PCI Collaboration with Otto Von Beach

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PCI Collaboration with Otto Von Beach "March 8, 2017
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In preparation for our Open House this Wednesday, October 19, PCI’s Clark Fairfield explains how the event’s “circus” artwork came to life and interviews Victorian illustrator Otto Von Beach.

Fall 2016 marks a new era for PCI: a new office in a new part of town, new team members, an updated online presence (more details coming this week...stay tuned!) and a renewed motivation to perform bigger, better and bolder than ever before. With that in mind, we were eager to begin planning an open house party in our new space, not just to celebrate our accomplishments (not trying to humble-brag here; we’re definitely proud of those, too) but to recognize and thank our clients and community, without whom none of this would be possible.

So when’s the party? This Wednesday, October 19, from 5-8pm in our new office at 1700 Diagonal Road in Alexandria, VA. Come join us!

How did PCI make the event campaign’s “circus” theme come to life, and who is the artist behind its 19th century-inspired illustrations? Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at our art direction and creative process, followed by a brief interview with the illustrious and elusive Victorian illustrator Otto Von Beach.

The Objective

The first step in planning our open house was to decide on a theme and develop the creative process from there. Our goal was to design an eye-catching campaign that not only announced PCI’s move, but reinforced our tagline: “creativity that performs.” After kicking around several ideas we arrived at  “Now Performing,” a campaign that would evoke an old town/old school vintage circus feel.

Our team of artists and strategists worked together to develop a blend of message, brand, and art. And while our creative team produces incredible work on a daily basis, we wanted to see how we could direct a niche illustrator to flesh out our vision—someone who specializes in Victorian-era artwork, with a nod to 19th-century etchings. After a global search, we decided that UK artist Otto Von Beach was our guy. His skill and visual sense of humor immediately stoked our imagination. The story of Otto Von Beach, himself, also piqued our curiosity for a few reasons: his bio reads like a Sherlock Holmes novel, citing a birthdate of 1857 and a mysterious disappearance after a “freak uphill avalanche” in the Siberian tundra. His LinkedIn even shows him “Frozen in ice” and “Presumed dead” in 1896 before he became “fully thawed and available for commissions” in 2010.

And so our artistic collaboration began. But how do you coproduce visual art with a previously frozen, highly talented Victorian illustrator in the UK when you’re in Alexandria, VA? By email, oddly. And exclusively. No Skype meetings, no phone calls. It was all remarkably smooth and fun, considering. Here’s how it all went down.

The Collaboration

Beach—as he signs his emails—was incredibly easy to work with, despite our email-only relationship. Our design team provided him with rough sketches, background info and notes that would guide his illustrations.

We went back and forth with sketches until we agreed on a direction for the illustrations. The process was seamless and, we dare say, flawless… which is how we love to work in general. Below you’ll see Von Beach’s illustrations, based on our sketches (above) and direction:

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From there, we incorporated Beach’s illustrations in a set of 5 posters that represent our design, digital, video, client services (or “client tamers”) and branding/strategy teams.

We had just a few days to take his illustrations and turn them into collateral marketing material for the digital, social media and print campaign. Our main mission was to give Beach’s beautiful illustrations the spotlight they deserve.

The result was well worth the creative journey.

The Interview

After working so closely (yet so remotely) with Beach, our team was interested in learning more about him. We sent along some questions (again, by email -- convinced he only exists in Cyberspace). Here’s a look at our collaboration, from his perspective.

PCI: Looking at your bio on your site, your background seems rather mysterious. Who is Otto Von Beach?

Beach: Regrettably, my lengthy entombment in the Siberian tundra had several deleterious effects, most notably a marked deterioration in my memory. I have been able to glean a few facts from my biographer, but his handwriting is not easy to decipher.

PCI: Who or what are your major influences?

Beach: Elizabeth Fry, Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, and particularly Matthew Boulton and James Watt.

PCI: How do you take a piece from concept to creation? Can you describe your process?

Beach: Sadly, a current and somewhat ruinous patent litigation prevents me from making any detailed comment. What I can say is that our drawing apparatus is among the safest and least-explosive yet constructed, and that any rumours to the contrary are entirely baseless.

PCI: As an illustrator, what would be your dream project to work on?

Beach: I have plans to create a three-dimensional Victorian Street-View featuring tinctured engravings of every byway and thoroughfare in the United Kingdom. To which end a small carriage has been procured and mounted with sixteen easels to afford my assistants a full panorama of the surroundings. We lack only a well-endowed patron with an appetite for cartography and a disregard for privacy. Several approaches have been made to Mssrs Google of Mountain View, but alas to date, they refuse to respond to my messenger pigeons.

PCI: What was it like working on the PCI circus illustrations? Did you take any influences from anywhere in particular?
Beach: For these particular illustrations, I was mostly under the influence of Gin.

PCI: When illustrating a living person (like our President & CEO Robert W. Sprague), is your artistic process any different than when you illustrate a fictional person?

Beach: The portrait was conducted in the usual manner. A private investigator in my employ followed Mr Sprague for 14 days and nights: at work; at leisure; even while sleeping. At length the investigator was able to submit a detailed written description of the subject and his countenance — in all his states of being — from which a quick charcoal esquisse was worked by one of my assistants. From there it is but a few short steps to the study in oils, the end-block drawing and the final wood engraving. I never work from photographs — or from life — as I have found that looking at my subjects too closely can prejudice the outcome of the portrait.

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Well, mystery solved! Come to our Open House party to see the posters in person and browse through Otto Von Beach’s portfolio to see the unique work of an enigmatic man.

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