Category: Illustration

Top 5 album covers
of the last few years

I’ve always believed that people who are creative can be inspired by nearly anything. Art inspires art, no matter what kind. As designers, where creativity is the definition of our job, we have to be open to inspiration wherever we can find it. For myself, as well as hundreds and thousands of other designers across the globe, music is one of one of those great influences, whether it’s playing it, writing it, listening to it, or in this case, looking at it.

With vinyl making a resurgence as the preferred way to enjoy an album, the focus in the last five years to perfecting the art of the record cover has once again gained momentum and artists are experimenting with form factor, color, photography and in some cases, hidden imagery for fans to find. Here are my top five picks for the best cover art in the last few years...in no particular order.

 

1. David Bowie’s Blackstar

Designer: Jonathan Barnbrook

Barnbrook’s cover of Bowie’s last record is deceivingly complex. What appears to be a simple diecut of a star with black on black printing of stars cut into many pieces, is actually so much more. Barnbrook’s design, when exposed to light, reveals an image of the galaxy. The stars at the bottom of the cover actually spell out Bowie. When exposed to blacklight, the stars turn bright blue. When reflecting light off of the record onto a different surface, all three sides of the record display different images. The cover displays a star, one side is a bird in flight and the other is a spaceship. Barnbrook has also hinted during many interviews that fans have yet to find multiple additional gems that are hidden within the walls of the album. This art, to me, is the perfect farewell and tribute to one of the greatest artists of all time, Starman. It’s aesthetically simple and classic with its use of black on black, a fitting memorial for Bowie, but has all of the pizazz and depth of character that he possessed. With light being a featured component to revealing the full extent of the art, it’s as though Bowie’s starlight hasn’t gone out and he still remains present in the folds of the record.

 

 

2. The Last Shadow Puppets' Everything You’ve Come to Expect

Designer: Matthew Cooper

Super group, The Last Shadow Puppets have only released two records in the last 8 years. Their first has a distinctly 60s feel to it both musically and visually, while their sophomore record, released in 2016, seems to have aged at the same pace, with an edgier 70s vibe. The cover photo is of Tina Turner taken in 1969 by then Vogue photographer Jack Robinson, but the color is all Matthew Cooper. His mastery of warm tones adds movement and heat that make the record undeniably modern while maintaining its roots and inspiration from the 70s. It’s a great example of how simple, iconic photography with an explosive color palette can have just as much of an impact as a record with a more unique design attribute.

 

 

3. Rihanna’s ANTI

Designer: Roy Nachum

ANTI’s album cover couldn’t be more ripe with metaphor and meaning. The color palette is stark and ominous featuring a splash of red paint and a haunting black and white photo of a young Robyn Fenty (Rihanna), holding a balloon with a gold crown covering her eyes. As Rihanna skyrocketed to fame at a young age, one can interpret this as the blinders she wears from her success and perhaps her inability to grow into her crown. This theme of being blind is reverberated through a braille poem featured on the cover. The poem is a collaboration between Rihanna, artist Nachum and poet Chloe Mitchell. It touches on the idea of being misunderstood but refusing to conform to society’s norms. When asked why Rihanna chose to feature the poem in braille, her response was, “sometimes those with sight are the blindest”. Wiser words have ne’er been spoke.

 

 

4. Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotion

Designer: Mihailo Andic

Teenage Emotion wins the most needed album art of 2017. In his own words, “I wanted to have all these aspects of teenage life...so I thought about all the things I saw in high school for the first time, that I had never experienced before. I have never seen two guys kissing until high school. I’ve never seen albino kids until high school, I’ve never seen emo kids until high school.” But unlike album covers from years past who have used people’s physical differences to shock and appall fans, this glimpse of high school life is unabashedly normal. It’s as though Lil Yachty plunked himself in the middle of a field trip to the movie theater. And there he is, grinning from ear to ear at the humanity that surrounds him. Although some have criticized him for appropriating different cultures and groups of people for his own benefit, Yachty took to Instagram Live to further explain himself, “If you have vitiligo or if you’re gay or whatever it is, embrace yourself. Love yourself. Be happy, positive.” Preach, Lil Yachty. Preach.

 

 

5. Tycho – Awake

Designer: Scott Hansen AKA ISO50 AKA Tycho

As I mentioned above, it seems like a common occurrence for designers to also be musicians and vice/versa. This case is a perfect example of a designer turned musician turned designer. Scott Hansen’s designs, under the pseudonym ISO50, are bright, modern, full of color and unique compositions. One could argue the same of Scott Hansen’s music. Although Hansen designs all of his Tycho album covers, Awake is a particularly effective merging of the two mediums. Hansen says of this piece that he wanted something that could be used in several different settings and still be recognizable. The tour announcement uses the same colors in the same succession but in a polygon instead of a circle. In some executions, the colors are in a triangular shape or a different shape within a shape. You will notice one key factor though. The colors are always in the same order. Why? Because each color band represents a track on the record. And they truly do represent each of these colors. The record flows from warm to cool but still feels like a cohesive singular unit.

 

-Eliza Young

 

Monsters in Magazines.
Diary of a designer doodler

We’ve all doodled in magazines, unless you’re really into following rules or don’t have a pen handy. And one day after the mailman dropped off the mail, our boss Barb asked if anyone wanted this high-end furniture magazine. I’m not in-the-know about interior design so I wanted to see what prices things were going for. As I was flipping through the pages and comparing how a coffee table was worth more than my savings and checking accounts combined, I got the childhood urge to draw on the pages.

I noticed that some of the pieces of furniture (cabinets, rugs, bed stands, lamps, etc.) looked like creatures, so I began filling in a particularly monster-y rug. I drew scraggly fur around the edge of the rug, added some gnashing teeth, plopped in a big bulgy eye, and scratched on a couple of claws. Naturally this monster looked like it needed a couple of friends so I filled in the surrounding pieces of furniture with other ghouly and spooky critters. Thus my Monsters In Magazines was born.

I continued to draw throughout the rest of the magazine, filling the pages with my little monsters. They began to take on personalities of their own, and this kept me entertained until I realized that I had used up my lunch time on drawing cartoons.

Super worth it. Plus now I have a magazine full of adorable monsters playing on lamps and grabbing cookie jars off of cabinets.

I took my monsters one step further and painted them with bright and whimsical watercolors. Blobs of color were painted first, then after the paint dried an ultra-fine-tip Sharpie was used to bring the beasts to life. I created about twenty different little monsters and am thinking about how to use them. Perhaps a children’s book? Wrapping paper? Pattern for a tote bag? Who knows. For now, they’re living on my desk peeking from behind a stack of project folders and waiting to brighten someone’s day.

-Laurel Fisher    instagram: https://www.instagram.com/morallaurel/

Illustration styles: Don’t think, just scribble

When it comes to my personal artwork, I constantly experiment with different approaches. Partly because I haven’t identified with a specific style, but mostly because I just like to challenge myself and see what happens. It’s very satisfying to try something different with zero idea of how it’ll turn out, whether it’s successful or not.

I settled on this scribblized style because I was looking for something that didn’t require much conceptualizing and let me just freely draw. The continuous scribbling allowed me to keep my rhythm and pencil moving without much thought or stoppage. It’s pure fun.

Below is a series of illustrations I did of my family. Pictured are my two nieces and my sister (I’ll eventually get through to the rest of the gang). Technique and timing notes at the end.

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Total time to complete each piece: 70 mins
Total time drawing for each piece: 15 min

The Setup

After choosing the photo I want to use, I print it out full size in black and white (easier to identify the shade values) and trace the outlines of the face and make markings for the eyes/nose/mouth for placement. I use that same photo for the shading reference for the drawing.

The Drawing

Just old-school graphite on paper. I draw the eyes first. Always. The eyes make or break any portrait drawing so I have to make sure it looks right for my own confidence and peace of mind to continue.

Then after filling in the nose and mouth... SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE SCRIBBLE. I try to keep all the line weight consistent, just having more lines in the darker shades and fewer in the lighter areas.

The key is to set the right value with the middle tones so the drawing doesn’t come out to dark or light. I would take a step back periodically (2-3 times) to make sure i’m not going too crazy and the values look right.

The Finish

  • Scan drawing
  • Light Photoshopping
  • Add color overlay
  • Drink (optional).

-Huy Cao

Don’t think. Just draw.

This past year, I started realizing how little personal art I’ve done. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort, but more a lack of patience and commitment (okay, and some lack of effort too).

I tend to take on these huge projects that I carefully plan out inch by inch. The pieces I want to do usually require over a month of work and they almost never get finished. I get burnt out and ready for something new about halfway through.

I somehow managed to make my greatest passion stressful—I was trying too hard. I forgot the joy I always had just mindlessly doodling, not worrying about every line having to be precise and every element laid out perfectly on the page.

The four illustrations below are what I have done since this realization. They can hardly be called mindless doodles, but I attacked them with the same approach. As soon as I came up with the concept, I went to work, letting my hand move freely and didn’t stop until the piece was finished. Each illustration took me anywhere between an hour and an hour and a half. Much better.

Grandmas Boy

Mitch Hedberg - pastel

Jordan in Motion - graphite

R2D2 screenprint

There’s no end goal in mind with these illustrations, they’re just kind of laying around somewhere in my room. Although, one of them is contributing to a good cause. I’m donating the “Jordan in Motion” sketch to a silent art auction being put on by Philanthro — an organization I’m a member of — in partnership with Art with Heart. You can learn more about the event here and if you have an art piece you would also like to donate, email mary.wu@philanthroproductions.org by March 24.

Doing this reminded me what I was capable of creating when I allow myself to let go of some control. I relied more on my artistic instincts rather than having everything planned out. It has also helped breathe new life in other aspects of my design work. Sometimes, it’s better to not think and just draw.

-Huy Cao