Art Director at VML
Senor Designer for Spinning Tree Theatre
Derrick Weishaar is an art director currently living in Kansas City, Missouri. After graduating in December of 2014 with a BFA in graphic design and a minor in theatre, he started working at VML, a global marketing agency representing some of the world’s most influential brands (Ford, Gatorade, and Wendy’s just to name a few). Derrick also designs all the theatre posters for the Spinning Tree Theatre.
Amazing theatrical marketing posters. Can you talk a bit about the process you went through creating them? Has a limited budget hindered your process at all?
Spinning Tree is very nonprofit, so yes, budget does comes into play. Luckily, with them, they’re really supportive of all my ideas, so there hasn’t really been a lot of back and forth. It’s kind of like one of those rare experiences, where they trust my design style and offer very minimal suggestions if they need, so I’ve been pretty lucky in that way. Overall, I would say not necessarily but it definitely comes into play in other aspects of design, but luckily this is not one.
How do you decide what makes a poster both beautiful and eye-catching?
I read the play first, or I read the work first, If I’m not very familiar with it. I then try to think of symbols and imagery and themes that are outside the box. A pretty common practice with theater design is to use images from the production itself, which I’m not necessarily a huge fan of because cast members change, etcetera etcetera, so I try to go more towards symbolism and thematic imagery instead.
Is there a particular one you’re especially proud of?
I think my favorite one I’ve done for spinning tree so far is Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, which is the production they just finished with. I kind of familiarized myself with the play early on because it was on Broadway last year, I think. I got to see snippets of that production and then tie that into this production. It was kind of serendipitous where the process worked out well, and I think the end result kind of showcased that. Plus, it’s an era that I love, it’s set in the 50’s. It’s like a grungy underground bar focusing on Billie Holiday, a famous Jazz singer, and so it’s some of my favorite music, and so, I think that played a part in it as well.
How do you deal with times when you’re just stumped by a design problem?
That’s a good question. That kind of depends on the situation for me. It all comes down to research and taking the time to think about it. That’s one thing, especially as a student when deadlines are so quick, you don’t really have that much time to think it over and really kind of dive in and that’s now, that’s been my process so I don’t procrastinate as much as I used to anymore. So, when I get stumped I do a lot of research. I try to look at the time period, read books, watch movies, or listen to music to see if it sparks anything, and a lot of times it just kind of happens inexplicably. I always kind of have doubts when that happens, but somehow, it always manages to work out. And no matter what, you can always present a starting point to the person you’re designing for, and they can offer you suggestion, if that’s the case too.
Did they gave you enough time per project?
The first year I worked for Spinning Tree, we did each production before said production. This year we did all four before the season even started. Because of that I had a lot more time to think it over. I kind of preferred that more to get them all at once.
What’s the best thing about being a designer so far for you?
I love just being able to create. Spinning Tree is my freelancing job. I’m a designer at an ad agency too. I’m kind of designing for two different styles. They’re both advertising, but they’re very different. One’s more general, and one’s more specific towards entertainment. It’s really great to get to stretch my creative legs a little bit, and I love that. I love the freedom that it creates.
Did you encounter any surprises when you started working in the design industry? Basically, was it what you expected?
Yeah, I think so. Because, luckily, I was an intern my last summer before I graduated. That kind of gave me a really good glimpse into what the real world would be like. I don’t know about your guys program, but in our program, they prepared us for heavy duty advertising; So It was like strict deadline driven, not sleeping much. It didn’t seem that different to me. In fact, it kind of seemed like less work, but I think I was just really prepared based on my program. So, again, it all just kind of depends on where everybody comes from. I didn’t have that much trouble changing. I was just ready not to have homework.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
For Spinning Tree, for sure it’s working with a show I’m not familiar with and or don’t understand. A lot of shows are very, at least to me, don’t really make sense until I see them. So then it’s just kind of a gamble. You just try to educate yourself as best as you can after reading the show. I even read the reviews, I read what people thought about it to see if I can get a better glimpse into the story. It hasn’t really happened so much at Spinning Tree, but when I was in college this would happen all the time where it would be a lot of just like, I don’t really know what’s happening, but I’ll take a stab at it. And then when that happens, I usually try to present more than one version of the poster to the team so they can maybe pick a direction they like more. And I try to make them each as different as possible. But, luckily with Spinning Tree, that hasn’t happened. So yeah, just like really knowing what I’m working with at times can be a challenge.
What are some more common design problems you’ve encountered, and how did you handle them?
Layout issues a lot. Usually when I design, this is a pretty standard problem. I’d design a portrait poster and all of a sudden they’d need it for a very landscape Facebook cover photo. That’s one example where you’d have to kind of think through a design and plan ahead for potential changes like that. I’d been caught many times where it’s a really awkward layout because I designed it as a portrait piece of art, and it’s in a landscape space. You just got to think through as best as you can when that happens, but it’s not always possible to think through. When that happens, you just make it work and design around it.
You just got to think through as best as you can when that happens, but it’s not always possible to think through. When that happens, you just make it work and design around it.
What are some lessons you learned once in the field?
Don’t procrastinate. Don’t burn any bridges with clients. That’s a given, but you never know how connections are going to come up. I got this job because they visited my school once, and I gave them my business card, and then they actually remembered me doing that. Be as professional as possible in client meetings. I sort of like to think ahead of what they would expect, but if I’m questioning one design, I try to present them multiple. Be able to defend your work, for sure. Have a reason for doing everything. When I first present seasoned artwork, I always describe what my thought process was. Because if they see a long description and see that you’ve really thought about it, it’s harder for them to say no to something different. Don’t BS your way through it, but really have a reason and understanding for why you did what you did.
Do you have any advice to offer regarding handling clients and communication?
Be as professional as possible. Always be ready to go. Always have copies of your resume printed and ready in case you need to share it. And just be confident. Know why you did things. Understand why did everything and talk them through it if necessary so they see you didn’t just lay something on the page for no reason. That’s something I’ve run into a lot. A lot of clients think they know better than you, which is clearly not the case; Because you were trained professionally and went to school for that. You’ve got to be able to clap back professionally.
Do you have any final words or thoughts that you wish to convey to prospective designers?
Have confidence in your work. I don’t think I can reiterate that enough. Know the reason why you’re doing things and be ready to defend yourself. There’s no reason to be sassy or anything about your work, but be able to take constructive criticism. Be able to present in any way that’s asked of you. Just confidence, I think is very important. Not overconfidence, there’s a big difference. But, if you’re proud of your work it should speak for itself.