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Going Bigger with Your Poster Designs

By Charles Purdy

London-based illustrator Dan Mumford specializes in vibrant, highly detailed illustrations with a slightly psychedelic vibe—he frequently works for clients in the music industry, creating album art, gig posters, and screen-print designs, as well creating his own re-interpretations of classic album art and other pop culture touchstones.

We let Mumford choose the subject for this poster project, and he chose to create a poster for his own band’s last gig.

Mumford describes his style as “an evolution of things that I liked as a kid—essentially comic books and cartoons.” He adds, “I think that comes across quite strongly in my artwork because even though I’m often interpreting moments or scenes in a film, I’m not necessarily going for a realistic look or trying to make things look perfect. I think my work has become known for that bold, colorful style.”

And who better than a masterful poster artist like Mumford to show off new, larger canvas sizes available in Adobe Photoshop Sketch and Adobe Illustrator Draw on an iPad Pro? The apps now allow users to create printable 300ppi art at more than 27 by 27 inches (learn more about new features in Draw and Sketch).

In this simple tutorial, he shows how he uses Adobe Illustrator Draw to create an illustration in his distinctive style. (If you’d like a primer on using Adobe Illustrator Draw before dipping into Mumford’s process, check out this tutorial.)  

1. The first step in his process is always to create a sketch. This sketch was the rough outline that he quickly created in order to make sure he was happy with his composition and general color palette.

2. After Mumford was satisfied with his sketch, he added a new layer on which to do his line work—setting the layer’s opacity to 50 percent or so, so he could use his sketch as a guide—and then using a brush with high taper and pressure sensitivity settings to allow him to vary line widths. (Tap on a brush to edit its settings.) He also created impact by adding large areas of black and then using the eraser tool to carve out highlights, sort of “drawing in reverse.” “It adds extra dimension,” he says.

3. Mumford then duplicated layers, on which he added blocks of color (tap on a layer to see the option to duplicate it).

4. When he’s working, Mumford adds depth to his colored areas by stacking darker colors on top of lighter colors, in separate layers, and “carving out” highlights with the eraser tool. For example, he explains, “Take the skull’s antlers. First I created the red shape; then I duplicated that layer and made the layer on top a slightly darker red. Then I was able to use the eraser tool on the darker layer to pick out highlights…. It’s more like chipping away at a color, as opposed to adding a color.”

5. Adding details is the final step in Draw.

6. When he was finished drawing, he brought the file into Adobe Photoshop CC to add lettering.

Click on this image to watch a brief time-lapse video of this poster in progress. 

BEHIND THE STYLUS: DAN MUMFORD

Dan Mumford studied illustration at a university with a very open curriculum—he describes it as a course where students could do “whatever they wanted.” He says, “There was a lot of experimenting. I made short films, animations, painting, photography. I think that kind of experimenting is really good. I wasn’t told the ‘right’ way to do things. It meant I tried my hand at everything, essentially.”  

A selection of work from Mumford’s show Chroma, which opened at Gallery1988 in December 2017—re-imagined movie posters for The Neverending Story, Frankenstein, and Jurassic Park.

And that experimental mindset is part of his artistic practice today, as he incorporates new tools into his process. At the start of his illustration career, he primarily worked in pen and ink, scanning his work into Photoshop to color it. These days, his process is almost all digital, and he frequently works in Adobe Illustrator Draw, especially when he is traveling. “I try more techniques as I go,” he says. “Every year, there’ll be small revolutions—things are getting a bit more complex, a bit more grand in scope and scale…the coloring and shading are getting a bit more intense.  The gradients I’m using are a bit more clever…. And I have these little relevations every six months or so where I go, ‘Oh, I can do this now.  I can do this this way.’”

He says that, compared with what he was doing ten years ago, what he’s doing now might look completely different, but he sees his own style carried through.

Another constant in his life? Music. Mumford not only does a lot of work (posters, album art, and the like) for bands and the music industry, but also is a band musician himself. “I was very much a musician, or very much someone active within music, from the age of, say, 12 onwards. I was always playing in bands and stuff. It was more of a focus when I was younger; it was at university that I switched focus.”

Promotional artwork that Mumford created for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, for Disney and IMAX. 

But because of his time in the local music scene, he developed relationships in the industry that have led to commissions. He says his first few years of being a freelance artist were spent working primarily for music clients.

These days, his client roster includes Disney, Sony, CBS, and other global grands. He’s had several gallery shows and spoken at events around the world. Check out more of Mumford’s work on his portfolio site.