09/28/2011 at 1:08 pm 6 comments

First thing’s first. Watch this short movie trailer:

Good stuff, right? Obviously, that’s Louder Than A Bomb— a documentary that follows four Chicago-area high school students as they compete in a well-known spoken word competition. Based on the trailer alone, I realized two things:

1. There’s hope for the future yet, and

2. I didn’t even have half the command of the English language that these kids have.

I also realized this had to be the film I made a poster for. Milwaukee Film decided that, for this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival, they’d ask a bunch of artists to make posters inspired by the festival film of their choosing. Each poster would then be turned into a limited-edition screenprint, to be sold at the MKE Film Festival’s opening night party.

This was the first film poster I ever made. The first one I ever had a chance to make. It was also one of about 1,000 projects due at roughly the same time. But I saved this one for last, so I could dig in, uninterrupted. And since I’ve been neglecting sharing much of anything lately, I thought I’d post a very quick run through the process.


One of my least favorite things about modern movie posters is how they generally just show you who’s in the movie, instead of hinting at what the movie’s about. Not all, but most. For example: When Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 (which I absolutely love) came out, I remember seeing promotional graphics that looked like this. Fantastic! Except I wound up seeing this version more. And it’s what stuck for the DVD, too. Bo-ring! I know what George Clooney looks like. I know what Brad Pitt looks like. But what I don’t know is what the movie is about. Looking at that DVD cover, you’d think it was a movie about a bunch of dudes standing around being good-looking for two hours. (Admittedly, it kind of is, so maybe this particular example isn’t the best one to use.)

I didn’t want to fall into that trap for this. I didn’t want to draw the actual kids reciting poetry. I didn’t want to use a film still and just plop some type over it. I wanted to make something you could look at, and walk away with a general understanding as to what the film is about. Something that used symbolism and references, since, you know, we’re all smart enough to understand that stuff. And so, as you can see in this first step, I tried to come up with things that would do that. The one thing that stuck right from the start was my desire to use Nate Marshall’s quote from the trailer.


After a solid seven days of that initial sketch starting at me, I realized I hated almost everything in it. There had to be a better way to convey that this was about a spoken-word competition in Chicago, Illinois where high school kids compete. A way to do it, without literally drawing kids, or a high school, or Chicago. I just so happened to be writing a letter to a friend. (Yes, I still do that sometimes.) On loose-leaf paper. And so, an idea I actually liked was born.


In my sketch, I decided to letter the Nate Marshall quote in the shape of a bomb, as a nod to the title. And, since the poster would be 19″ x 24″, I’d need to letter it bigger than I normally work. What you see here is the second of two versions I lettered like so. The first was inked in a less flowy way, kind of like how the words “So” and “come” look in this one. And I hated it. The letterforms weren’t clicking into the bomb shape like I wanted. So I started this second one, penciled the exact same way as the first. But once I started inking, I decided to ignore the pencils, and freehand it to make the letters better conform to the round bomb shape.

You can see places where I noted what I didn’t like in this one.

What you don’t see is the giant mental note I made for myself, about how, in the end, I completely hated the entire thing.

STEP 4: K.I.S.S.

One of the hardest things about being self-employed is not having an Art Director looking over your shoulder, telling you when the thing you’re doing is not the best thing for the concept/project. It’s a form of self-discipline I’ve tried very hard to work on over the years. This is one of those moments. What I was doing before? With that bomb-shaped type? Not only was it redundant, but it didn’t convey what the movie was about as well as certain other solutions would. “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Most of the time, I keep this in mind. But it took me wasting an entire day drawing and inking two bomb-shaped clusters of type to realize I was only serving my own selfish desire to try out fancy lettering.

Conceptually, that stuff was inappropriate. The words needed to be legible, since the words are essentially the star of the show.

And no kid doodles letters on loose leaf paper using ink and brush. They use ball-point pen. Plus, as you’ll see in a minute, having the lettering shaped like a bomb would wind up being extremely redundant.


This is the digital final of the poster. I built a fake sheet of notebook paper in Illustrator (but left out the holes that normally fall in the margin), brought it into Photoshop, and placed the newly inked quote on top of it. I drew a microphone at the bottom, since most spoken word is done into a mic. And I drew the mic’s cord as a lit fuse at the end, as my sole visual nod to the title. I set the film title, credits, and show times digitally, trying my best to mimic a film poster. And the orange background was only to let the printer know I wanted this thing to be on orange paper.


The final poster was printed by the incredibly gifted folks at Orchard Street Press. I love when I get to work with them. They print my work as if they care about it more than I do. (They probably do.) Everything that was black in the digital version was printed in navy blue for the actual poster. It was the last conceptual detail I needed for the poster to be complete. This is a documentary that takes place in Chicago. Yet nothing on the poster lets you know that. In my pea-sized brain, the only color scheme that could universally say “Chicago” was the same color scheme used by the Chicago Bears. Sorry, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks. Your color schemes could easily be mistaken for something else.

You can barely tell in these photographs, but there’s a lot of really nice semi-transparency going on in that blue ink.

I definitely made sure to give young poet Nate Marshall credit on the poster, too.

If you’re reading this before the dates listed on this poster, I expect to see you there. But don’t get there before I do. Unless you save me a really good seat.

I was always taught to sign and number things like this, just so folks know what they have is a pretty special thing (if only because there are so few of them in existence). So, keep that in mind if you want one. Milwaukee Film only has 25 of these (with an extra one for the director), and they’re selling them for $25. Every penny goes back to Milwaukee Film, so they can keep bringing great films (and a great festival) to this city. You could probably contact them using some of the info listed here.


Entry filed under: Commission, Event, hand-lettering, Poster, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Home Again  |  09/28/2011 at 2:11 pm

    This is amazing Milan. Thank you so much for making the poster for Milwaukee Film. Everyone loved it!

    • 2. dwellephant  |  09/28/2011 at 7:13 pm

      Thank YOU for the opportunity. I hope it sells for you guys. Keep this Film Festival going for decades!

  • 3. Benjamin Bowles  |  09/28/2011 at 5:34 pm

    Either the Bears’ colors or the City of Chicago flag. 😉 But those colors are kinda icky.

    • 4. dwellephant  |  09/28/2011 at 7:12 pm

      Yeah. As much as I love that flag of yours, the colors would have seemed more “America” than “Chicago.” I needed Chicago.

  • 5. Using one’s head(er) « debbie does doodles  |  08/01/2012 at 2:33 pm

    […] A monogram by Karanta, YOU from a doodle alphabet by Lost Coast Designs, Me detail from a poster by dwellephant Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. blogdoodlestypography ← […]

  • 6. debbiedoesdoodles  |  08/02/2012 at 8:15 am

    Hi! Hope it’s ok with you that I’ve used a detail from one of these images in a moodboard of black and white doodles and hand lettering here: http://debbiedoesdoodles.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/using-ones-header/
    Thanks for the inspiration!


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