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Painting a jazz poster


On one of the coldest days last winter, I was asked to do a dream assignment. Tom Robinson asked for my thoughts for the 2014 Detroit Jazz Festival. I have always eagerly awaited each year’s poster and  now I had a chance to work on a project involving two of my greatest passions, jazz and art. I was determined to create the ultimate jazz poster. Heady stuff – blank paper, scary stuff.

THE PROCESS: After finding out what info went on the poster, I looked around for all the help I could get. Tom sent me images of past Detroit Festival posters. I also Googled Jazz Posters and looked at the posters from all of the festivals, Newport, New Orleans, Monterey, etc. Everything seemed to have  been done.  There were so many possibilities. There were a myriad of directions that were all good. They were all over the lot, but when done well they reflected the town and its music. I had a pile of reference.

I rethought my approach and decided to let the city and my feelings dictate what I would do. Detroit and its jazz are not known for being  clever but for being straight forward, intense and  vigorous. With this to guide me I used  oil on board to make some quick sketches which were then shown to a committee. In the final painting I worked on board directly and forcefully with stiff brushes while avoiding unnecessary details. I was guided by loud jazz from the speakers and my photos of local sax players.

I am proud to have been part of the Festival and remain in awe of the musicians whose vitality gave me inspiration. What a festival!

John Osler

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