Colors on the snowy linen land.

In late 2008, Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, commissioned a play about Vincent van Gogh. Their one request was that it should include at least part of one of Vincent’s sermons from when he was briefly a clergyman. I’d already had an idea for a story of van Gogh, using the letters and story of his friend and protege Emile Bernard to show us a side of van Gogh we haven’t often seen. That’s how Seeing Red was born. That’s all a story for another post.

Right now, we’re just looking at the promotional art.

Seeing Red postcard

This was the primary artwork when we performed the show in Madison, Indiana, in Sept 2009. It had evolved from the original design we used in Georgia in Feb 2009.

Because we’re seeing Vincent from the angle of another artist, we see a black and white outline of one of Vincent’s self-portraits. It is for us, and for Bernard, to fill in the colors, the details. The text is in a clear, clean font for contrast and visibility from a distance. The title itself comes from a phrase in one of Vincent’s letters describing his condition as “seeing red,” which is the only color we see in the artwork.

The frame, while appropriate to the subject, is actually carried over from previous shows as part of our house style. Local audiences see this and even if they can’t make anything else out, they know that it’s a Riverrun Theatre poster because of the style.

Posted: January 23rd, 2010
Categories: artwork, marketing, the process
Comments: 5 Comments.
  • David, thanks for sharing this.

    I have some of questions for you. =)

    Where do you start with this? How do you come up with the concept?


    • djloehr

      It really depends on the show. This time around, I'd written the script myself, so I knew the story pretty well. (Although, as often happens, I learned more about what I'd actually written during the rehearsal process.)

      For the original performances in Georgia, the design was similar. It didn't have the frame, and instead of the self-portrait, we used a few different familiar van Gogh elements. We sent the designs off to the college for them to print and post around campus.

      As it happens, the one they printed the most was of Vincent's empty chair, which also fit the story. A cane-backed, rush-seated chair was also one of the only pieces of furniture on the stage, which is why I'm sure they chose to print so many of that image. But we didn't specify that these should be printed in color on white paper or card. I'm not sure what they were thinking, but they printed almost all of their posters on dark red paper with black ink. Very hard to read or see from any distance, and surprisingly hard to read up close. Fortunately, they'd gotten the word out in other ways, and we wound up with a full house anyway.

      The good part of that was getting to take both the play and the marketing for a test drive in a small community that wasn't necessarily the target audience for this show. The fact that audiences came, that they stayed with the story, was a good thing. (There's a moment near the end, after the story of Vincent's death, where there's a good laugh, and my partner–who was acting in the show–was worried that no one would react because of the death. But they got it, they were right there with us, it worked.) And the questions in the Q&A sessions after were very good, which meant we'd told this abstract story well enough for anyone to follow.

      Of course, I've veered way off of your question…

      With this, I knew that going simple was better. We get a different perspective on Vincent than Vincent himself, so we have to be outside of his self-portrait. The main character is also an artist who is himself painting a slightly different picture of Vincent, so the self-portrait is a template, not a finished painting. So that was the initial idea behind this version of the poster.

      I'll put together some of the other poster work in a later post to show why this became the primary artwork.

      • So based on your reply, if I were going to attempt to design a theatrical poster these are three things I should keep in mind:

        1. Know the material
        2. Look for something familiar the audience can connect with
        3. Simple is better


        • djloehr

          Nailed it. That would, in fact, be the holy trinity of good marketing design no matter the product or media.

          If only more people paid attention to that…

    • djloehr

      There is one more thing.

      Part of the beauty of the letters to Bernard is that Vincent sketched the paintings he was working on or planning to work on. As part of the show, we use projections to dissolve from the actual sketches in the letters to the actual van Gogh paintings, showing how close the sketches are.

      So the black and white sketching in the posters makes even more sense within the context of the script. (I'm amazed I forgot to mention that…)