For years, I've kept an eye out for this poster I saw one time.
It's an old travel advert, the type UK and Irish railways used to commission: hand-illustrated, stylised, a little art deco.
Early airline adverts look similar.
This one featured a landmark from my home town: the Drogheda Viaduct.
I love illustration, and try to support artists.
I asked about the viaduct poster at galleries and fairs.
I scoured the internet.
The closest I got was an Etsy shop offering re-prints of old posters.
There it was - but blocky and crooked.
I held on to a copy of the tiny GIF.
One rainy day, I decided to try out an AI-driven image generator.
They’ve given us idealised urban streetscapes and dancing cartoon wombats - why not a classic travel poster?
I signed up to Midjourney.
Within five minutes I had a lovely illustration of a medieval town.
The sort of thing - and I realise this is not a coincidence - you might see at a local gallery.
However, it didn’t have much “Drogheda-ness”.
In fact, it took four of those five minutes to steer the results away from a thinly disguised Bay Area dripping in tropical colours.
Midjourney doesn’t know much about the Drogheda Viaduct.
I figured Midjourney's "image prompt" was the way to go: show it the viaduct poster, along with photos of local landmarks.
Right away, the brush strokes and palettes matched.
After a while, my favourites came via some (Creative Commons-licensed) photos of the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge.
Now, I’ll take rail over roads any day - but I like the juxtaposition of “vintage advert” with “bridge completed in 2003”.
There’s also a grim parallel of...questionable progress.
Copy across the lettering, vectorise, and: custom 21st century vintage travel poster.
It’s mind-blowing that illustrations, photos, and text can be mashed up so easily.
It was fun, too.
Part of me wants to automate this - but I’d really rather support actual artists.
Besides, pretty soon even this work will be replaced with one simple prompt: “vintage travel advert for <insert region here>, include three local landmarks”.