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Drawing inspiration - illustrator Ben Barter on designing panto artwork

Posted on 20 November 2018

If you’ve been travelling in and around Coventry lately, you’ll probably have seen our Sleeping Beauty posters popping up throughout the city. But have you ever wondered how the poster designs for our Christmas shows come together?

This year’s artwork has been created by illustrator Ben Barter, who began working with us on Cinderella last year. Ahead of tomorrow’s opening night, he told us a little more about his work for this year’s show.

“I had contacted the Belgrade about working with them beforehand, but it was actually a meeting with the panto writer, director and performer Iain Lauchlan which eventually landed me the job.

“The first pantomime I worked on was Cinderella, and the brief for that was really about capturing the classic tale as we know it, but in keeping with the style and spirit of panto. It needed to include the key elements of the story so that they could be understood at a glance, but I also had to make sure that the artwork and design had a lot of energy with engaging character designs.

“Luckily, coming up with new, exciting character designs is one of my favourite things to do as an illustrator. I find it really rewarding capturing a character’s personality, and showcasing an emotion or feeling through the artwork really helps to tell a story.”

Prince Valiant

While audiences might not start to notice the finished artwork until late on in the year, the process of creating the design begins much easier, involving several conversations between the artist, creative team and theatre staff to ensure that the finished piece represents the show as effectively as possible.

“Usually, I illustrate three different rough concepts and send them to the Belgrade team. They then feed back with their thoughts and choose their preferred design along with any changes and edits that are needed before I move on to the final artwork.

“Since last year was my first time working with the Belgrade, it’s actually been slightly easier to create the artwork this year, as I now have a better understanding of the entire process and what is needed. The main challenge with Sleeping Beauty was choosing the right moment in the story to illustrate.

“One of the main plot points in the story is when the princess touches the cursed spinning wheel, which puts her into a deep sleep for 100 years. When I was developing the different concepts for the project I wanted to capture one design with Sleeping Beauty being hypnotised by the cursed spinning wheel with her hand out ready to touch it. It was this idea that made the cut and was used for the final design.”

Princess Belle

Inspiration for a new design can come from all sorts of different places, particularly with stories as well-established and familiar as fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

“With Cinderella, I started my process by reading versions of the story. Cinderella is one of the oldest fairy-tales there is and has been told in many different versions across the world. There have also been lots of Cinderella films so it was interesting to research those.

“These days, however, you can find endless inspiration across all forms of entertainment, whether it’s books, graphic novels, comics, watching animations, films, theatre shows or even just on social media platforms. There has never been a better time to be able to showcase and express art. I think it’s important to absorb as much inspiration from many different sources, as you can learn and implement it within your work developing your own unique style.”

Set your alarm and don’t get caught napping when the nation’s dreamiest pantomime heads to Coventry this Christmas – it would be a nightmare to miss it!

Sleeping Beauty shows at the Belgrade Theatre from Wednesday 21 November until Saturday 3 January. Tickets are available to book now.

Nanny McWheeze