Queens of the Stone Age are a band hailing from Palm Desert, California known for their eminent blend of crunchy groove and hard rock, as well as their incredibly tight live performances. They are one of the most respected rock bands on the planet and as such, it was a massive honour and surprise to be hired for not just one, or two, but three ( ! ! ! ) full-sized posters to open up the Canadian leg of their 2014 …Like Clockwork tour.
The dates were mostly consecutive so the first design choice I made was to do a triptych because I've been looking for ways to integrate new characteristics into my prints and have been looking at Japanese Ukiyo-E prints for inspiration as of late (which often figured as polyptychs). I also wanted to take full advantage of this potential tripling of real estate.
I wanted more room to play as well as a new design challenge since I knew each poster needed to be able to stand on its own as a separate piece while forming a larger picture when put together.
The next piece of mental preparation I did was to digest all of the band's promo materials and records, dive into a few interviews, and check out some recent live videos on Youtube to get a feel for them as performers and as people. This gave me an emotional roadmap to follow with which I could brainstorm images and gauge the efficacy of ideas.
Another obvious brainstorming strategy is to do something that takes your mind out of its normal state and immerses it in a fresh context. For example, during the brainstorming stage of this project, I recall visiting the AGO (Art Gallery Of Ontario) several times to see an exhibition featuring Francis Bacon (one of my favourite painters) and Henry Moore. I've used Bacon's paintings as boilerplate inspiration for years now, so finally getting to see his Three Studies For Figures At The Base Of A Crucifixion really helped me wrap my head around the idea of a triptych.
Settling on a concept was nearly the most arduous part of the process. There was the hurdle of not doing something that had been done before (there have been many Queens Of The Stone Age gigposters done in the past), the need to find an approach which could work as both a vertical single poster and a cumulative narrative landscape (aforementioned single/triptych requirement), and subject matter which would just click with the vibe of the band. The last one actually gave me the most trouble because QOTSA exudes a broad appeal spanning all ages and genders, so balancing that inclusivity with my usual "niche edge," took some figuring out.
Having a clear concept is very important to me for projects like this. Not having one is like trying to captain an aircraft lacking a guidance system; a work absent this essential parameter will only fly itself into confusion before catastrophe.
After a couple of false starts, I settled on using two similar-in-spirit Queens songs as jumping off points: "If I Had A Tail," and "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer." The lyrics of the former seem to be about retreating from the evils of the exterior world and losing oneself to the animalistic id. This almost seemed to go hand-in-hand with the latter, which is just a repeating chant of "Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy, alcohol, (cocaine)". I combined both and decided on a form to attach this content to: Fear And Loathing. Both the songs and the film have enough common ground (drugs, primacy, irreverence, the desert, etc.) so once I realized this, I locked in on this narrative goal which would also allow me to fulfill my design goals. And so that's how the Queens Of The Stone Age came to rock a lizard lounge filled with people transforming into drug-addled-party-monsters.
With a concept furnished, next came the problem of how to construct the image. An abundance of research is always helpful when constructing a story, a vast array of influences always an asset when concocting original visuals. A lot of it will be unapparent by the project's completion, but the extra legwork always lends a conceptual fullness to things, which makes me more confident, which keeps the process chugging along through periods of uncertainty and/or stress. Relevant research is important because it can inform volumes of connections within the material which makes bringing the whole thing to life more enjoyable and ultimately satisfying.
It also bears mentioning that this was my first crowd scene. Illustrations up to this point have been predominantly focused on a singular space with few moving entities or interactions, so I also needed to search for reference on how to fake sort of that. The work of Kim Jung Gi was very helpful for this, as I wanted bring some of that ambitious density into this illustration. It's hard to not be inspired by his incredibly fluid, precise, and stylish take on drawing, and Jung Gi excels at crowds.
Some other illustrators I derived inspiration or reference from were Ralph Steadman (the illustrator known for his affiliation with Gonzo and its creator Hunter S. Thompson) and the United Kingdom's Boneface (another great left-field illustrator responsible for much of the concept art and promotional material for the …Like Clockwork record).
Ancillary photographic reference was provided by press photos for some of my favourite hour-long dramas, including some from The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. We in the illustrative poster community tend to give photo-manipulation and "Photoshop posters," a harsh rap, but they are valid visual analogues just the same, and can be very useful when studying how to precisely fit as many actor-characters as possible into a single frame while maintaining an effort at portraiture-style naturalism. And that's really all I need.
Lately I've grown to really admire the works of Daniel Danger and Nicolas Delort (both masters of structural drawing, delicate light delineation and emotive atmosphere), and felt compelled to try clayboard for this project as a result. Pre-drawing prep is basically nonexistent (clayboard is sold by Ampersand in a variety of sizes, ready to use) and the surface is very flexible. It is essentially a medium-thin layer of ultra-smooth clay resting atop a sheet of masonite, allowing for the structural solidity of a rigid board with the durability and drawing flexibility of scratchboard. Being able to use Faber Castell's India ink pens (which are compatible with free flowing India ink) in conjunction with the usual bibbed pens allowed for more detail and sped up the process. Shown here is a test piece with all kinds of crap on it.
With a solid idea in mind and the mediums decided upon, I started drawing some detailed thumbnail sketches on 8"x10" clayboard. Being able to erase by drawing out mistakes with etching tools was a game-changer. You can kind of see chicken-scratching-in the type, attempts to prioritize storytelling elements, and shitty-but-neat note-keeping.
While working on the full layout, I also did a few separate moleskin-sized sketches. Here's one of the better ones, reminiscent of a Them Crooked Vultures poster I did in college. This drawing would later inspire Josh Homme's figuration in the third composite.
The thumbnail composite took a day or two using a variety of markers, pens, and weirdo drawing utensils to get a feel for the surface and mark-making possibilities. Took my time because I know the general rule of thumb; if you can draw it small, you can always blow it up larger and if you can't draw it legibly in miniature, you're going to have a hard time making sense of it writ large. Funny how this is reversed in Photoshop (always start larger and reduce, or you lose detail in the raster format through enlargement). I remember inserting the two humans in the first and second parts to inject some balance into the design. It looked very one-sided filled to the brim with monsters, so the troubled young people gave each composition a little bit of human head and heart. The band in the third comp looked pretty shitty, but I fixed that during the next stage...
After completing the 8"x10" embryonic thumbnail sketch, it came time to create the adult skeleton of the composition as a digital collage. The clayboard was scanned and put into Photoshop to be enlarged to the exact, proper ratios and proportions, and then I just started dumping tons of shit into it.
Said shit came from many sources, including (but not limited to) a worm's eye view of a bird's eye-oriented mirror at Fucked Up's in-store performance of their [as of this writing] fresh record Glass Boys at Toronto's Sonic Boom Records, snippets from Every Time I Die's recent video for Decayin' With The Boys (because when I think of intensity and partyharding, I think of ETID), scans from my 'Making Of Jurassic Park,' book, screencaps and body parts harvested from The Great Gatsby and Orange Is The New Black, direct swipes from Golden Age illustrator Albert Dorne, and random photography from links I happened across on Facebook while working on the whole thing. Eventually this was topped off by collaged pieces of the band and real animal photography for solidity.
Once there were enough ingredients in the soup, it came time to tweak their positions and to figure out the type in a little more elegant of a way. I became very aware of the flow of each segment, and how that would work in the individual panel, how everything would read in completion. You can see some more of the same note-taking technique multiplied over everything, in red, darkroom style. I also remember taking special care to make sure every figure interacted or reacted with or to another, with no eye-lines going off into nowhere. I wanted a big, unbroken, undulating chain.
Comp 1: Bar scene with background suggestion and blunt foreground activity. With Johnny Depp. With mescaline.
Comp 2: Lurching crowd with poker game and feel good hits in play with uncertain couple.
Comp 3: The Queens Of The Stone Age as Gonzo vultures serenading the room.
The finalized composite to be re-drawn and stylized. Took almost a week to do.
After the collage[s], w[as/ere], completed, the first one was projected onto clayboard and sketched out lightly.
I used Faber-Castell's grey markers to quickly fill in guess-y midtones.
Starting to hone in a little.
Details of the crocodile lady starting to come up.
I recall not being sure whether to draw Johnny Depp or myself starting to feel the hallucinogens take hold. I ended up going with a hybrid of both, but you can hardly tell at this point.
Prepping the second board.
Immediately going to work on the central couple. Total focal point; needed the most/immediate attention.
Making sure the two line up, mostly. I didn't stress too hard about making the pieces 100% seamless because that would be a bigger hassle than I felt like dealing with.
Projecting the third collage into place.
Roughing that shit in.
Terrible first lay-in. Always.
All the comps laid out together, so I know how the super-comp will feel. Ready to begin inking.
I originally thought this poster was going to be for the Ottawa Bluesfest. Lucky I spotted my own idiocy and switched it to Montreal before this went to print!
The inkening has begun.
Since the clayboard is so flexible, I developed everything randomly. It would probably behoove one to keep everything developing at the same time and rate, but I lack the focus for it. If I wanna draw a vulture-head and then a guitar and then some hair and then lizard, I'm probably just going to.
You can even get some painterly effects using utensils with weird feels. Like Q-tips.
Starting to come together.
Laying the type in. Ensuring adequate flow.
Comp 3 with drawing utensils [for scale].
Lifted directly from Fear and Loathing. Again, being able to "draw," out mistakes using a dry utensil instead of painting everything out with a brush or eraser made for a different and much faster drawing experience. I'd no idea what I've been missing by never even touching etching for all these years!
Sometimes I started with a grey key line and then went in with black fills and details.
Taking special care to make sure the girl doesn't look all fucked up. Girls are delicate. Very easy to make look all fucked up if you aren't careful.
Comps with etching tool and dusting brush.
Raptor head, coming in.
Comp 2 getting there.
Basically me. Needs work. Looks boring.
Figuring out the card table.
Towards the end of drawing all of these, I started recognizing certain tendencies, like how I'd shy away from doing certain spots or procrastinate developing an item in favour of something I found more interesting. Basically the drawback of a schizophrenic brand of drawing focus. To counter this and push through, I just used tons of sticky notes to ugly up the parts I knew needed doing. Try it. If you have OCD, it works.
Comp 1 finalized, emphasizing a pyramidal direction and a suggested background space. The title block uses repeating calligraphic smoke motifs for unification throughout.
Comp 2; squares, hexagons, and hourglass echoes abound. The human element here is a woman under duress and her conflict is brought into closer focus. I really like that one cokey iguana.
Comp 3; packed with triangular suggestions and strategically placed centres of interest. Lots of sightline and directional stuff flying around. Date and venue were corrected later.
[accordion] [accordion_item title="QOTSA : Smooth Sailing"][/accordion_item] [/accordion]
Now that the skeleton had muscle [and a brain], it was time to wrap it in skin.
Combining the sub-composites into one super-composite. Setting up layers for easier segmentation.
Separating the lights, mid tones, and darks into manipulable layers. I knew with this one that I wanted to try out some more subdued, Rich Kelly-esque colours instead of my usual Edminston-bubblegum-palette madness (fun as that is) so the brighter, more saturated parts would pop a little harder.
Throwing some different colours against the wall to see what sticks. Early on, I knew the text definitely had to stand out without overtaking the composition(s) so that was sort of first and always at the forefront of my mind while doing this.
Using the grid to guide some zonal colour choices. Also glad to see the anal-retentiveness of the comp's construction wasn't for nothing.
Starting to rough in the colours. Again, prioritizing based on intended centers of interest first.
Now we're getting somewhere. Using Quick-Mask to add some ghostly, red highlights.
Starting to zero in on the palette. Filling things out one detail at a time, keeping chroma balanced and subdued.
Close-up of a lizard lady.
Trying to keep halftones to a minimum and fills more opaque to increase graphic strength. Reads more easily at a distance.
Applying an approximation of the "glow in the dark," layer, using Opacity and Screen transparency mode.
Queens Of The Stone Age in Oshawa on July 5th.
Queens Of The Stone Age in London on July 6th.
Queens Of The Stone Age in Montreal on July 9th.
Full QOTSA gig poster triptych, separated and ready to go to print.
By this point in my career, printing is pretty routine. Still, I use a pad to take notes and a dry erase board to make reminders. Dividing my time between concocting far-fetched concepts for single-use posters and fully illustrating each while pushing new techniques or influences tends to mean that my prints are not 100% perfect.
I took significantly less photos during the screen-printing process because [as alluded to before], I was under a time crunch to physically finalize these. Also, the pictures aren't terribly interesting because my studio is pretty damn tiny and once you've seen my Filbur Auto-Press do one pull, you've basically seen what it does 100% of the time. Still, I've tried to include some progressional snaps for documentation [if not posterity]'s sake.
Super scientific, machine-precise colour mixing over here. Kidding. Colours are not my forte, but I tend to use similar palettes of warm and cold with an accent and dark key, so it's not usually a struggle, just an adjustment. Still, you never know how an ink will dry unless you carefully mix and test it. Necessary.
Shot of a screen on-press after a pull.
Progress shot of the first poster one layer in. Laying that flat, cold, drop-out under-base.
Same poster after the second layer. Tried to keep overlap selective, again, to increase graphic strength.
After the third layer of transparent light red.
After the keyline.
Skipping ahead to the second colour of the second print.
Taping up some spots where the automatic squeegee is grinding into the emulsion of the screen.
More prints drying.
Progress shot of Mescaline Girl and Lizard Larry before the keyline lay.
Iguanas just wanna have fun.
Art director. Illustrator. Printmaker. CEO. Renter. Janitor.
iPhone body shot because.
I don't think I took any progress shots of the last poster because the printing on this sucker was rougher. Toronto precipitation and humidity were pretty high when these needed to be produced, so the paper bloated, leading to a forcing of registration priorities in the under-layers. A strong keyline saves the day yet again.
After the peters were all printed and left to dry overnight, they were all clamped to minimize paper curl.
Sides were carefully trimmed with a big automatic cutter used for slicing card stock.
Every poster artist's favourite part; signing and numbering. Jokes. This part really fucking sucks and I hate it.
Like, I really hate it you guys.
But I love my patrons.
Carefully stacked the posters designated for merch at the upcoming Queens Of The Stone Age concerts, splitting them into two plastic sleeves for protection.
Each package is carefully secured with layers of extra tape and then labeled clearly. Lots of stuff flying around backstage pre-concert and so clarity is always good.
The final boxed posters, ready to go to happy concert-goers in Oshawa, London, and Montreal.
Available in The Shop Thursday, July 10th, 2014 sometime around noon Eastern. Give or take a few hours.