John Waters’ “Cry-Baby” from Film to Broadway: Title Treatment Development

August 29, 2016 on 8:49 pm | By | In Gigs, Wayback Machine | 1 Comment

Cry-Baby Opener

A few years ago I was asked to design a title treatment for the upcoming musical adaptaion to the Broadway stage of the 1990 John Waters cult classic film “Cry-Baby” which had originally featured Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop, Polly Bergen, Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, and Troy Donohue.

Below is the title treatment that was created for the film by others—which was simply the font “Magneto” with some added chrome effects:

Cry -Baby Film Title Treatment

“Cry-Baby–The Musical” was scheduled to open on Broadway in the Spring of 2008. The deadline on this job was unusually tight. I began work on November 15th. I had to deliver finishes by November 26th—eleven days later.

The first stage of any project is usually information gathering. In addition to a synopsis of the play, the info I received from the agency consisted of the following:
• Time Period: Early 1950’s (1950-1954/55)
• Style: Like all of your work, we need to respect the time-period but have a contemporary flair…in other words we took a 50’s logo and updated it for the 21st Century.
• We have 3 categories/styles that our Art Directors are focusing on: Pulp Fiction Book Jackets, Mad Magazine style, Early 1950s movie posters. I have attached some examples that I found on the internet when doing research for the project.

Here are two of the examples I was sent.

Rear Window
The Outlaw

These examples were fine as far as type treatments on posters go, but a solution for “Cry-Baby” would probably have to go a bit farther in order to be able to stand on it’s own. I started doing my own research into the various genres that would be appropriate for this title treatment. In addition to the “Pulp”, “Mad Magazine” and “’50s Movie Poster” genres I felt that “Hot Rods” would also fit in nicely. I did my own research, coming up with many images such as the ones below:

My Reference

I don’t use reference to “copy” from, but more to help me understand a mood, or set a theme, or push me toward a certain style. I might pull out 10 or more of my reference books—or sometimes none at all. It really depends on the project, and if my “creative juices” need a little jump-start.

Next I pick up a pencil and sketch pad and just start noodling and doodling. I might do many pages of these before I’m satisfied that I’ve got the germs of a few good ideas.

Rough Sketches 1

Rough Sketches 2

I‘ll go through all the pages of sketches, noting those that show some promise. In the case of this project, I picked out seven that I thought had potential and expanded them into rough pencil sketches that would be tight enough to present to the agency.

I try to provide graphic ideas that appear as different from one another as I can make them. Yet all of them should in some way fit within the parameters that were set out by the agency at the beginning of the project. Here is a little bit of the thinking behind the sketches:

The crowns in sketches 1 and 2 were suggested by one of the songs (“King Cry-Baby”) that appeared in the movie.


The letterforms in sketches 1 and 5 are references to “brightworks”– classic chrome car logos and ornaments of the ‘50s.

Rough 5

The letterforms in sketches 3 and 4 were an allusion to pulp novel covers and film noir and horror movie titles of the period.

Rough 3+4

Sketch 6 is a direct reference to hot rod decals. Sketch 7 is also a reference to hot rod decals and also to Matchbook covers.

Rough 6+7

The agency asked me to bring three of the sketches to a level of finish where the producers would be able to easily visualize the treatments, and where the agency could insert them into their layouts. The agency felt that sketches 3, and 7 were fine as is. So I was to move ahead and take these three sketches to finishes in Adobe Illustrator. Typically the way I do this is to take a rough sketch and redraw it, making refinements and changes as required. Then I take the refined pencil and place it in a layer in Illustrator as a Template. Because of the impending deadline, there was no time to do redraws on most the designs, so I mostly had to make-do with the rough sketches as they were . . .

Cry Baby Final 3

. . . except for #7 which needed a bit more detail and exactitude in the drawing before I could proceed to finish.

Cry Baby Final 7 w/Tracing

On sketch 2, the agency asked me to remove the racing flags/musical note motif. They also asked me to remove the crown motif, as the song “King Cry-Baby” would no longer be in the show. We discussed that it might be a good idea to change the triangular background to a V-8 “V” shape to reinforce the automotive connection.

Rough 2Cry BabyFinal 2

Additionally, they asked me if I had the time before the deadline, if I could develop sketch 1—that would be great. As it turned out I was able to
squeeze in a finish on this one as well before the deadline. I also needed to edit out the crown on this design for the same reason as in sketch 2.
Rough 1

Cry-Baby Final 1

The one other thing I needed to add to these semi finished designs were the words “THE MUSICAL”. Of course I felt I should add those words in a way that would feel organic to the designs, and not “added-on”. I did a total of seven design solutions including the four you see above as finishes. The producers of the show selected design #3—the “pulp novel” style treatment. Unfortunately, and for reasons still unclear to me, this design (#3) was adapted and changed by others:

Cry-Baby Used 3

Sadly the show closed after only 45 previews and 68 performances.


AS-Banner 8

10 Years Apart—The Posters for “Revolutions: The Art of Music”

February 23, 2015 on 10:16 am | By | In Gigs, News | 2 Comments

10 Years Apart

In 2005 I was asked to create a promotional poster for an exhibition of music-related graphics that was to be held at the Forest Lawn Museum in Burbank, California. The show was to be called “Revolutions”, a name that was a stroke of genius from the fertile mind of my friend Brad Benedict—creator of Capitol Records’ “Ultra-Lounge” series.

“An art show held above a cemetery?” one might ask. Attending events at cemeteries is nothing new for Angelenos who for years have been picnicking and enjoying movies outdoors on warm evenings at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Actually the Forest Lawn Museum is a wonderful venue, set atop a hill in Burbank with incredible panoramic views of the entire city of Los Angeles—not unlike the sweeping vistas one experiences from atop the Getty Museum on the other side of the city.

The View from Forest Lawn Museum

The challenge was to create an iconic image that could represent all the incredible diverse types of art that have been—and continue to be—created to accompany the prodigious output of the recording industry. I felt that a representation of the human eye (even though to some it might seem a bit clichéd) should play a prominent role in the design. So, with that in mind, I started thinking about the work of two of my favorite artists: A.M. Cassandre and Renée Magritte, and the work that they had done with the motif of the human eye. One of Magritte’s most famous and intriguing paintings is called “The False Mirror”:

Magritte: The False Mirror

When I took a look at this famous piece, I realized how powerful one simple image like this could be. Next I took a look at some of Cassandre’s work and realized that he had returned time and again to this highly symbolic motif. Here are two magazine covers he created for Harper’s Bazaar:

Cassandre: 2 Bazaar Covers

It then occurred to me that the pupil of the eyes could be made to represent a vinyl record label and the iris represent the LP itself. What better way to represent the visual art of the recording industry?

I wanted to “frame” the poster to help amplify the idea that this was an art exhibition, and I remembered a series of album covers that Capitol Records released between the late 1940s and the early 1950s that all used a very graphic “frame” on the cover over which they would attach a smaller label containing the graphics for that particular recording. I believe it was a kind of an early “branding” that Capitol Records was attempting so that people could immediately identify the recordings as belonging to Capitol. The covers with the frames appeared on Capitol’s 10” extended play recordings which usually contained three to four songs per side, as opposed to the one song per side that was commonplace up until then. These 10” recordings were the predecessors to 12” long playing records. Here are a few examples:

Capitol EP Series

To accomplish this “framing” I decided to photograph a wooden door in my studio, cut the photo up into strips, and then alter the color and make it more graphic through the magic of Photoshop. Here’s the portion of the frame that runs along the bottom of the poster:

Wood for Frame

The idea for how to treat the headline, the title of the show flowed directly out of the word itself: “Revolutions” I would treat it in a very graphic way, but I would reference the brush lettering of hand-painted placards that are often seen at “revolutionary” demonstrations and protests. Although I would not follow it stylistically, the banner for the Polish “Solidarity” movement that helped bring about the fall of Communism came to mind:


So with all the elements of my design firmly in hand, I began assembling them into a pencil drawing and presented it to the Museum:

Revolutions Pencil Sketch

My design was quickly approved, and so I set about the work of putting it all together. The most difficult part in creating the finished art was how to render the “pupil” and the “iris” of the eye. Working in Adobe Illustrator made it fairly easy, creating it in sections and using the gradient tool. Below I’ll contrast the sketch I did with the finished art—it’s a very tried and true method for rendering a shiny vinyl recording:

Record Disk Sketch and FInal

As I mentioned, like most of my art, I created the final in layers in Adobe Illustrator. Creating the art in layers allows a lot of flexibility when designing a complex piece like this one. Here is a representation that demonstrates how the different layers all fit together:

Revolutions Poster Layers
Revolutions Poster -2005

Earlier in 2014 the Forest Lawn Museum contacted me again to let me know that they were going to hold another exhibition “Revolutions 2” on the 10th anniversary of “Revolutions” in 2015, and asked if I would prepare another poster for the upcoming show. I told them that my idea for that would be to suggest a continuity between the two shows by literally repeating the first poster. I explained that giving the second poster a new color palette would provide enough differentiation between the two shows. The folks at Forest Lawn agreed, and I began work on “Revolutions 2”.

To help make the new palette more coherent I created a gradient between two of the dominant colors I selected, then was able to pick out intermediate colors for the background:

Color Palette for Revolutions 2

The new poster would have abbreviated copy, so I needed to slightly reorganize some of the elements and add a “2” to the title. I also needed to change the subtitle to “The Art of Music” from the more cumbersome “Artists Who Rocked the World of Music Industry Graphics” (quite a mouthful!). Finally a shadow was added behind the title to help give the piece a little more depth, and (for reasons I cannot recall!) I reversed the direction of the shadows on the frame sections.

Revolutions 2 Poster

Below are the two posters—separated by a decade and side-by-side. To be honest, in my opinion the later poster is more successful. I think the colors work better and are more pleasing.

Revolutions Side-By-Side

As you’ve no doubt noticed, as of the date of this writing the show is up at Forest Lawn. But the big star-studded event opening will be held at the Museum on Saturday February 28th from 6:00 to 8:00 PM. It’s quite a bit larger than the 2005 show with over 175 paintings, photos, sculpture and prints from over 30 artists (including five pieces by yours truly). If you are a lover of album covers or posters, this is an event not to be missed!


Opening Night at Forest Lawn Museum.

Kiosk at the Americana/Glendale


Alphabet Soup

12 Years in the Making — Fruit & Vegetable Stamps for the USPS — Part 2 of 2

January 22, 2015 on 3:43 pm | By | In Gigs, News | 15 Comments

Ten years had slipped by since I completed my work on the Fruit and Vegetable stamp series for the USPS back in 2002 (read Part 1). But then in May of 2012, when I was contacted by Art Director Antonio Alcalá of Studio A in Washington DC about another stamp project, I started thinking about the ill-fated Fruit and Vegetable stamps that I had done a decade earlier. To make a long story short Antonio agreed to re-present my original Fruit and Vegetable stamp comps at his next meeting with the USPS. It didn’t take long for him to get back to me with an emphatic “Yes”—the Post Office was indeed interested in reviving this theme for a new set of stamps!

Of course I was hoping that the USPS would pick up the designs I had done without any changes—but that was not to be! Of the six different fruits and vegetables that we had chosen in the first go round the only one to survive was Sweet Corn. The new list was this: Cantaloupes, Squash, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes, and Watermelons, and the series was to be called “Summer Harvest”. One thing that worked in my favor was that we kept the same overall size for the new stamps.

When I started working on this new project I wanted to differentiate the stamps from each other as much as possible. I started by trying to have fun with different elements such as the “USA” and the denominations, and by choosing different color palettes. You’ll see that in many of the earlier stages I was trying to design these graphic elements differently from one another. While the earlier stamp designs held together because they all shared my aesthetic vision, it became clear that the new stamps were going to need to be much more uniform in approach, sharing similar design elements and color palettes. This made the challenge a little more difficult than the first series, but I decided that despite the uniformity challenge, I would still want to differentiate them as much as possible. So one thing I did was to give each of them their own distinct lettering style.

It turned out that because we were keeping the basic design for Sweet Corn, that design also served as a template for the others as well. Starting with the original Sweet Corn design from 2002 (below at upper left), here are a sampling of a few of the iterations as they progressed—with the final approved design at the bottom.
Sweet Corn—4 Preliminaries
In the end the palette changed to one which could be applied to all the stamp designs. Also, note that the Sweet Corn lettering is a bit bolder on the final design (below), making it a bit more legible at the stamp’s small reproduction size.
Sweet Corn/Final

Before I had gone that far with it, the stamp depicting Squash was (pun intended) squashed. This was as far as I got before Squash was eliminated from the group.
Squash Roughs
The Watermelons design was a bit more problematic than the others. For some reason the layout depicting a vertically oriented watermelon with a slice in front did not meet with USPS approval. So I opted for the more traditional approach with the watermelon leaning at an angle. Another problem was the length of the word “Watermelons”: I needed to really condense and overlap the letters so that they would be legible at the tiny size they would reproduce. Also, it was felt that in the earlier iterations the letters were a bit too pointy, and so you can see those modifications in the later stages.
Watermelon Roughs 1 WatermelonRoughs2_X_3 Watermelon Color Comps
Watermelon Final Version

The biggest stumbling block for Cantaloupes was how to render it—what to do about its textured skin. You’ll notice that the texture went from fairly realistic and finely detailed earlier on to a much, much simpler depiction by the time we got to the final approved design.
Cantaloupes Roughs Cantaloupes CompsCantaloupes_Final

In addition to re-using the Sweet Corn design from the ill-fated 2002 set I also saw the opportunity to recycle the earlier design for Persimmon. It seemed perfectly suited to adapt for Tomatoes. This design then came together fairly quickly. The two smaller color versions (below at lower right) may seem quite similar, but they have several important differences: 1) the background color on the later design is brighter, to be more in line with Sweet Corn, 2) the shading on the two tomoatoes on the right changes a bit, and 3) I re-did the leaves with more detail where the branches meet the tomatoes.
Tomatoes Roughs
Tomatoes Color Roughs A significant difference in the final version of Tomatoes is that I reversed the colors of the type so that now all four of the stamps had white type (for consitency).
Tomatoes Final

Finally we needed a label for the booklets that the stamps would be in. Working with the title “Summer Harvest”, here’s how I worked that out.
Summer Harvest Roughs Summer HarvestTight Pencils Summer Harvest Label

I think the similar palettes, the bold white lettering, and the consistent nature of the borders and the other design elements create a group whose individual members stand out as unique. But they all seem to work together as a family as well.

Summer Harvest Complete Set

Here’s the series together in their booklet form—which will be available in June 2015 (just in time for Summer), and will be sold in booklets of 20.

Summer Harvest Booklet

You can also see these stamps on the USPS website. If you happened to miss Part 1 of this article, you can read it HERE.

Award Winning Alphabet Soup Fonts.

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