Today marks Saul Bass’s birthday! So in his honor, we’re taking a look at his signature poster design style to help you understand what makes it unique and how you can duplicate it in Adobe illustrator.

A good place to begin is by thinking about the mediums available in his time. Much of his work was created with cut paper – perhaps with scissors, an X-acto knife or a combination.

One inherent quality of those tools is the ability to cut lines with subtle curves or hard corners. In Bass’ work, it is clear that he was tastefully balancing the spectrum between straight lines, curved lines and hard corners.

Recreating Saul Bass’ style

A nice way to jump into the subtlety of his style is to try to recreate one of his designs in Illustrator. This tutorial looks at the “Anatomy of a Murder” poster.

Notice how the workspace is laid out – the original is placed above the area that I will be replicating:

 

Saul Bass 1

 

All of the work is being done with the pen tool, which is being used as if it were a pair of scissors. Nothing is traced – freehand helps to “feel” his style and to try and embody it. It helps to look at the Saul Bass original and visualize where the anchor points would fall on his shapes and how far the handles would be dragged out as well.

 

Saul Bass 2

 

After adding the colored background and practicing some of the letter forms I have a rough idea of how Saul Bass style shapes can be created. Note, however, that my shapes are missing “charm” in many places such as the neck.

Also the proportions are well off in areas such as the legs (these a reasons why this is a good practice). Again Saul Bass was a master in the subtlety and relationship between straight and curved lines – all of his shapes have “life”.

 

Saul Bass 3

 

Make your own Saul Bass-style poster

Taking into account many of the ideas mentioned above, I’ve created a simple Saul Bass-style poster. Extra attention was payed to creating shapes with “charm” and “life”.

Also note the additional qualities not yet mentioned, such as negative space and bold color palettes:

flower

It is also interesting to think about other designers from this era working with cut paper (Paul Rand for one) and similarities their work shared with that of Bass. Happy birthday Saul Bass!

Love this style? Learn more about Saul Bass in our article, “Saul Bass: The man who changed graphic design“.