After drawing a variety of thumbnails I came across a composition that is the best solution. 

The next step was to do a few practice-runs creating the caricatures of Elle and Shealeen.

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The first step in drawing a caricature is looking — studying and assessing the face before putting pen to paper.

Both Elle and Shealeen of Poema are sisters. When you look at them they have a lot of similar features, but the differences between the two are greater when examining closer.

Creating the Likeness

Shealeen has a very interesting profile. She has classic victorian-era features. She has a long, slender neck and a dainty and petite head. Her lips are slightly thin. She has pronounced eyebrows and eyelashes. Her hair is very long and full.

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PRO-TIP: Hair is always the best way to “cheat” and capture a big percentage of a person’s likeness.

Elle has broad shoulders, very full parted lips, and her hair is very wild and untamed at times. She also has a septum piercing which is a distinguishing characteristic that is worth capturing visually, because it’s visually interesting. 

PRO-TIP: Any accessories or extra accoutrements such as, jewelry and/or accessories are great for adding character into a caricature.

I practice their faces a few times before diving into the final art. I try not to over-work a caricature during practice, because you can start getting caught up in the details and I like to keep things simple — again, I take a more simple approach and capture and impression.  

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I do a light tight-pencil on the bristol board and begin final inks on top of it. I mostly use Micron pens (03, 05, 01, & 1) and my Kuretake brushpen. I like the loose fluidity of the brushpen and the tight control of Microns.

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The layout on my thumbnails had a lot of the elements from the video, however all of those elements — especially the car (Sidebar note: I HATE drawing cars!!!) — are complicated or tedious to render by hand, so I ultimately decided the best solution was to create them in Adobe Illustrator from actual images in the video.

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I scan the key artwork of the girls and take screenshots of the elements in the video (shoes, telephone, life preserver, sunglasses, car, traffic cone, fire hydrant).

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Digital Rendering

Next I place them all on a template layer in Adobe Illustrator. 

I recreate/digitally re-render all of the elements separately. I do this because, even though the car for example, is only partially shown in the final layout I know from experience that I will possibly have to tweak the layout. It is better to have more to work with than less.

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As I anticipated I needed to tweak a few things and edit some other things completely. For example, on the original thumbnails I wanted to have some of the lyrics accompany the elements, but when I did it in the original version it was too busy, so I took them out.

I got to an arrangement I was pleased with and began to color the piece.

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I knew that I wanted a limited color palette and have it be like a duotone. I wanted the colors to reflect the colors that Elle and Shealeen were wearing in the video. Something very nice and unexpected came out of the color resolving. 

After experimenting with the reds and yellows I decided that it made the most sense to make two versions (or sister pieces, if you will) that complimented both Elle and Shealeen.

I found a *font (*Majesti) that best complimented the design and began to arrange it. 

Once the design was fully rendered I took a step back and slept on it for a day. When I came back to it I could process it more objectively. What I discovered when I looked at it with fresh eyes was that it looked too bright and polished. 

The solution was to add a slight texture that I downloaded from textures.com, and also to desaturate the colors using Adobe Photoshop. By doing this it made the artwork look less punchy and bright and it gave a more mature and organic look.

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Advice from a Colleague

I showed the piece to a friend, colleague, and accountability partner, Brandi Sea Heft-Kniffin, because she is an accomplished designer and art director (check out her blog for insight into graphic design and professionalism). This piece became more of a design piece around a caricature and I needed another set of eyes for discernment.

PRO-TIP: Getting objective opinions from other professionals is very important. Find another professional that you know and can trust that can give you valuable and objective advice or suggestions.  

Conclusion: Crafting a Story & Creating a Solution

And there you have it! This is how I created the two sister pieces for Poema. None of the design decisions were random or arbitrary and neither should yours be when you’re creating a caricature. You should always have goals and obejectives outlined before starting a piece. Mine was to capture the essence of the video in a visually interesting way.

What do you guys think? Was it successful?

Every face has a story to tell and I want to teach you how to tell it.