DIY Branding: Drawing from Experience to Find My Author’s Voice

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

Being that this is the first blog post that I am writing after has gone live, I thought it would be fun(?) to write an introductory post talking about my design inspirations reflecting my own unique voice as a playwright and screenwriter.

In my previous post about the Three Lost Plays, I came to the final conclusion that each play was an exercise in trying out a voice that was not my own as a writer – and therefore, the finished products simply did not work. Crafting a voice and branding is more complicated than simply saying, “well anything I write is my voice”. A scientific journal, like the ones my sister writes, or college athletic articles, like the ones my brother writes, are (in most cases) meant to be impersonal. I can’t pick up the latest Julie Fenton article on nanocrystals and identify her specific voice (mostly because without an undergraduate and/or PhD’s level of reference for the subject matter, I can’t really pick up the article!) – but that’s by design. It’s scientific reporting. It would probably be highly unprofessional for a unique voice to burst through the text – I remember receiving words to that effect from my teachers on several of my high school lab reports.

Of course, the next question you might ask then would be: how do you figure out what your voice is? And that’s definitely a fair question. At twenty-three years old, it’s certainly not a question I’m done answering for myself (don’t they say the human brain stops developing around 25?) and I’m not sure a person, from their own perspective, is able to really speak to how their voice carries and is received by an audience – as the creator, with full access to completely understand the creator’s intent makes objectively analyzing their own work one hell of an impossible task. So, acknowledging this, I will attempt to objectively analyze my own voice and bring you in a little closer to understand the thought and inspiration behind my voice as a writer.

The best way I’ve found to figure out my own voice (which may or may not apply for you) has been to find a short description that sums up “this is who I am as a writer” – and make sure what I put out supports what I have said Here is my Twitter bio as of February 25, 2019 – essentially the elevator pitch I would make as a public personality to a prospective client:

The key phrase in there cluing you into my voice, of course, is “Comedy/Fantasy for Kids, Teens, and Adults”. This is the most rock-solid claim I make regarding the nature of my voice in the broadest sense. As I said in the previous paragraph, then, everything that follows in website design, cover artwork, copy should (in theory) support this, like an essay body supports a thesis.

The first thing I do to back up the claim is intentional use of emojis. Each of my large projects is represented with an emoji: A shield for Knights, A wilting rose for Rose, a snowman for See Amid, and a male fairy for Filling In (and then for a bonus, I throw in a T-Rex emoji following my Jurassic Park quote. But you probably knew that I, in fact, did not write Jurassic Park). If I were a writer of “serious” “art” in any discipline, I don’t think choosing an emoji representative for each work would be appropriate. I want prospective producers and readers to know that my work is fun and whimsical: Each of the emojis, especially the sum of them together with their bright colors and all, have a comic fantasy feel to them (the Rose is especially Beauty and the Beast), making them a natural support to the claim of “Comedy/Fantasy for Kids, Teens, and Adults”.

Now, the art direction associated with my work is also mindfully created to support the claim. The hand-drawn, two-dimensional minimalist and colorful style can be traced back to my first ever job – at Black Rock Retreat in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.

Summer camp in 2012, ft. my cousin Brendin at like 7 years old

I was a camp counselor for four consecutive summers in high school and early college. There’s something universal, even for the indoorsiest of us all, in the appeal of summer camp in its purest form (at least, the summer camp I worked at. There were no Friday the 13th stories going on in Quarryville, PA when I was there). As a kid, going away to sleep-away camp and meeting your counselor, it’s just this epic adventure off in a fresh and yet familiar, loving place where you unabashedly have fun and forget about the real world for a bit – and somehow, even in the peak silliness that summer camp allows for, you can walk away a better person who has been affected by the story you lived through. With this frame of reference, I try to write comedy and fantasy for kids, teens, and adults from the same place in my heart from which I counseled summer camp. All of the cabins at Black Rock are named after birds, and I was the counselor of the cabin named Hummingbird – so, the focal point in my ubiquitous logo is a hummingbird. (Fun fact: a hummingbird has also found its way onto my body in tattoo form. The working title of my someday-memoir is The Boy with the Hummingbird Tattoo)

The Peter Fenton Logo

The boy with the Hummingbird Tattoo. Pretty sure this is the third photo on my Tinder profile

In my camp counselor days, you had to work with what you had to create an imaginative, unforgettable experience. Oftentimes, my campers and I would make displays in our cabins for the cabin inspector or I would fashion a Hylian shield out of garbage from the snack shop. Something I so strongly associate with camp is making things out of cardboard and drawing minimalist designs in thick sharpie outlines to get the point across. I’m no serious artist, but I am pretty good at drawing two-dimensional shapes resembling real-world (or fantasy-world) objects.

Drawing things on cardboard, summer camp style

So with that in mind, I began to create hand drawings of objects like I did at summer camp to sum up each play to give the “I did this myself with just a sharpie and tons of imagination” vibe. This carries over into the logos and the appearance of the characters’ silhouettes on the brand-new key artwork – that’s Sir Galahad for Knights, Vivian for Rose, and Mitchell for See Amid:

The hand drawings are meant to evoke feelings I associate with summer camp. The vibrant colors, thick lines, and script font are there to show that you are entering a whimsical story time appealing to your inner child, but I’m intentional about not going overboard on overt childishness. The colors are somewhat muted and the logos are placed on medium-to-dark gray backgrounds with cast shadow. What I write is mostly child-friendly, but there are some dark and edgy undercurrents to each of my scripts, appealing to the teens and adults in the audience. The other half of my logo, the mug of coffee, reflects this as well (have you ever met a child who likes coffee?). These design motifs work together in (my <sarcasm> completely objective opinion </sarcasm>) excellent synergy to craft the unique brand that is Peter Fenton, Playwright and Screenwriter.

Of course, this is only my thoughts on how I developed my brand. Your brand is probably different than mine – I hope your brand is different from mine. What I would recommend, whatever you are trying to market yourself doing: first, figure out the shortest, broadest description of who you are and what specifically you provide – and then figure out a slice of your life experience that informs that perspective. You can use that life experience to consider a design style that then works and supports your earlier claim of identity. There’s no real magic formula (that I know anyway), it’s often trial and error. Keep plugging away, don’t be afraid to explore! You have a unique and oddly specific voice, just like everyone else. We’re all in the process of finding our own.

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