From Blink to Wu-Tang: A Look into the Unsung Art of Tour Poster Design

Brazilian art director Rodrigo Trabbold shares his work process when creating poster art concepts for different artists and their tours while working for the biggest tour marketing company in the world, Global Tour Creatives.

The music industry provides designers with a rich tapestry of elements to work with, from lyrics and melody to style and cultural appropriations. However, it also presents a unique set of challenges when compared to working with a brand, company, or product as the careful management of ego and an unwavering artistic vision is often required.

Concepts vary according to each tour; artists are constantly reinventing themselves, and their design must fall in line. Before collaborating with an artist or diving deep into a tour, we go through a process of understanding their recent and past works, audience demographic and the current climate in which they will be launching. This allows us to construct a clear picture internally, within the design team, before pitching out ideas to the client. Extensive research comes before Adobe is required.

In some cases, the artist will have a well-thought out vision, a clear message they want to share and a specific manner in which they’d like to deliver it. For example, on Blink-182's latest tour poster, the band wanted to emphasise the 20th anniversary of their album Enema of the State.

In such cases, we must approach the project delicately as album artworks are seminal and of utmost importance to the fans, so our focus is on complimenting and enhancing what is already there. We strive to find the perfect balance between the old and the new, to bring a freshness to the art while maintaining the tone and integrity that first contributed to its iconic nature.

With that in mind, we decided to take a step further on the creative while staying true to the original artwork style. It is important that on first glimpse the poster is immediately recognisable as a Blink-182 tour so we kept some of the more archetypal elements - the nurse's mouth, the red cross - but introduced elements of pop art and pointillism to add a younger, more novel feel to it.

We also maintained the colour palette aligned with the overall look and feel of the original. The final result is in many ways both entirely new and satisfyingly familiar.

Detail from the Blink album

Where Blink-182 incorporated edgier, more contemporary aspects to their design, some artists desire a classic, elegant look - Janet Jackson's Black Diamond Tour poster for example, has a very clean approach, with 1920’s Art Deco inspired font choices with high contrast characters accompanied by a modern typeface to reflect luxury, glamour and exuberance.

The use of black typeface against the white background is simple at first glance, but the glossy treatment of her name in contrast to the silk textured background makes the overall composition much richer. Additionally, the glass effect applied to the tour logo reconfirms the essence of the tour title, Black Diamond.

Another example of a clean poster design is Shania Twain's latest Las Vegas residency, Let’s Go! The primarily black and red photo over the white background provides a necessary simplicity and stark contrast which allows it to stand out among the heavily chaotic nature of the Las Vegas Strip.

We also wanted the art to reflect the high energy of her performance. This is when the photo choice is crucial to a successful campaign. Her pose combined with the movement of her hair helps to communicate this.

In a more daring approach, Wu Tang Clan's 2019 tour was inspired by urban Tokyo - the buildings, the neon signs. With so many elements fighting for attention, it’s easy to lose sight of what is most important. Creating order is necessary to keep a cohesive visual hierarchy and avoid losing the viewer along the way. A good use of colour and space helps direct the viewer's eyes and prioritise the message of the campaign.

This approach goes somewhat against the stereotypical hip hop style - with graffiti like fonts and textures - and worked well for the client, as the tour was also a celebration of the 25th anniversary of their Enter The Wu-Tang - 36 Chambers album, which was critically successful for its unique sounds influenced by a mixture of cultures, particularly East Asian and African American cultures.

In the same way an artist uses lyrics and melodies to tell their stories, we as designers use colours and textures. A performer mesmerises their audience with choreographed routines and pitch perfect vocals, we capture ours through carefully crafted compositions and conceptually compelling campaigns. This is where a combination of experience and design theory is paramount, so that our ideas can be effectively translated into the artwork.

Creatively there are no limits to where the design can go, though there are many rules to follow, there is no one formula. We must adapt our vision to coincide with and enhance that of the artists.

Related: How Queens of the Stone Age illustrators are keeping the art of tour posters alive

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