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Concert Poster for the Season Premiere

The concert poster for the season premiere of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra visually balances the light and dark of the musical program. I used the method I worked out from the April chamber concert poster playing with illustrator’s path settings. My intent is to use this theme for all the posters this year, changing the colors and mood depending on the pieces we play for each.

Join us Saturday, November 5, 2016 at Kresge Auditorium at MIT.

2016-11-05 CSO Crossing the Atlantic CSO Poster
2016-11-05 CSO Crossing the Atlantic
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2015 – 2016 Cambridge Symphony Orchestra Posters

In 2015, I decided to go in for purchasing Adobe Illustrator since I’d be using for both CSO posters and my knitting pattern diagrams. Like everything, it was an educational process since I’m the type to jump in and get a tool working, rather than take the time for a class.

I set up a workspace with “artboards” for the whole season. This way I can see, compare, and use elements across the group of posters and ads. And what goes on the first poster tends to set the theme for the season.

CSO Mahler Concert - CSO Posters

There are always head-shots of the musical guests, along with a lot of text and sponsor logos. I like to pick a color scheme for the text to draw attention to the soloist. In the case of the Mahler poster above Indra Thomas‘s beautiful photo has a lovely green-grey backdrop that I wanted to work with. And as a new Illustrator user, playing with text appearance was the most fun, so I decided I had my theme for the season. All the posters would have roughly the same layout with the “Cambridge Symphony Orchestra” text working with the soloist head-shots.


CSO Holiday Pops - CSO Posters

Here for “Holiday Pops” I chose Adobe’s subtle sparkle effect for the CSO text along with an already festive head-shot of  Jennifer Sgroe and a happy photo of Cynthia Woods.

CSO Family Concert - CSO Posters

The Family Concert in January always features are remarkably talented young musician, this year was no exception. Visually, I loved that Yoo Jin Ahn‘s cute head-shot has a white background. The CSO text illustrator fun for this concert was the bright pastel colors from the Illustrator “graphic styles” library.

CSO Russian Masters - CSO Posters

Doing this for a couple of years now, I have to say the March concert always throws me for a loop for the color scheme. If I use springtime green it makes people think of St Patrick’s Day which is almost never the concert theme, and especially since the program for this concert is “The Russian Masters” I had to work with something else. I went with a color theme in the red and blue spectrum since using the grey in the soloists head-shot would make the poster too dreary, giving the CSO text a circular blue gradient glow.


CSO Chamber - CSO Posters

The Chamber players need a poster from time to time, and I could go off the season’s theme trying something new. I played with Illustrator paths to create a fun swirly violin, and I loved this effect so much it is going to be the theme of the 2016-2017 posters.

The Prince and the Firebird - CSO Posters

This Firebird show with the accompanying ballet ended the classical season with a bang. The concert was a labor of love for many, with the dancers and musicians using their creativity to bring this event to the next level. I contributed with the painting “The Prince and the Firebird” that I was able to work into this poster format. Having too much fun with color and design I created this surface design line at Spoonflower.

Pops on the Lawn - CSO posters

And finally, for the end of the season I had some more Illustrator fun, creating warped text for the title. The CSO logo is still recognizable with the SYMPHONY portion shown in bold. The entire image has an under layer of crumpled paper to portray a summer-of-love type vibe to it. I used color picker to pull the color from the sponsorship logo to use for the background and lettering.

Often the tools used and project restrictions dictate what the posters will look like. The limits, I find, help the creative process, if only to keep projects from being over-designed.

The one most important thing that I have learned in this post-tech artistic life: designing is decision making.


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2014 May 31 Appalachian Spring

For the last masterworks concert of the 2013 – 2014 season the CSO is playing the lovely peaceful Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copeland.

Mountains. Forest. Quiet.

Maybe I have a photo that would suffice. Like something I took at Rockywold Deephaven Camps while attending the Squam Art Workshops.


Yep, it was just like that. Peaceful.


This mini one for the newspaper.

Concert tonight! Please come.


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2014 March 16 TOSCA


I didn’t think I would like it, but I’d give it a try once.

So back in the late 1900s I saw there was a performance of The Marriage of Figaro performed by marionettes. Thinking, ‘yeah, I like marionettes, I’ll give marionette opera a try. There’s subtitles, it’ll be fine’.

Imagine, if you will, wooden people bouncing around on strings singing “Figaro, Fig-a-ro, FIG-aroooooo”, with their only emotional expression coming from how high or low their skinny arms are pulled.

La,” wooden hand up, “lalalalalala“, wooden hand down, “LA“, wooden hand waving in flourish, “laaaaaaaaa“.


Since my Italian grandfather loved opera and his sister sang opera, I wanted to give it a fair chance. Fortunately, I caught a modern adaptation of Don Giovanni with subtitles on PBS and LOVED it. Later on I even saw a live production of Cosi Fan Tutti in Boston with real human beings in it and enjoyed that as well, if only cuz of it’s “Three’s Company” farcical style plot.

I wish my grandfather and his sister were around to see our Cambridge Symphony Orchestra production of Tosca on Sunday March 16.

So, the poster… what the heck do I do?

I was stumped at the enormity of the task as I knew how excited everyone is to get this right. I was frozen trying to come up with imagery that will dignify the event.

I started with doodles in my engineering notebook during a meeting.


I doodled up a dagger with a hilt that looked like a violin sound hole. Thought, hey cool, and was on my way. I spent the weekend in my art space in my basement with India inks, acrylic paint, tissue paper, and cut paper. Spent some time figuring out how to draw an art nouveau font, and came up with this.


And then, thinking the concert will be in springtime I decided to make the red pop by putting it on an aqua background.


All the while I’m working on the clever dagger idea this is sitting on the easel behind me.


In 2012 I’d taken Flora Bowley’s ecourse to get back into painting, which I hadn’t done at any length since I was a teenager. Her approach has you just painting a bunch of gobbledy-gook with fluid acrylics, honing and fixing, until you work it up into something truly unique… as you had no idea what you were going to paint when you started. She wants you to have messy underpaintings.

This is the underpainting for what became the final Tosca poster.


Embarrassing, a bit, to show it here, but I wanted to show that I was going for an angry red busy unsettling vibe when I painted it.

Then, in the ecourse, Flora suggests going big and bold, draw a big image, make a big change, be unexpected. I painted a big face over the angry red background, I wanted a pretty face, but where you could still see the messy disturbed underpainting in the eyes.

And there she sat for months, in my basement, I didn’t know where to take it.


With this painting behind me and the cheery dagger painting in front of me I rented a Tosca DVD and figured I’d let the story percolate so I would have a better clue of how to make this right.

Here’s the TL;DR of Tosca: Tosca has a painter boyfriend, she’s jealous, she’s pretty, creepy guys are into her, and she would kill a man if she had to.

And her name is Floria. Floria, come stai?


Now I knew what to do with the painting.


Come to the concert… find out what happens to her.



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2013 CSO Concert Poster, “Leaving Home: Music of World War II”

Let me tell you a little bit about the process of making this poster for our concert next Sunday, November 10.

2013 Nov 10 CSO Concert Poster

 What do you see when you look at it? I wonder.

Dabbling in this new world of graphic design I’m always thinking about what’s the most important thing to have when I declare it finished. I figure it needs to attract people’s attention “hey, what’s this?” and it needs to identify the content of the concert so people can decide if they would want to attend, with a compelling image for the visual people as well as cleanly formatted wording for the readers.

I like to play the music before I start in on designing the poster. I like to get a visceral sense of the program and then get to work portraying those feelings with the imagery. In the first rehearsals Cynthia Woods, our conductor, runs us through the music so we can see all the notes and learn our tempos (tempi?) and such. Truth be told I was not loving this program as I played it for the first time, it felt uncomfortable to me, it didn’t flow how I like music to flow, the meters were different and unsettling as nice as the melodies were.

Then Cynthia explained that this piece that we were playing was written in a concentration camp during WWII, that only one of the composers and players survived the war bringing these scores with him, and that this concert was in support and supported by the Terezin Music Foundation. If you click over to their website you will immediately hear one of the pieces.

I had a hard time playing the rest of rehearsal without welling up. Cynthia went on to say that though the music was written under difficult circumstances there was still a lot of joy in it since music was what they loved and they could find comfort there when they played.

so, the poster.

what in the sam hill can I put on the poster?

I talked about it with a few people, explaining the context and purpose of what I was trying to do. A fella at work gave me the solution, he said that I needed to represent what the musicians in the camps wanted when they played this music. And this answer was easy… home. There can be little doubt that these people would have simply wanted “home”.


Over the past year I’ve been lucky enough to take a jumble of mixed media, painting, and drawing classes from different sources that I found from my classes and connections at the Squam Art Workshops. Alena Hennessy got me mixing paint, papers, and ink. Kerry Ann Lemon showed how to be comfortable drawing with straight black ink. And my cabinmate clued me in on a great series of art journalling videos from Teesha Moore, which also focused on the use of cut paper.

With all these new materials and papers I sat down to work. This is the first time I’ve done a poster from the position of making a separate piece of art and incorporating it onto the digital page, versus just building the poster entirely on my computer.

Here’s the first one I did (with some edits to try white inked notes after completing the second one). I had papers that looked explicitly like wallpaper and tried crafting a violin that in itself looked like home. And then I learned a new lesson: digital images of a colorful piece of art don’t always properly represent the real life image. The violin on this first version has a very bright yellow pattern on the paper, but with all the photo editing in the world I couldn’t get the image to show like it did in real life.

Terezin hand cut paper violin 1

So I started in on a second version that used even brighter paper. The violin isn’t as accurate in proportion as the first one, but the colors and overall vibe of the image felt better to use. Also, the notation floating away in black ink below works better than the white notes above.

Terezin hand cut paper violin 2

I have to say that I’m a bit uncomfortable showing these two untouched images since I don’t consider them “finished”, but I wanted to show the influence of why I took this route while giving credit to the teachers who showed me how to use all these materials: that it’s “ok” to mix this stuff up, there are no rules.

Looking at the images I see parts that I could have done better, it looks a little clunky to me, in my head what I wanted to do looked different from this. But, as you can see at the top, I’m ok with how the whole ensemble of information and visuals work together.

So I wonder if people get the sense of “home in music” when they look at this image. I do hope the poster brings people to fill the seats to listen to the work of these musicians. And I hope we at the CSO can do this music justice.

OK, I’m going to go practice now. – H


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2013 November 10 CSO Ad

Dusting off my graphic design skills, the first Cambridge Symphony Orchestra work for the season is an ad for our first concert that will be used in programs and other small media.

Our program for this November show focuses on the music of World War II, and I hope this reflects in the design. Many propaganda posters of the time had color bands across the top and bottom framing a black and white image in the center. This image is a macro I shot of my own violin, and I brought the colors back to a drastic outline to work in greytones.


Another thing I consider, if silly, is matching the logo of our benefactors when they are incorporated into the posters. So blue it is.

Come see us play on this Sunday in November. The guest violinist, Irina Muresanu, is a wonder in her own right.  We will be in Somerville at the Center for the Arts at the Armory.


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2013 CSO Pops on the Lawn

The last poster of the season. I’m always looking for a simple Americana vibe to this poster since we are creeping up on the 4th of July, …  some red, white, and blue. The music we play is good Pops schlock: show tunes, tv shows, a legit but short classical piece. This concert is about connecting with Cambridge, MA and giving back by having a grand old time out in Sennott Park with people that just happened to be walking by as much as making an effort to come out and support us.

2013 Pops Concert with the CSO
2013 Pops Concert with the CSO

Red, white, and blue, baby… summer of love. Come by Sunday June 23, 2013 at 3pm to hear us play. Let’s give Norfolk Street some love.

And don’t forget to bring a little kid, the conductor might just let them conduct.  (seriously, tho, she might) 😉


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CSO 2013 March and May Concert Posters

Still upcoming as of the date of this post, come see the CSO play our May concert, “Love on the Run“.
Saturday, May 18, 2013, 8:00 PM
Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge
Featuring Pianist Sergey Schepkin
Overture to La forza del destino – Giuseppe Verdi
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor – Sergei Rachmaninoff
Suites No. 1 and 2 from Romeo and Juliet – Sergei Prokofiev

After looking into the content of this music I needed to portray the idea of “star-crossed lovers”, while still leaving room for all the business these orchestra posters need. I didn’t want to go as specific as a classic painting of Romeo and Juliet or the standard dark images that go along with the Verdi. Nor did I want to draw a cartoon heart with feet trying to get away with something. In my adventure of learning how to do graphic design I like looking back at the older posters I’ve done to objectively decide which ones were most successful, specifically the March and June concerts of the 2010-2011 season. The plain white background, though the work is done on a computer, suggests, I think, that the poster was printed old skool, with limited layered colors. This is what I tried for here.

My rule is to fill the page with color and something intriguing to catch the eye. This previous poster was a bit more of a struggle to get to look appropriate with the amount of content I needed to portray. Not entirely unsuccessful as a poster.
CSO 2013 March 30 "A Bump in the Night"
CSO 2013 March 30 “A Bump in the Night”

Now if I can get that Shostokovich riff out of my head. A challenging piece to learn, very rewarding to play.

– H


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2013 January 20 CSO Family Concert

2013 January 20 CSO Family Concert

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra
Family Concert, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

program includes:

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten

Violin Concerto in D major by Piotr Tchaikovsky

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas