Painting the 59th Season

Posted by CST member Eric Brant

Once again I have the great privilege of being asked to create images for Chicago Street's 59th season. Creating the paintings for the last two seasons has been an exciting honor. As an illustrator, seeing my paintings on billboards and on the sides of buses has been a thrilling experience. The new season was announced a few weeks ago by our Artistic Committee and I was really excited to start thinking about what kind of artwork would best represent this marvelous array of productions CST will be offering audiences in 2013 and 2014. 

I always look at the making of these illustrations as a multi-layered problem solving challenge. While I am familiar with the most of material being done, many of our perspective audience members probably aren't. So one of the avenues I approach first is how to convey the meat of the show, or it's feel, to someone that's never heard of the play. The task last season was maybe a little easier just from the standpoint that many of the shows are attached with some pretty iconic moments. I mean you paint Maria singing on a mountain for The Sound of Music and Mrs. Robinson's leg in there for The Graduate... right? So the more difficult ideas come from what kind of image works for plays like Rabbit Hole or The Beauty Queen of Leenane? Both plays deal with some pretty intense subjects and that is something I definitely need to deliver in the artwork, but also from a marketing perspective, I have to create an illustration that will get someone to take a chance on a drama or black comedy that they don't know.

Another challenge I face as an illustrator is with plays or material the audience is familiar with. As an actor and a director at Chicago Street one of the aspects that I love about our company, is that we take risks in putting our unique stamp or spin on the shows that people know and love. In creating images for Romeo and JulietDr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, and Woody Allen's Play It Again Sam, I had the opportunity to talk with the other directors about their take on their shows and how they wanted their production to be. This was very informing in terms of what the illustration for the show might look like. Bob Cooley, Jason Utesch and I are all very passionate directors, who have very strong ideas about how we want to make our shows stand out from productions people have seen before. 

Once I start gathering information on the productions I usually look over the scripts being used and then start doing sketches and thumbnail drawings. I think a lot about the mood of the piece and the director's concepts to inform colors or textures that I will want to incorporate into the paintings. The format we've been using for the last two seasons has been a vertical image created on a 12" X 24" canvas. The paintings are primarily done in acrylics but I also explore mixed media elements to create a unique look for each production. I gather reference pictures, photos inspirations, found objects and papers that I might collage into the image. Just like our productions, the art has many layers. While we try to offered a solid season of eclectic works I also put some consideration to how the paintings work as a whole.

In the next few weeks, I hope to check in with where the images are at and, possibly, a "Step By Step" blog on one of the images as I work on it. While the majority of the season has been announced, we're still waiting to find out what a couple of the productions will be from the Artistic Committee. Keep checking into our blog for more on "How we make the Art" at Chicago Street Theatre!