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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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“Hello Spoonflower World”

Spoonflower Giftwrap from Spatial H

Hello World” is a short hand term for projects techies create while working on a new platform. My new platform? Spoonflower.

The “Hello World” idea is similar to the Minimum Viable Product, “MVP“, for people that know something about marketing, where the learning process involved in getting the first item/program/project/design out into the world takes most of the work. Theory being that once you get this first one done, the rest will follow much easier. I mean, think of all the learning involved with any new thing you’ve tried to do. Procrastination can get the best of you, but giving yourself the one goal to push toward, the “Hello World”, the first product, the first class, etc, you have something achievable and worthwhile.

I started by drawing up a design in Adobe Illustrator. Spoonflower has a nice writeup to learn about loading their available colors into Adobe Illustrator so you know your image will print with colors you can have confidence in.

Getting the repeat right is the crux of the design process. A lot of good information is available on surface design repeats on YouTube.

Once I had my MVP design ready to go I uploaded it, ordered my proof, and waited by my mailbox.

When it arrived I opened up the package and inspected my new fabric, and oh no, a subtle problem: there was a light “aliased” outline on the right and bottom edges of the repeat. It may have been mistaken for wayward white thread if I had left it as it was, but it would bother me not to fix it.

Spoonflower support was very helpful, told me I could edit my file to remove the white outline, re-upload, and release it for publication.

A little Pixelmator, and boom, done.

"Plum Regal" Preview
“Plum Regal” Preview, available at Spoonflower

So now I’m literally in business.

Wish me luck in my new venture.

“Plum Regal” Spoonflower Giftwrap Preview. Their automated illustrations are wonderful.

Please leave a comment if you have any experience with Spoonflower, either sewing or designing with it. And please watch this space for more upcoming designs.

Nerd On,



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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