Data is still being collected about how many people participated in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in other U.S. cities, and around the globe. In total, Saturday, January 21, 2017, may have seen the largest demonstration in U.S. history. Surely it was the largest, most exciting, compelling exhibition and demonstration of poster art, ever. Most posters were one-of-a-kind, handmade expressions—paintings, collages, hand-lettered signboards—of heartfelt emotions. A few were appropriations of the works of well known artists like Barbara Kruger. And some were reproductions of the work of illustrators and graphic designers who made high-resolution files available online.
Jason Melton, above—whom I photographed at the D.C. March—was one of the marchers who carried reproductions of the “We The People” series of four diverse American women created by Shepherd Fairey, the artist who made the “Hope” poster for President Barack Obama’s first campaign.
Like Fairey, other artists and designers generously donated poster designs that people could download and reproduce as-is or add their own flourishes and messages. A New York branding firm and its Kickstarter supporters donated 15,000 actual printed posters. Here are the stories:
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A Cuban immigrant via the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, Edel Rodriguez graduated with honors in painting from Pratt Institute in 1994. In 1998, he received his MFA in painting from Manhattan’s Hunter College. Now based in NJ, he has received important illustration commissions from book and magazine publishers including The New York Times, TIME magazine, and The New Yorker. Over the last few months his “meltown” TIME magazine cover went viral.
“It was my intent to combine the power of communication through social media with people on the street,” says Edel about his decision to post downloadable poster images that the public could reproduce. “I put my stencil of the cat-fist image on my Facebook page and put messages on Twitter and Instagram with a link to download the stencil. I let everyone know they were free to create whatever posters they wanted with my imagery.”
“Some posters were printed, others were hand-painted with markers by kids and their parents,” he continued. “It’s been a very wonderful thing to see how people used my images in the marches. Many people commented online, and photos of the posters were shared hundreds of times. The results were very creative and inspiring.”
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A native of Tokyo, Japan, Yuko Shimizu earned her MFA in the Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts, and has been teaching in SVA’s BFA Illustration program since 2003. Her clients include The New York Times, The New Yorker, TIME, Newsweek, DC Comics, Paramount Pictures, Nike, The Gap, and PepsiCo.
“I offered a rainbow image initially, because multiple people asked. Then a few days before the march, I remembered an old illustration from now-defunct Jane magazine that would be perfect,” she says.
“So I quickly set the type in the background and posted on social media. More than 600 downloads were made. It was used for a good cause! If you go to my twitter @yukoart you can find some photos I retweeted of people wearing T-shirt out of the design, or banners. And if you go to my Instagram you can find where people tagged me from various marches. So many women made creative signs!”
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A multi-award-winning (Society of Illustrators, Print) creator of “imaginary friends,” Aya Kayeda was also born and raised in Tokyo. Now she draws and creates in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums and she’s made art for books, products, magazines, posters, and store installations for clients including Nike, Disney, Nickelodeon and Noggin TV. She teaches at Fashion Institute of Technology in the MFA Illustration program and at the School of Visual Arts in the BFA Illustration program.
“It was an incredible experience to be part of the New York march,” says Aya. “As a (lawful) immigrant, even though there had been many marches I wanted to join, I was always scared to participate because of this fragile status. But something changed this election, so I made this ‘Pussy Strikes Back’ poster for my private use.”
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A 1975 graduate of the Parsons School of Design, Victor Juhász began illustrating in for The New York Times while still a student. His caricatures and illustrations have been commissioned by magazines, newspapers, ad agencies, and book publishers. He is also a notable children’s book illustrator and has worked as a courtroom artist for ABC-TV. A resident of upstate NY, Victor serves on the executive board of the Society of Illustrators, where his work is regularly exhibited. He posts on Drawger.com.
Victor’s image of Trump reaching up the Statue of Liberty’s skirts first appeared in the October 14th issue of Rolling Stone for a piece by Matt Taibbi entitled “The Fury and the Failure of Donald Trump.”
Taibbi did an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah a few days later (which I happened to catch — “Wow! Victor’s illustration on national TV!”) that brought it even greater attention. Victor says this about his “harsh, not family-friendly” cover: “There were so many inquiries about bringing that image in poster form to the rallies that I posted that I would send a high-res file to anyone who asked who was planning to demonstrate. According to the folks who requested the JPEG, they got lots of great, sometimes shocked—in a good way—responses. It struck a chord.”
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San Francisco-based artist and educator Thorina Rose is on the illustration faculty at California College of the Arts. Her work encompasses books, product design, advertising, nonprofit and magazine work. She is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel The Heartbreak Diet, published by Chronicle Books, has exhibited internationally, and was a finalist for the SFMoMA’s SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) award, which honors Bay Area artists.
“I designed my posters on the fly—quickly hand-painted them before my flight and didn’t document too carefully,” says Thorina. Like many women, Thorina journeyed across the country to participate on the March in Washington. Here are two of her friends on a D.C. Metro platform, and she’s the one carrying “Resistance Blossoms” in the group shot below.
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“Bring chaos to your order” is the watchword of Laurie Rosenwald, a painter/designer/illustrator/storyteller/ workshop leader. Her colorful typographic collages grace everything from book jackets to pop-up stores to ad campaigns. For the NYC Women’s March she created two original paintings: “Make America Kind Again” to carry to Trump Tower herself, and Rosie the Riveter proclaiming “We Can Do It” for an author friend.
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The 14-person branding firm ThoughtMatter in New York’s Flatiron District made big news in the Sunday New York Times when the studio collectively decided to lend their time and expertise to the cause. They approached protest poster design like any other significant design project: brainstorm slogans and concepts and develop posters that would speak to the interests of a broad range of participants. Via a Kickstarter campaign, they raised $7,500 for printing and distribution. According to client services director Martha Kirby, “The purpose of the project was to donate physical, printed posters with an array of messages related to issues such as reproductive rights.” The firm contacted the organizers of sister marches in various cities, which set up a network of volunteers that distributed them to people who didn’t have the time or expertise to make posters themselves. Commenting on the posters’ “grassroots look,” Kirby said, “Design doesn’t always have to be perfect and clean. Our goal was bold, impactful, quick reads.”
15,000 ThoughtMatter posters were distributed to March organizers in D.C., Austin, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Maui, Park City, Philadelphia, Raleigh, San Francisco, and Seattle. Besides Kirby, the people who worked on the project included CEO Tom Jaffe, executive director of strategy Jessie McGuire; executive creative director Trenton Kenagy; and lead designer Wednesday Trotto. Results are posted on the firm’s Facebook page.
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“People on the Street”
As so many have commented, some of the most compelling posters were handmade—in styles that ranged from what might be called “outsider art” to extremely sophisticated, clever and original. All were heartfelt. Here are a few favorites shot with my iPhone on the Capitol Mall.
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Participants have come down from their pink-hatted high and are planning and executing responses to the shocks of the daily news events and messages from the Trump administration: people are meeting, organizing, letter-writing, phone-calling, posting.
But what will happen to the thousands and thousands of posters? When I left Washington I spotted them piled up (in the rain) at public parks. Many were stacked against the entrance to Trump International Hotel, causing Trump supporters to tweet about “nasty women” who had “left a mess and should be made to pay to get it cleaned up.”
The good news is that in Boston, Nathan Felde, a design professor at Northeastern University, is archiving the collection. Read the story here about how these posters—both professional and handmade—will become part of our nation’s design history.