Friday, 18 May 2012

Anatomy of a Lashings Poster

Posted by Lilka

So, we've finalised our poster design for the Fringe festivals we're playing this year. (Reminder: you can still contribute to getting Lashings to Edinburgh, and snap up some awesome goodies, by donating through our Wefund page.) I thought it might be interesting to do a breakdown on how the poster image has been developed, especially since there was a certain amount of Fail during the early stages which we are still processing and trying to learn from. The following post will be quite image-heavy.

In a typical demonstration of lefty organisational prowess, we began planning what our poster would look like back in January this year, got distracted by other projects, and didn't start work on the image itself until the beginning of April. We knew we wanted a few things:

1) For the central image to be a typical 'bored schoolgirl sitting at her desk'. She would be daydreaming about going to our show.

2) For the schoolgirl to not be a thin, white, not-visibily-disabled femme - in other words, for her to be less 'default-looking'. (I interpreted this fairly early on as 'a POC with a different body type from the previous two poster images', although that wasn't necessarily what everyone had in mind.  In fact, the discussion of whether we should use an image of a POC to advertise our show is probably worth a whole blog post to itself.)  We love our posters from previous years, and they were awesome and subversive in various ways, but Edinburgh publicity in particular tends to be a sea of white, normatively-attractive faces and this year we wanted to kick back against that a little harder.

3) Layout - The figure in the centre, a large thought bubble with the title of the show above her head, and her notebook displaying details about the show at the bottom of the image.

4) Continuity - We would stick to our previous colour scheme of orange background and green and purple highlights, and have a feminist text or two visible on the desk.

Because S, the awesome artist who drew our posters the previous two years, had had some difficulty last year drawing a comics-style image, she asked for somebody to do some early line-drawings for her and I volunteered. This was my first draft:

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It was based on the picture below, although at this stage I intended to just steal the pose and re-draw her body and face freehand to be closer to our original specifications:

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I also did a quick first mock-up of the layout:

 Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This had a few obvious problems. We decided to change 'Lashings of Ginger Beer Time' to 'Lashings of Ginger Beer Time Presents' at the top of the image, put 'Alternative Sex Education' in the thought bubble, and change the notebook to the top of a page of notepaper in order to fix the scaling. Sebastienne's second mock-up looked much better:

 Image and video hosting by TinyPic

S said it would be useful to have photo references. I licensed my original reference photo for the pose and sent it to her, while other lashers suggested she looked at some of our first ideas about what our schoolgirl should look like - these were some of the photo references we'd dug up back in January. I also began to work on a more sophisticated second draft, putting in more detail and correcting some anatomical inaccuracies. I drew the face freehand, with Ruth Brown vaguely in mind for what she looked like.  (I often have Ruth Brown vaguely in mind. She's awesome.)  It eventually came out like this:

 Image and video hosting by TinyPic

S was much happier with this and the photos to work from, but wanted some better references for what we wanted our schoolgirl's face to look like. Since we were increasingly short on time, I volunteered to do some face shots:

 Image and video hosting by TinyPic

...uh oh. We were now trying to create an image of a black woman using two white women as our primary models. This was obviously a problem. 'Ignore it, I'm sure it will be fine', and 'compensate by trying to draw her Looking More Black' both seemed to be very bad solutions, so we consulted with the rest of the lashers to see if they could come up with a better idea. Luckily for us, Zim came to the rescue and volunteered his face as the basis for the image, which everyone felt much more comfortable with:

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However, none of us felt happy with asking Zim to lend his face to a female character, so we decided to make our schoolperson genderqueer, and provisionally christened hir Mx. Lashton Lashingsforth III. Finally having photo references everyone was happy with, S began to whizz through drafts with her customary aplomb, and we got to see the familiar, orange-backgrounded Lashart emerging:

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Around this time, we revised our original concept a little.  Initially we had wanted our schoolperson to be bored by the bad sex education lesson they were having, and daydreaming of going to our show instead. However, it was difficult to settle on a facial expression - if they were bored, would they still look engaging?  How could we illustrate that they were bored by their surroundings and not by their thoughts of our show?  Eventually, we decided to drop the contrast, and just show them looking happy and daydream-y.

Although we loved the idea of purple hair or a hat, we didn't think it quite worked; after another discussion we decided on Lee Jordan's hair from the first Harry Potter film, on the basis that a) it's awesome, and b) it's still Galatea's gold standard for gender-ambiguous hairdos. Mx. Lashingsforth was looking mighty fine:

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S then added a number of extra details. We finally settled on 'My Gender Workbook' as our feminist poster-book of the year (previous suggestions had included 'Pornography', 'Reel to Real' and 'Our Bodies, Ourselves', but we thought 'My Gender Workbook' struck the best balance between interesting those who has heard of it and not looking out of place in the image for those who hadn't). 'Songs! Comedy! Politics! Shame' became the tagline, and a last-minute sense that we didn't have enough purple in the image led to a purple menstrual cup joining the condom-wrapped cucumber on the desk. And we sent it off to the printers just in time.

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So! That's how Lashings posters get made. We're incredibly indebted to S for the hard work, long hours and time spent sorting through complicated discussions on email threads that she puts in for us, for free, every year.

And what did we learn from (probably) Lashings' biggest brush with racefail to date? A few things. For a start, we need to begin work on our poster image earlier next year. Every time we picked a white model - an obviously racist thing to do, in retrospect, as we knew the final image was not going to be of a white woman - it was because we were working to a tight deadline and didn't think we had time to find a better picture. When we're rushed, we fall back on defaults, and our societal defaults are racist (and sexist, and generally kyriarchal and bad). When it became obvious that we had done something problematic we wanted to have a public consultation on the blog and gather a wider range of opinions; we didn't have time to do that either.

Secondly, we need to communicate more when we're collaborating - for example, I would have worked harder to pick a better image for my original photo reference if I'd known S wanted to use it as a reference as well.

Lastly, talking about the ways that we fail is difficult. We're an anti-kyriarchal group, we love each other and trust each other to make arguments in good faith, we have it written right into our constitution that anybody has the right to call something out and this is not a hostile act - and it still took two weeks for somebody to bring up that they thought what we were doing was racist. When they did, it turned out that a lot of other people were uncomfortable too, but hadn't wanted to mention it.  But ultimately, the difficult conversations are worthwhile - not only did we not fail as badly as we could have done, we also ended up with a much more awesome image than the one we'd originally planned.

We'll keep doing what we do, keep calling each other out and keeping each other honest as best we can, keep adding new perspectives from new performers and audience members. But we know, really, that what it comes down to is 'Try again. Fail again. Fail better.' Learning to fail better is a process we never stop working on.

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