We’ve had two constants over 10 years of the Richmond Jazz and Music Festival.
The first is the setting: beautiful Maymont.
And you can see the second around the city from time to time on the backs of happy fans.
We’re talking about t-shirts.
Bright, beautiful Richmond Jazz and Music Festival t-shirts.
When we started the festival, we designed the shirts a bit more simply.
A bit of lettering on the front. The names of the acts on the back.
But after a few years, the shirts themselves started becoming as unique and eclectic as the show itself.
For the last seven years, the man responsible for how the Richmond Jazz and Music Festival looks has dreamed it all up in a small Manchester office.
RJMFest fans, meet Shawn Miller. The man behind the looks.
The man who designs the logos and t-shirts RJMFest fans buy every year.
Every spring, Shawn spends weeks tinkering with colors, shapes, and designs to come up with the perfect blend to fit one of Richmond’s funkiest events.
Let’s take a look at Shawn’s designs—with commentary from the master himself—and get the very first look at our new 2019 shirts!
A mix of the old and the new: the old italicized logo mashed up with the funky trumpeter (whose legs are musical staffs, no less!) on a black background.
The image itself is cool and different, even if the block lettering and ultra-big sponsor’s note throw a little cold water on all that good energy.
Shawn says: “I love jazz because of its improvisational attitude. It can go in many different ways, it can convey all kinds of emotion—there are no limits. It can be spontaneous, it can be really structured. I tried to balance out the structure with spontaneity. I tried to be playful with it, throwing all kinds of textures in there and seeing what fit while trying to maintain the colors of the logo.”
The shirt design ties in the two most important elements of the festival: the beautiful natural setting at Maymont and the music itself.
The textured violin along with the vines gives the estate and the music a perfect artistic bent. The sponsor logo is still a little too prominent, but next year’s design would go on to solve that.
Shawn says: “The first year I worked on the festival, I don’t think I’d been to Maymont since I was five, so I didn’t have a clue about how beautiful it was. This was my second year there, so with that new perspective, I wanted to make an image that blended nature with music. I actually ended up recreating four different instruments out of wood, bark, leaves—all the elements of nature you’ll see at the park.”
In this shirt, we get a kaleidoscopic look into both the festival’s new logo and a new conceptual design. There’s a sharp, colorful representation of a jazz band to go with the butterfly that represents Maymont (and adorned that year’s poster).
It’s also the end of the italicized jazz festival logo and the beginning of the more refined logo with block letters.
Shawn says: “We’d just developed our new logo, and I tried to incorporate all the aspects of that logo into all the instruments and performers you’ll see here. It was very spontaneous—we wanted something iconic, but also something fun and colorful to emphasize the new logo.”
Here’s the concept: love. And it’s a good one.
All of the instruments you’d associate with your modern jazz band mixed with the green of Maymont and put into a shape nobody — especially Virginians — can miss.
That year’s edition — a nod to the Virginia is for Lovers logo — is also the only edition with any words other than the name of the festival or the sponsors on it. (“Love music, love life.”)
Shawn says: “At first it was full of illustration, but then I started using real photos of plants and instruments. Having that heart there, you could throw anything in there. I was just jogging my brain trying to figure out all the music elements I could put in there; you’d be hard-pressed to find something musical we didn’t put in there. And I came up with my first tagline there, too.”
2017 brings us two options: the striking mural/guitar combination—for a festival in a city that has become synonymous with mural art—and the very cool hand-drawn Keith Haring-homage alternate shirt.
Which one’s the winner?
Does it matter? The real winner’s the person who got to choose between the two.
Shawn says: “That year, we worked through a lot of different designs. We contacted different muralists that we’d worked with before and asked for their permission to use their art. Ed Trask and a few others said yes; once we had permission from the different artists, I went around Richmond and photographed their murals. We had a lot of fun placing the images in the frame of the guitar: we made the buttons social icons, but we also tried to make it look like as much of a real guitar as we could. I felt like Richmond had embraced the murals, and we wanted to represent that. Before I knew who was even playing that year, I chose the guitar for the poster; as it turned out, Pat Metheny ended up headlining. It was a happy accident—the marriage of the two.”
The 2018 shirt departs from the heavily-stylized look in a couple of ways:
1. There’s no illustration.
and 2. We used photos as the background.
And yet, it’s clean, simple, and easy to grasp.
Shawn says: “I’d been doing poster design for years—even for friends’ bands back in New York—and I always loved using the letters to show imagery. I wanted it to be a window into the festival. I used inner shading: I wanted it to look like holes cut into the wall where people could see the festival inside. And with the footage inside having been shot at night, it really showed up well. Within the company, we’d always referred to it as the RJF. It’s cool to simplify a whole festival into three letters, and we thought that’d translate well to everyone.”
2019 (WORLD PREMIERE):
Feast your eyes on our two 2019 t-shirts!
The first design combines the illustration and artistic quality of 2013-2017 with the photorealism of last year’s model. It’s got the wild energy of some of our earlier designs and some of the cleaner lines you’ll find in the later designs.
And how could we let our 10th anniversary pass without commemorating it in a limited-edition shirt? Our second design tips its cap to the festival’s longevity and adds a little bit more of that hand-drawn feel we saw in 2017.
Shawn says: “I’ve been noticing a return of 80’s colors—I love bright, vibrant colors and I’ve got archives of paint and splatter and textures. I came up with this design in the last hour of work of a day, and I really liked how it looked. Then the next day I came in and did three individual designs with the same set of colors. Kind of a CMYK pattern, except with purple replacing black. When I made them, I thought it’d be cool to see them side-by-side, one after the other, like posters on the wall. And we used the paint splatter and abstract geometric designs in everything this year. It allowed for flaws—we weren’t so serious about putting them together—and we could put the artists on top of them as well.”