What is a ‘poster’?
What is it that distinguishes a poster from an art-work? A poster is a piece of printed paper which conveys a message through an image, a text or—in most cases—a combination of the two. Posters can be used to promote a product, a cultural event or a political idea.
A poster is part and parcel of its era, which it draws upon and feeds into.
Posters always reflect the present. They are an important part of our everyday lives. They enter into a dialogue with the urban environment. Even though posters usually have a short life cycle, they help mould our personal aesthetic as well as conveying information. They can fire the imaginations and emotions of those who see them. Posters can shock or anger those that see them and often cause controversy. Over time, a lot of posters have become collector’s items and are now sold for astronomical sums.
History of posters
1.The poster first appeared in Europe in the mid-16th century as a medium for advertising and communication. Posters were primarily used to advertise plays and cultural events (dances, concerts etc.). Back then, posters were generally text-based and printed using metal or wooden type.
2. But then, in 1870, the Frenchman Jules Chéret discovered colour lithography. Now posters could feature brightly coloured images. The text could be reduced to just a few words in a large font because the poster illustrates what the poster seeks to convey.
Since then, the poster has become a highly significant medium for advertising. Posters can advertise products, services and cultural events.
From Paris, the art of the poster spread to all the world’s major cities. Professionals and various organizations (public services, ministries, state theatres etc.) began commissioning ground-breaking artists to create posters for them. Many of the posters these artists created during the period were genuine works of art: Jules Chéret, Alfons Mucha, Honoré Daumier, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. This was the start of the Belle Époque movement. Belle Époque posters were influenced by Art Nouveau as well as by Japanese woodcuts.
But there were poster artists outside Paris, too. Other countries developed their own styles and can boast great poster artists of their own—for example, Henri Privat-Livemont and Henry van de Velde (Belgium), Adolfo Hohenstein and Leonetto Cappiello (Italy), Beggarstaff (England), Lucian Bernhard (Germany), and Will Bradley and Edward Penfield (US).
Poster art reflects the artistic trends of the time and place it is created in, but always serves to communicate and to advertize.
3. In the 20th century, the poster truly became part of people’s everyday lives. It was the era of the machine and of politics. Artists were influenced by the De Stijl movement, by Bauhaus, Dada, Constructivism and Art Deco. Eye-catching printing and geometric shapes were the norm. The greatest poster artists of the early 20th century include El Lissitzky, Alexander Rodchenko, Cassandre (Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron), Edward McKnight Kauffer, Marcello Dudovich and Otto Baumberger. The 1930s witnessed the emergence of a new and more economical method for printing posters: offset. This lithographic technique allows for still more intense colouration. It also reproduces images with greater accuracy. Offset printing would lead to the photograph replacing the painting in poster art.
4. During World War Two, posters were the predominant tool for political and military propaganda. From 1945 on, poster art veered towards modernism. The best-known poster artist of this period was Raymond Savignac. Working in Switzerland, he developed a unique typographic style which would influence the graphic arts worldwide. The Helvetica font would come to symbolize the Swiss school. Armin Hofmann, Ernst Keller, Jan Tschichold and Josef Müller-Brockmann were key figures in Swiss graphic arts. Innovative artists like Paul Rand, Erik Nitsche and Max Bill would also drive further developments in posters and the graphic arts. In the late 1950s, a new movement emerged which could trace its roots back to the Bauhaus. Because it was associated with the use of black and white printing type, it came to be called the International Typographic Style. It was taught in schools in Zurich and Basel. The style was based on strict rules and used black and white photography. It became prevalent around the world in the 1970s and remains influential to this day.
5. The spread first of radio and later of television in the mid 1960s brought Pop Art into being. This movement was influenced by rock and psychedelic music and was especially popular in San Francisco. Posters came to be used even more with the emergence of Pop Art and various protest movements in the latter half of the Sixties (hippies, Vietnam, May ‘68). The main exponents of Pop Art included Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Peter Blake and Richard Hamilton. In parallel, a different approach to the art of the poster was emerging in the US and Poland, in particular. In Poland, a new dynamic style evolved between the 1950s and the 1980s which was rooted in surrealism and a unique illustrative style. Posters in this style were produced for the state theatre and for other artistic organizations.
6. Recent years have seen the widespread use of experimental and electronic technology. There has been a computer-based graphic design boom. Though life may have changed down the years, the poster has proved itself capable of adapting to new techniques and changing technologies. It remains a channel for the spread of ideas about politics, art, economics and daily life expressed through art.
Posters are used for a lot of different reasons. They are an established tool for advertising—for products, but also for cultural events like concerts, films and plays.
The film industry uses posters as its primary means of promotion. Film posters typically use bright colours, a large typeface and impressive images. Starting in the 1960s, designers began to follow Saul Bass’s lead in creating simpler posters based on graphics directly linked to the plot of a film. Another interesting approach common until the 1990s was for posters to illustrate the film’s main characters using artists’ impressions rather than photographs. A lot of people collect film posters as a hobby.
These are posters that promote various kinds of cultural event including exhibitions in museums and galleries, arts festivals etc.
This category includes posters for concerts and music festivals. They relate especially well to young people, who choose to decorate their rooms with them.
Tips & Books
International Poster Competition, Chaumont (FR)
Famous poster designers
Designing a poster
What should teenagers aim for when they’re designing a poster?
The poster should be eye-catching. The message should be short, clear and understandable at a glance. One theory suggests that a poster has about three seconds to attract attention to itself. If you want to design a poster that can do this, you need to bear certain factors in mind:
- Make sure it’s easy to read from a distance
One of the primary aims of a poster is to invite someone to an event. The key information must be easy to read from a distance, which is why it’s a good idea to grade the different sections of text so the eye is led to the critical info. The simpler the design, the more directly a poster conveys its message.
- Create contrasts
A striking contrast between different elements of the poster can help catch the eye of passers-by. Don’t use a monotone or subdued palette. Use bright colours for the background.
- Consider the size of the printed poster and where it’s going to be installed
Where is your poster going to be installed? If it’s going to be displayed on a green wall, it might be best to use contrasting colours so the poster matches its background.
- Use a large image
An imposing image is the key to a successful poster. The image, like the text, has to be readable from a distance. When you’re planning the poster, create a tight close-up with figures or objects in it—a scene with a focal point. Once you’ve chosen your illustration, consider the elements you’ll be framing it with. Both letters and images should stand out independently.
- Use the typeface to create a focal point
Some of the best posters don’t use images or illustrations at all and rely on their typography and colour to make an impact. Avoid boring fonts—go for something eye-catching.
- Printing techniques
Your choice of printing technique depends on where the poster is to be situated and what audience it will be hoping to attract. Options include silkscreen printing and UV varnishes. Discuss the range of special printing techniques with your printer and confirm that they are suitable for the size of poster you have created.
Colour’s powerful symbolism means that the colours you choose can convey ideas and messages. For instance, red is the colour of passion, of intensity and of danger, while green represents nature, the earth and ecology.
- Have fun!
Designing a poster can be a lot of fun! Poster design is an area in which you can break all the rules and produce designs that are entirely your own. Go crazy! Let your imagination run riot and create something new and fresh today!
Assignment based on The Waves
The concept of emotion
We express our emotions through our eyes
- Take a thick marker and draw lots of different-sized eyes on a sheet of paper. Some should be open, some closed, and they should express a range of emotions (sadness, happiness, love, anger etc.).
- Fill the page—turn the sheet into an original art-work.
- Leave a space for the title, though: THE WAVES
Materials: Sheet of white paper 35×50 or 50×70 cm, thick markers, some felt-tip pens for the lettering.
The concept of the sea
- Stick the masking tape onto a sheet of paper.
- Use the tape to form the words: THE WAVES
- Dip the sheet of paper into a container of blue paint.
- Let it dry.
- Remove the masking tape.
- You’ll be left with a blue poster with white letters on it.
Materials: Sheet of white paper 35×50 or 50×70 cm, masking tape, scissors, a basin, blue water-colour paint.
Your personal symbolism for the word “waves”.
What does the word “waves” symbolize for you?
- Take a piece of cardboard—the size is up to you.
- Draw the image you see in your mind’s eye on the card in pencil.
- Use a craft knife to cut around the edges—remove the shape.
- Place the cut-out shape on a piece of paper the same size or larger than it.
- Spray it with spray paint.
- Draw the title “THE WAVES” somewhere where it stands out.
Materials: Card, pencil, craft knife, paper, spray paint.
The concept of time
- Find or take your own photographs of a number of different watches and clocks.
- Take a sheet of white paper 35×50 or 50×70 cm.
- Cut out the photos and arrange them on the sheet of paper.
- Using a marker, write the title on top of the photographs: THE WAVES
Materials: Camera, glue, paper, marker, watercolour or tempera paints.
The concept of rhythm
- Download the Inkscape design package from inkscape.org.
- Create a new document.
- Write the title in a font of your choice: THE WAVES
- Print the document you have prepared.
- Scan the printed document. Move the page slightly during the scanning process.
- You’ll be blown away by the results!
- Repeat as many times as you need to achieve the result you want.
- Use the end result to make your poster with.