Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Process | Portland Buy Local Directory Covers


Portland Buy Local is a campaign of the Portland Independent Business & Community Alliance. When my friend and oftimes employer, Steve at Tugboat Creative, took on the job of art directing and layout for their first annual printed directory of local businesses, he approached me to design or illustrate an eye-catching cover to bring to life the title, "Find Your Independents." The job was totally open-ended—I could choose the concept and execute it any way I'd like. The only restriction was that the final design be confined to 2-color, cyan and black, for affordable printing to match the organization's logo.

Year 1: 2008-2009 Directory

The concept that I presented in my rough sketch, and that the Buy Local board agreed to, was an illustrative image that would capture the essence of a whole area of town, but without favoring any specific building or business. I wanted to point out that local businesses are all around you—you simply have to look. I chose to render the Old Port area, which is known for its eclectic array of local restaurants, shops, and galleries, as well as for its historic 19th century architecture and cobblestone streets.

To prepare, I wandered the streets, taking lots of photos of architectural details. I wanted the image to feel true to this part of the city, but without being identifiable as a specific location, so in my drawing I combined and recombined details from different buildings and street corners in the area.

To execute the final image, I scanned my drawing and used Illustrator's Live Trace tool to convert it to a vector, black & white image. I then added simple, blocky color behind the drawn layer. I was hoping to achieve a style reminiscent of the limited-color children's books I remember reading as a child.

Here's the progression from sketch to drawing to final cover:

Much of the hatching and shading details of the pencil drawing are lost or distorted in the tracing process, but those that remain help to give the final image a richer character than if they'd been left out in the original drawing.

Year 2: 2009-2010 Directory

Since downtown and the Portland peninsula tend to be the most obvious hub of the city's economic activity, the many businesses located off the peninsula can sometimes feel as though they are unfairly overlooked in conversations about local economy. Portland Buy Local has tried to combat this by regularly talking about and featuring these businesses alongside their downtown neighbors.

With a great response to last year's directory cover, but a feeling of being "left out" resonating from the farther reaches of town, the goal this year was to keep the theme and style going, but highlight a drastically different part of the city. The board agreed upon showing a mixed-use area typical of Brighton, Forest and Washington Avenues.

For me, this presented an interesting challenge simply because the local businesses in those parts of town are much more spread out geographically; it was a struggle to fit in enough distinctive details to make the place feel authentic and vibrant, and to simultaneously avoid highlighting the non-local chain businesses that share these landscapes.

To speed up the drawing process, I began the initial drawing at full size and presented it in its rough form as a sketch. The board asked for only a few minor changes. The final, traced and colored image is now completed and in the approval proess. The new directory comes out next month—look for it at over 200 locally-owned businesses all over Portland.

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