To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival in Bethel, New York, the area’s local arts center is hosting a “Peace, Love & Posters” design contest. Judges include David Edward Byrd, who designed the original Woodstock Festival poster, and Frank “Fraver” Verlizzo, a renowned Broadway poster artist.
In this exclusive Q&A, Verlizzo shares his creative process, his advice for other visual artists, some of his iconic Broadway posters, and more.
Cherie Dawn Haas: How did you get your start designing posters?
Frank “Fraver” Verlizzo: As a young illustrator, I was interested in movie posters. I attended college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where, during my senior year, I had the good fortune of having David Edward Byrd as my art teacher. That is how I shifted my focus from movie posters to Broadway. With Byrd’s influence, I began to realize my design style was much more in keeping with the stage than the screen. Upon graduating, David suggested I show my portfolio to theatre advertising’s premier art director, Morris Robbins, who was another very influential mentor in teaching me how to design for Broadway.
CDH: Please tell us about your creative process.
FFV: I start by reading the script, and if it’s a musical, listening to any tracks they may have recorded. I have a chat with the producer(s), and sometimes, the director or composer, etc. to get a sense of what they feel is the most important aspect of their show. Then, I’m free to conceptualize in as many directions as I can. The first thing I do is research (especially for a period piece).
My posters run the gamut, with each one giving emphasis to various aspects of the production and what I feel best represents the show for advertising. The producers look them over and give me feedback on what they feel is closest to the show they’re presenting. Sometimes, they respond positively to a poster immediately. Other times, I may go back, make revisions, and we have further meetings until the final art is agreed upon. It’s definitely a collaborative process after the initial art presentation.
CDH: What is your favorite poster that you’ve designed, and why?
FFV: I have three major favorites (shown below). I am a fan of Stephen Sondheim’s work, and honored to have created the posters for two of his greatest musicals, Sunday in the Park with George and Sweeney Todd. My design for Disney’s The Lion King rounds up my “top three” because the poster image continues to be seen around the world.
CDH: Do you see parallels between designing a poster and coming up with a painting composition, for instance? What advice do you have for other visual artists?
FFV: One of the wonderful aspects of poster design for the theatre is the freedom it gives me to experiment with any style and medium that I feel “speaks” to the project at hand. There are no rules. I must believe that other visual artists thrive on the ability to create in the way that best interprets their vision — be it painting, sculpture, or the countless other forms their artwork may take.
My advice for other visual artists? Go to the library, the museum, and be aware of the barrage of visual inspiration around you everywhere. Analyze why some of it excites you and focus on that energy to create your art.
CDH: What are some of the creative challenges you experience, and how do you overcome them?
FFV: Each assignment always brings new challenges. Over the years, I’ve learned to overcome my initial panic of “I’ll never come up with a concept for this show” and to use that “creative-block” time wisely. Rather than forcing myself to get an idea for the art, I’ll start designing a title logo. That typically relaxes me until the ideas start flowing — and they eventually do!
“I’m thrilled to be judging the Peace, Love & Posters Contest with my mentor David Edward Byrd,” Verlizzo says, adding, “Posters are my favorite art form.”
Additional Broadway Poster Designs:
The Peace, Love & Posters Contest (enter here) invites student, amateur, and professional artists to create a poster that visually expresses values of kindness, community, and our aspirations for the next 50 years. The contest opens for submissions on February 6 and ends on March 14, 2019. The grand prize winner will receive a cash prize of $2,500 and national exposure for their work.
William A. Schneider’s art video workshop, “Design Secrets of Masters – The Key to a Successful Painting” provides excellent information and instruction on how you can achieve placement, value, and color balance using tools that may or may not be well known to you. Preview it here: