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Writing on the Wall

all publicity is good publicity - and even with limited funds, your band can still have a great image

You may not have the cash to spend on promotional videos or full-colour posters, but with a couple of pens, a photocopier and a little imagination, your band could get itself a new image to be proud of.

DOESN'T IT JUST eat your money, this pop lark? By the time you've paid the latest instalment on your instruments and booked all the band in for a matching set of crucial haircuts, there can be precious little left over for things like posters.

This seems a great shame, especially when you put so much effort into assembling your set and persuading the owner of your local venue to give you a gig, not to go all out for maximum publicity. After all, a decently full house, as well as doing wonders for your confidence, will endear you to the manager who will have raked in more entrance money and sold more booze. The venue might even offer you a return booking. In which case, far from being an extra financial burden, your publicity will actually have earned you money.

Besides telling people you have a gig, your posters say something about you. So you should make them say something positive. There seems little logic in trying to be authentic in the way you sound and the way you look, if you don't extend that care to every aspect of your presentation. Hot riffs and great quiffs are better served by relatively few well-placed (but striking) notices than by a multitude of grotty little scraps of paper that will invite nobody to stop and read them.

All very well, you may be thinking, but what if there isn't enough money in the kitty to pay for the services of a printer? And suppose nobody in the band is particularly good at drawing or lettering? Well, unless you're genuinely skint and absolutely unable to draw a straight line (and you could even remedy those problems by earmarking a few quid for publicity out of the fee for the gig and by acquiring a ruler or set square), you can use the following suggestions to improve your band's image no end.

Faced with a blank piece of paper you want to transform into a poster, it's a good idea, before you as much as pick up your felt-tip, to stop and consider your whole approach to the job in hand. That may sound daunting, but you'll have already done something similar in musical terms - deciding on which style to play and which direction to evolve in to make the music distinctively yours, as you repeat it and fine-tune it gig by gig. Just as you're unlikely to play a thrash one week and a sweet New Country set the next, so a consistent appearance to your artwork can help consolidate your identity as a band.

So, having gone for a sound, go for a look. Think of the impact pro bands gain from having personalised design to link them with everything they issue - from record sleeves to tour jackets. Your limited finances may not stretch to t-shirts and badges, but make an effort to co-ordinate your posters, inlays for demo tapes and headed notepaper (for press releases to the local paper or letters hassling promoters for gigs) and you will appear more serious.

Two points are worth bearing in mind at this, the planning stage. First, "professional" does not have to equal "intricate". In fact, the two rarely equate at all. If your artwork is too fiddly you will lessen its impact, and over-fancy lettering that makes potential readers work too hard for the information will simply put them off. Second, your artwork should be appropriate to the music it's representing. In some cases this may involve taking into account a graphic tradition, such as the lightning-flash-and-monster-head mode beloved of HM bands, or the ripped-and-torn style favoured by punk and its offspring. It's simply not worth trying to ignore these things: you may find it killingly ironic to sport a death's-head logo but play Polite Boy music like the Housemartins, but a bamboozled Joe Public mightn't see the joke.

"But, but, but", you say, "I've already told you I'm no good at art!" No problem. Providing, that is, you can arrange things reasonably neatly on a sheet of paper (and it takes surprisingly little practice, even if you failed your GCSE in Technical Drawing) and can make successful graphics without holding a pencil in your hand. I'm not talking about using Letraset-type rub-down letters, borders and patterns - though they can be very useful, if a bit pricey in the larger sizes - but about a rather more unlikely tool: the photocopier. As well as making you dozens of your finished poster (far more reliable and less time-consuming than doing it by hand), the copier can be surprisingly useful for making the artwork in the first place. You'll need to find a good one that can cope with large areas of black, otherwise you may find your big bold letters hollowed out with only the outlines printed. Most modern machines are up to it, but the battered old 10p-in-a-slot copier in your village post office may well fog and blotch all over the paper. But like all good technology, the photocopier is a tireless labour-saver: all you have to do is feed it with images and letters, and it will give you back perfect versions ready to be turned into artwork for it to copy again.

Let's consider images first. Using a copier means you can feature items that are beyond your own drawing skills, repeated accurately anywhere on your sheet, reduced or enlarged in size if you wish.

Always remember, though, that a really big blow-up will coarsen your detail considerably. This happens for two reasons. First, the machine may be magnifying irregularities already in the image but less noticeable when it is small (like enlarging a newsprint photo till the dots become separately visible) and second, you may have to keep enlarging from copy to copy, which on most machines means a certain amount of deterioration creeping in. The good news is that these effects can be visually pleasing in themselves and, what's more, they can change the texture of the image so that it becomes less like the original and more like a creation of your own.

Once you start to look, you will find suitable images in all kinds of places - magazines, newspapers, old books - but don't forget that strongly contrasting black-and-white pictures will reproduce more successfully than those with a lot of middling greys, which tend to go muddy. Colour pictures may copy unpredictably (some shades of blue, for example, tend to disappear, while an apparently stark difference between mid-green and mid-orange, say, will vanish when both become shades of mid-grey).

Photographs, unfortunately, present a problem. By all means try them, but don't be surprised if they turn sludgy. Sometimes this will work to your advantage, giving an interesting "treated" look to your picture. But in general a photo won't reproduce clearly unless you pay the copy-shop to screen it for you (ie. reduce the picture surface to manageable dots like a newspaper uses), which can cost a few quid.

One beauty of this graphic method is its flexibility. You can build up an image-bank for your posters by lifting elements from printed works (without, incidentally, needing to scissor up what may be a previous original, such as a favourite book), and/or by using things of your own devising - bits of stencilling, even doodles. If you are handier with scissors than with a pencil, try cutting out shapes in black paper. Don't worry if you have to build up the shape, sticking it together from several sections: the machine will reproduce it as one seamless shape.

For the initial trip to the copy-shop, take along all the separate ingredients of your artwork. Make two or three copies of each of them (you can save space, and therefore money, by pre-sticking several smaller items onto one sheet of white A4 paper). At this stage, you can try out the enlargement and reduction of any images or details that grab your attention.

The next step is to make a trial run at home, assembling your artwork in different ways to see which looks best without running the risk of spoiling your material. Splice together bits of different objects, or doctor them by applying black and white acrylic paints (or ink and Tippex, at a 'pinch). Try using various backgrounds to avoid black and white: grey and black paper can set your images off very effectively, but patterned backgrounds have to be treated with care because they can distract attention from the main object of your composition.

Above all, experiment. You'll be surprised how often you discover the best way of laying out the design as you do it. Using repositionable double-sided sellotape (or one of those new roll-fix glue-tape thingies) will let you revise your opinion before you go for the final format.

A good first exercise is the creation of a logo for your band. This acts as a kind of signature, and can also provide the basis for many graphic jobs; put at the top of a sheet of paper together with your address it will give you instant headed notepaper, for example. To make a logo, it is quite enough to spell out the band's name in a strong typeface that you won't tire of by next week (perhaps taken from a magazine) and test it for looks at various sizes on the photocopier. If you fancy a pictorial logo you can still avoid having to draw it, by using a mask or stencil.

Suppose you're in a band called Clockwork Pigs. You find a suitable picture of a pig, carefully cut it out so as to leave a neat pig-shaped hole, then turn the sheet over and superimpose it on a picture of cogs and springs. Voila! One logo.

When you've arrived at a design you like, keep the original as a master and make several back-up copies in case of loss or accidental damage, just as you would for a tape of your music. Resist the temptation to use a detailed image, or it will look like an unspeakable blob when reduced to ticket or badge size. Resist equally the desire to over-use the thing: nothing looks more twee than a band that plasters a logo on everything from its instrument cases and speaker cabinets to its socks and knickers.

Avoid scripts so outlandish that they are unreadable, and make sure the lettering stands out well against its background. Faint pencil (preferably in pale blue, which will escape the copier's notice) can be used to keep the lettering straight - assuming you are aiming for a slick look. There is something to be said for emphasising the print-guerrilla aspect of this whole process by exploiting the roughness of the image and lettering (though it can look a bit hackneyed now, so long after Jamie Reid's brilliant work for the Sex Pistols).

Whatever you decide, the real key is to look deliberate about it. If you don't want to sit your letters on a straight line, don't make it look like an accident - if anything, exaggerate the effect and make the point more dramatically.

There are no real rules for laying out a poster. Shame, really, because that means there are no rules to break. But you'll soon get the hang of knowing when you've got it right: stand well back from the artwork to gauge whether it's working and if it's legible. It's often useful to work towards some kind of overall shape (eg. a tall thin column of words in a blank background of a triangular arrangement of letters and pictures) or for a specific feel (eg. spare and elegant, or hot and busy with information). Again, make your decision according to the kind of overall band image you want to project.

Having turned your blank sheet into a poster by trial, error and impeccable taste, you will now want to print it up. Again, photocopying will do the trick. Admittedly it imposes colour restrictions (obligatory black and white or, at most copy-shops, coloured paper for about an extra penny a sheet) but it is so much cheaper than a printing-press as to be the only viable option for most of us. The best prices I could find - and you may do better by searching through the Yellow Pages - were £6 for 100 A4 photocopies (£12 for A3) as opposed to £26.44 (£30.27 for A3) for the same job to be done by a printer in black and white, with an extra £7 for coloured ink. (A4 is slightly smaller all round than a PHAZE 1 page, and A3 is twice A4.)

Consider, also, that there's little or no waiting time with photocopying whereas a printer is likely to need several days' notice to do your work, and that it's a rare printer who will handle a run of less than 50 copies, compared with no lower limit at the copy-shop.

Colour, if you simply can't live without it, can be applied by hand to your posters - you can rope in the other members of the band for this bit. Try applying small areas of fluorescent felt-tip highlighter, or touches of gold and silver with a metallic-ink marker. Another useful technique is to cut out shapes from thin card and spray colour through the resulting stencil, using an ozone-friendly aerosol paint or a model maker's airbrush. (You must do this in a well-ventilated room, for safety's sake.)

You don't let lack of finance and experiment stop you forming a band. You buy what you can afford and practise to release your imaginative energy, don't you? Exactly the same approach will have your production of graphics up and running in no time. Get creating!

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The Human Side Of House

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Vision On

Phaze 1 - Copyright: Phaze 1 Publishing


Phaze 1 - May 1989

Feature by Billy Black

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