How do you make a poster anyway?

Today, we give a warm welcome to guest blogger James Flames, poster artist for our upcoming NYE run in Denver. Enjoy a look behind the scenes at how it all comes together. 


James Flames here. I couldn’t be more excited to share this artwork for the series of posters I just created for Umprey’s McGee’s New Year’s Eve shows in Colorado this year. These will be available as three separate posters – one for each night – that all combine to make one big image.

My initial concept for this image began as a group of musicians in the mountains of Colorado, and they’ve found this amazing connection with the life and world surrounding them – so much so that the instruments they are playing are actually growing out of the ground. The guitars and bass, and the piano are all extensions of the trees, the drums are all stumps of older trees, and the percussionist plays a pine cone. These musicians are playing this music, connecting with their surroundings, and causing such a fury that the ground between the mountains has split open and out swells this energy and magic, ultimately displaying the name “Umphrey’s McGee”!

Following are a series of photos serving as a window looking into the process of how I took that initial concept and turned it into the final artwork:


This starts out as all my work starts out – as a series of super tiny little scribbles. Just getting a flow going and starting to interpret thoughts into form and composition.


Once I have a composition I’m happy with, I create a Rough Sketch – which is a drawing just a bit bigger than those first scribbles. Again, just in order to show the overall idea – no need to go into crazy detail just yet.


I scan everything into Photoshop and create a full color Rough Sketch. This is what I presented to the band to show them how the concept translates to actual imagery. This also helps me get a better idea of what the final image should look like – what color scheme I’ll use, where my light source and shadows will be, how the foreground, midground, and background all relate to each other, etc. This makes it easier for me as I continue onto the Final Artwork.


The Final Artwork begins with a pencil drawing. To allow for adjustments later on, I decided to draw some of the different elements of this image separately. For instance, this drawing consists only of the musicians in the foreground and mid-ground.


And here are pencil drawings of the “Umphrey’s McGee” lettering in various stages of development. You may have already noticed by now that my spelling was wrong and I totally forgot the “H” in “UmpHrey’s”. I didn’t catch it till a bit later on – always a good idea to proofread EVERYTHING!


Once I have all the pencil drawings where I want them, I begin to ink those drawings. I usually do that on a fresh sheet of paper, using my light-table to show my pencil guides underneath. I use a #3 Raphael brush and India Ink for all my ink work (no markers or pens for this).


Same goes for the lettering. You can see I finally caught my spelling mistake, and I inked an extra “H” on the bottom left-hand corner so that I can correct the mistake in Photoshop.


Finally, I custom drew all the extra lettering for the information on the posters. This photo shows the full evolution of that lettering as I sketched it out roughly on an index card, then further developed it with pencil and pen.


Once I have everything scanned into Photoshop, I started to composite the main image, while still leaving everything on separate layers – allowing me full flexibility as I continue to develop the image and add color and texture to it. You can see I also corrected the spelling mistake!


The coloring goes through many stages – first getting each part filled in with a flat color and starting to find a balance between the entire color palette. And since this will be screenprinted, I’m limited with how many colors I can use (we’re using 5 total colors with this print), so I have to choose wisely. I can layer some of the colors to create extra colors (for example, layering a yellow on top of a red gives me an orange), which certainly helps, but makes the decisions that much more difficult.


Once the basic color structure is established, I begin creating shadows and lighting effects using various textures. I wanted to incorporate the massive light-show that UM puts on as a background element in this image – so I used some blends and textures to create those strobes of light and mix them with the snow. You may also notice that at this stage I changes the color palette from what I had established in that original Rough Sketch. The addition of a Lime Green color gave the image much more depth and balance.


Once the final image is finished, I set it up for screenprinting. This image shows how each of the 5 colors printed will gradually build the poster until it reaches the final image. Also, note that we’re using a custom Lime Green paper (so the first ink printed is actually White).


Before any printing is begun, the inks are mixed and tested. It’s incredibly important that the colors match the way they look on screen, and that they interact with each other as intended (again, so that the layering of the “yellow” color and the “red” color creates just the right “orange” color, and so on). I usually print my posters myself, but since these posters are very large and bigger than my studio is set up for, I’m working with the amazing VG Kids in Michigan to print these. They mixed these colors perfectly!


And as we speak, this very moment, the posters are being printed – one by one, color by color. Stay tuned for more photos of the finished prints! In the meantime, here is the final image, as well as the 3 separate posters that will be available each night.











Thanks so much for reading – hope you all enjoyed a look into the creation process for these posters. Happy New Year!!

James Flames