Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nicholas Hyde: exploring geometric minimizing





Nicholas Hyde's growing collection of work can be seen at his Etsy site. His designs reflect a range of minimalist, "retro" sensibilities, often utilizing bold shapes and colors. Although he's done multiple series of Star Wars-inspired artwork, I'm most intrigued by his Color Way set of three prints. The series includes prints designed around the color palettes of Yoda, Boba Fett, and a Royal Guard. When so many other Star Wars poster designs feature photorealism, or at least more direct references to iconic characters or moments, Nicholas's series offers a very different idea of representation. I've talked here about minimalism in Star Wars art design, and it seems to me that this is nearly as minimal as you can get. Not only has Nicholas reduced each character to a set of basic geometric shapes, leaving only the basic color palette as a guide, but he has also removed almost all the text--no credits, taglines, or catchphrases. 

I don't know if these designs will resonate with everyone, but I enjoy the fact that someone could hang these posters as a color accent for a room and people wouldn't even necessarily notice them as Star Wars posters; they'd just be nice artwork on the wall. I also like them as a concrete symbol of the extent to which Star Wars is a part of our collective cultural consciousness--that a poster design could be so minimized visually and yet still be appreciated and understood. The subtlety is daring, and for me it works. The popularity of Star Wars, and the amount of information available to anyone with an Internet connection, has de-valued the currency of trivial knowledge. To share the enjoyment of posters like this is a little bit like the sharing of behind-the-scenes insider knowledge that used to be so invigorating among fans.

Here's a conversation between me and Nick, thinking especially about the Color Way series:

Talk about your development as an artist—where did the interest start, where did you go to school, which artists, styles, periods, etc., have been most inspiring for you?

I really liked the skateboard art of the 90s. The play on iconic forms that showed through a lot of the graphics that were being done around then really captured my attention.

Is there an artist whose work you wish your own work could be more like?

I love Evan Hecox and the stuff he does.

Is there another time period where you think you'd fit in well, or are you comfortable where you are?

I am pretty comfortable where I am at. I have never thought about living in a different time. Maybe a different place, but not a different time.

What's the most thrilling part of your work as an artist? What's the biggest frustration?

Hearing that people like the art is the most thrilling for me. I get frustrated when people try and break it down like it's some crazy gnarly art project. It is just simple fun Star Wars art and people should look at it as such.

Do you work primarily in digital, or do you also spend time with ink, paints, pencils, etc.? What's your favorite medium to work with?

I do paint and doodle, but most of the work that I have out is digital. It is all fun to work with.

When you create movie posters, do you see that as part of your “official” work, or is it something that you do just for relaxation? Is your thought process and method the same as with any other work?

I am really just having fun with the movie posters. And I hope people see them as funny.

Was your SW illustration a commission, a challenge from a friend, purely your own motivation...?

It all is purely me wanting to create something.

What were some of your stylistic inspirations for the SW arts you created?

I think hip-hop was a big inspiration for most of the art. I also made some with some inspiration from old World Expo posters.

I find your Color Way SW posters really eye-catching and intriguing. I like how you emphasize the fundamental color palette of each character, and I love the use of white space for a subtle, refined, elegant look. When people look at your SW artwork, what are some things that you hope they'll notice and appreciate?

I think that you can fully realize most of the characters in SW just by their colors. And I also like geometric shapes and saw some old World Expo posters with just shapes and both ideas kind of clicked. I think they are pretty minimal and I like that about them.

What is one part of the SW movies that you wish you could re-design?

The part in Return of the Jedi where Jabba has everyone walking the plank into the Sarlacc pit. I would redo that part in more pirate motif.

What is your favorite “official” SW illustration? (poster, McQuarrie concept art, comics...)

My favorite is the Empire Strikes Back poster of Han and Leia [painted by Roger Kastel]. It reminds me of some old Conan art.

With everything available everywhere instantly on the Internet, and trends coming and going so quickly, how can any of us believe that our arts preferences and tastes are original? Do you struggle with “being original,” or is that something you don't even think about when you're working?

I don’t even think about it. I just make something I like. Most of my stuff is obviously inspired by SW and hip-hop, which were inspired by this or that, which was inspired by . . . It can go on and on.

Talk about some ways that art builds community. Does your work reflect who your circle of friends is at the moment? Has the exposure your posters have received via the Internet made you feel part of a wider community of like-minded people, or has it really made little difference to you personally?

My artwork isn’t big by any means, but I would like to think that it brings some people together on a positive level. I think being creative with anything you do will always bring people of similar tastes together.

As you've looked at others' movie-inspired artwork on-line, have you seen any skill-related errors or sloppiness that you wish you could help people avoid?

I wouldn’t say I am skilled at a comfortable level, so I wouldn’t know how to help anybody with their artwork. I see stuff I like and I see stuff I don’t like. I like seeing series of works, not just one-offs.

What advice would you give a young artist?

May the force be with you.


Prints of Nicholas's Color Way series are available here:
Yoda 
Boba Fett 
Imperial Guard 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ralph McQuarrie, 1929-2012

More artist features are on the way soon, but this week we mourn the passing of Ralph McQuarrie, the original Star Wars arts visionary. His concept illustrations will always be among my very favorite Star Wars artworks. I credit McQuarrie, along with John Williams, for much of the enduring success of Star Wars.

Take a look at the following websites for more information about McQuarrie's life and work:

http://www.ralphmcquarrie.com/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/mar/06/ralph-mcquarrie

Friday, January 27, 2012

Brandon Schaefer: highlighting the small visual details



  
Brandon Schaefer is a US-based designer. His website is www.seekandspeak.com, and many of his movie poster designs, including the Star Wars poster we're focusing on here, are available as prints from the Richard Goodall Gallery in London. 

The particular poster we're looking at is Brandon's design incorporating an iconic visual element from the Death Star battle scene in
Star Wars. I find the poster absolutely great. Like a lot of recent original movie artwork, this poster assumes that you know the movie pretty wellno need to show actors' faces or a key scene. Rather, this design celebrates the small details in a movie that we know and lovein this case, a visual detail many of us probably hadn't even thought about in isolation before. 

I really enjoyed getting to know Brandon as we chatted back and forth over email recently. Here is some of what we talked about:
  
Tell me about your development as an artistwhere did the interest start, where did you go to school, which artists, styles, periods, etc., have been most inspiring for you?

Well, my family has a background in the arts, with my dad, uncle, and grandfather all having gone to art school at some point. It was something that was always encouraged, even if it wasn't your strong suit (and believe me, drawing was not necessarily my strong suit). I wound up falling into design after reality set in that, unless Marvel switched to a stick-figure-inspired line of comics, I wouldn't be drawing the X-Men any time soon.

I was more competent with a computer, so that allowed me to go to college and learn the other side of the cointhe thinking, problem solving, and historyso that there is a context for all of the styles you get exposed to.

I've been working as a freelance graphic designer for the past few years, and before that worked at a local marketing firm not long after graduating college with a degree in design. Short of a small stint in delivering furniture, design has been something that's surrounded me on a daily basis.

Is there an artist whose work you wish your own work could be more like?

In terms of craft, I don't think so. Everything has a different story and, most of the time, I try to focus in and honor that rather than try and consistently force a brand or style on things. Bob Gill's approach to design is really smart, though, so I always strive to create something that comes from that same intelligent, witty place as him.

Is there another time period where you think you'd fit in well, or are you comfortable where you are?

Maybe the 1950s/60s, only because I can identify and sympathize with a lot of the design philosophy that was being generated around that time. Someone would need to outfit me with a computer, though, otherwise I'd be backed in a corner and stuck delivering milk or something. This wasn't a time travel question, was it?

What's the most thrilling part of your work as an artist? What's the biggest frustration?

The idea that the work can always change and never become repetitive is exciting, especially when you realize that the alternative could be something repetitive, monotonous, and soul-sucking. As for the biggest frustration? Self-doubt, closely followed by the realization that sometimes enthusiasm exceeds ability.

Do you have atypicalway that you create a work, start to finish, or is it different every time?

I always spend a fair amount of time beforehand pacing around, thinking, and scribbling doodles into a notebook. Otherwise, the actual building changes from project to project, but with the consistency of my butt always being in a chair in front of a screen. I do bring other mediums into my work when I can, but more often than not, it's the continuing saga of love/hate relationship between me and my chair.

When you create movie posters, do you see that as part of yourofficialwork, or is it something that you do just for relaxation? Is your thought process and method the same as with any other work?

Everything tends to fall into the same place, work or not. My process, the excitements or the frustrations, it's all interchangeable if the project is for a client or for myself. Relaxation is saved for leaving the house or, barring that, staring at the TV, haha.

Was your SW illustration a commission, a challenge from a friend, purely your own motivation...?

Personal.

What were some of your stylistic inspirations for the SW arts you created?

I'd say the only real inspiration for any of the Star Wars stuff I've fiddled with was on the Empire Strikes Back poster, where those curved bars that bordered the poster were a reference to the old Kenner toys from the 80s.

I really like how you've taken an iconic image from Star Wars that people don't even consciously think of when thinking about the movie, and put it front and center. I'd say it's so simple, except that no one else has thought of it before. When people look at your SW poster, what are some things that you hope they'll notice and appreciate?

Thanks! It's not much, but I hope people get the referencewhat it is, where it comes from, and what it means. I have a feeling fans will; a broader audience might be trickier.

Talk about one moment in the SW movies that you find visually really satisfying.

There's this really small bit in Empire, during the duel between Luke and Vader. It's before they're fighting on the catwalk, one of those small, quieter moments where Luke is walking forward . . . and then all of a sudden Vader lunges from out of the shadows right at him.
 
 
Again, it's small, but that image of Vader towering over a battered Luke, trying to hold his own, it's probably one of my favorite moments in the trilogy.

What is one part of the SW movies that you wish you could re-design?

I'm sure everyone has this same feeling, but I'd like to go and take out some of the awful changes that have been made over the yearsthe recent "Vader NOOO" debacle from the blu-ray included.

Is there anything you wish George Lucas knew about visual art? (related to the movies, the merchandising, DVD covers...)

Honestly, I think his visual sense is fine. There's a lot of terribly designed merchandise, posters, DVD covers, but at the same time, there's a lot out there about it that's good. It's hard to find films, or franchises, that you can say the same thing about. A lot of times you only get one side of it, and that tends to be the horrendous looking one.

What is your favoriteofficialSW illustration? (poster, McQuarrie concept art, comics...)

That piece of concept art by Ralph McQuarrie with Vader closing in on Luke Starkiller, decked out in breathing apparatus.
 
 
With everything available everywhere instantly on the Internet, and trends coming and going so quickly, how can any of us believe that our arts preferences and tastes are original? Do you struggle withbeing original,or is that something you don't even think about when you're working?

In one way or another, everything is a remix of something else, so outright originality isn't as important as it's usually made out to be. The way people interpret the past while combining that with the new while having a point of view . . . that has the potential to create something different. I try not to worry about being original as much as having something to say that's appropriate to whatever I'm working on.

Talk about some ways that art builds community. Does your work reflect who your circle of friends is at the moment? Has the exposure your posters have received via the Internet made you feel part of a wider community of like-minded people, or has it really made little difference to you personally?

A lot of designers I know surround themselves with like-minded people and build communities off of a shared appreciation for art and design, which reflects back on their work and their habits. I envy that, but only a bit. Most of my friends that I see on a regular basis aren't artists or designers, so I live in a larger vacuum than some other people out there, and I guess in a way that gets reflected back in how I treat the visual side of things (a bit lackadaisical). As for the Internet itself, it's allowed me to connect with some wonderful people, but on the whole, it's been more of a reminder of how under the radar I am in the grand scheme of things.

As you've looked at others' movie-inspired artwork on-line, have you seen any skill-related errors or sloppiness that you wish you could help people avoid?

I'm my biggest critic, so I have a very tough opinion of myself and what I've created. I'll always look back the day after something's done and think that I need to do better next time, regardless of the quality. With that said, I wish something could be done about the spread of poorly designed minimalist movie posters. It might sound crass, but I honestly believe that if the people behind them weren't so enamored with the idea of bandwagoning on a trend, they'd be able to look within themselves for an original point of view that could lead to some surprising directions.

I do enjoy a lot of the minimalist posters that have been created in the last couple of years, but you're right that in some cases "minimalist" seems to stand in for "quick" or "simplistic." There's a fine line between, on the one side, subtle, elegant, and right-on, and on the other side gimmicky or novel for the sake of novelty, isn't there? Sometimes a basic outline or silhouette or small detail works, other times not. What do you think about guiding principles for discerning good designs from bad?

The minimalist posters are a bit of a can of worms. When there were few people doing them in the beginning, the main thrust came from exploring puns, limitations, and the distillation of ideas down into something potentially iconic. The posters shared some similar strands of DNA, but the execution varied, and the designers themselves seemed to be more concerned with toying with an off-hand approach rather than creating a singular vision for how posters could be done. Now you have minimalist posters popping up everywhere, and they become hard to defend because most of them are done without a desire for exploration in terms of craft and communication.

It's tough. Part of me thinks that everyone should do whatever they please, but at the same time, it's tough to see attention given to work without much thought or effort, while carefully crafted pieces with a human touch and a personal point of view are less appreciated. It's not a popularity contest, but it's still a shame. That's not something that's exclusive to poster design, though, but there it is.

I agree with you, that when the first few minimalist poster designs showed up on-line, it was really exciting to see people trying out a very new way of envisioning the SW mythology. With those first ones, it didn't matter so much (in a way) just how well they were done, because the whole idea was new and interesting. But now that so many original posters and artwork are appearing, the standards have to go up. The basic idea isn't quite enough, because it's not surprising or unexpected. So skill, craftsmanship, the amount of time that seems to have gone into the creation, originality (some posters are more or less direct imitations of existing work)all of this weighs in probably more than the idea itself.

For
me, it's kind of like back when I was in high school, and Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire book trilogy was published. My best friend and I were at Waldenbooks on the day that each book came out, ready to buy it in hardcoverbecause it was the first new SW material in years, officially approved by Lucasfilm, and we were so psyched! But now . . . the publishing niche that Zahn's books helped to spawn (thrawn?) is not something I have any interest in dipping into, and even Zahn's story seems pretty silly. In the same way, the standards for what I want to see in original artwork have certainly matured over the last couple of years. It's more pressure for the artists, and it means the amount of total work will keep increasing while the amount of truly good work remains at a smaller percentage, but it's the natural path for things to take.

I know what you mean about the Zahn stuff, although I'm afraid I missed the release boat on them by a few years (Star Wars didn't become a huge interest for me until around 1994; Crystal Star was the big one at that stage of the game). It's weird looking back on it all now, and how a lot of it was easier to digest at the time because it was something new. Time seems to change these things, for better or worse. I think for the better, since my appreciation for the original trilogy has changed given the direction that my interests shifted over the years (looking at its relation to film history, or the Joseph Campbell connections, etc.).

What advice would you give a young artist?

I think that we're all just making this up as we go along. But that's no excuse to stop learning.
   
 
To order a beautiful, professional-quality print of Brandon's poster, click here.