I haven’t posted any ‘proper’ work recently as I’ve been a little preoccupied with my letterpress, but I have been busy on the design of Adam Moore’s new release, ‘Regent.’ I’ve done work for Adam in the past, three CD’s in fact, as well as the logo for his label Evesound :
Adam describes himself as Guitarist, Composer, Songwriter, Singer, Educator, Musical Experimenter, Recording Engineer & Producer and I am not going to argue with him about any of those descriptions. The website gives loads of information about him, what he does and who he does it with!
When Norwich-based Adam called me to discuss his new album I was keen to hear what he had been up to, as I knew he’d been playing with a number of other bands over the previous couple of years. We began as we have on each of the previous projects – I get a copy of the disc and a week or so to listen to it before we have an initial discussion. The album is largely instrumental, which I wasn’t expecting – the last two were very well-crafted lyrical albums, which made me stop and think a bit more. It is less easy to get a start on this type of work when there are no words to give some initial shape to your thoughts.
In our first meeting we discussed a number of possible directions, some of them very low-tech, which may have involved some woodblock prints, as well as a more illustrative approach. The main direction that Adam gave me was that he liked the idea of a small figure, surrounded by little details, sparks or ‘magic,’ possibly a little Art Nouveau. He gave me a starting point of the cover of a book and some colours samples of a particular shade of green he wanted to incorporate:
These are my first few offerings for discussion:
The silhouette was created from a favourite image of Adam that he currently uses on his website. After some minor editing in PhotoShop, I livetraced in Illustrator and set about editing and cleaning the vector points to get this effect. This was a bit rough in places, but until I got some nod of approval that this direction was good, I would continue to clean up and perfect.
Adam’s response was “Nice ideas. I like the first one best.” and we discussed the colour green with some pink details, the type and the Art Nouveau theme. I also needed to add the title of the album! D’oh!
The following version was indeed green, but I also introduced a border to ‘control’ the illustration and added a cream/off-white background colour, mainly to soften the green a bit, but also to allow the use of the pure white of the paper as a highlight colour in the type. I must admit at this point that I was not happy with the green, but this was the only aspect that Adam had really specified and sent samples for, so I needed to make this work.
ASIDE: I have worked with a few musicians during the last seven or eight years and can honestly say that musicians have been the best clients to work with so far. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve had some really good clients over the years, often from very surprising industries and backgrounds, but working with a musician is a different experience entirely. A musician has crafted (and then some!) the music for a considerable amount of time, and it is to them as personal as a painting, poetry or a love letter. I have arrived at this point in my life from a very commercial and quite industrial design practice and find working with musicians an exceptionally invigorating process by comparison. I have to be as interpretive as possible in my design decisions, and allow some proper emotional responses to resonate. It is a more personal approach, but one constrained much more tightly by the knowledge that the client will have a much stronger creative investment than say, the MD of a steel fabrication company. My design responses need to be able to be interpreted and examined in a very different way; I am required to be subjective in my approach, and objective in my analysis.
I also submitted another development. I was not particularly sold on the Nouveau style, especially the type; it always looks a bit contrived. I redrew the background marks with swirls and flourishes, using a little bit of darker green to push them out a little more and prevent the whole thing from becoming too flat. The type was changed to reflect the quality of the lines – this is Bellevue, a typeface I’ve had locked up for a little while, looking for a way to get out.
Adam really liked this one, and we discussed the possibility of shooting some new images for different guitar poses. Not the standard guitar hero poses you understand, but just to see if there were any other possibilities that we hadn’t considered that may have added something. In the end, Adam decided that the pose we had was the one to go with. So I continued with the development.
The addition of the pink details really lifts the image and the green becomes a little less dominant. You may have noticed that the shade of green has shifted very subtly from the first design, and with the variety of shades and tones, it has lost some of its ‘institutional’ feel that I though it had originally. There were some modifications to the swirls too, as well a continued improvement on the vector silhouette. Adam was also pleased with this, and after a lengthy discussion, it was decided to get some of the swirls to come forward over the silhouette, adding further to the sense of depth, and adding some reference to the Regent of the title, where I suggested dropping in tiny crowns into the swirls and details.
Adam also asked about including a little more detail in the image, especially in the face. I had already explored this at the beginning and decided not to pursue it, but Adam felt that this may personalise the silhouette a bit more. I went back to some early files and dug out a couple of variations:
Well it doesn’t take much to realise that this was not looking good; the addition of the eyes gave Adam a bit of a big ‘teletubby’ style head, and the high contrast shadow of the full face – even in pink – looked a little too, well… terrorist! Back to the plain version then.
At this point it’s worth considering the technical qualities of this image. One of the great things about working in vectors is the variation in ways you can view your work. When I build up a complex image I like to look at it full-screen with all the guides and windows removed, just as any designer does, but I also like to see the outline view, selections and layers; there is something about the simplicity/complicity of things when they are reduced to keyline that is beautiful to me:
This image is animated and should scroll through a few viewpoints. Click on it for the larger version and give it a moment to load…
This done, I turned my attentions to the rest of the CD. I know I haven’t mentioned anything but the cover so far, but this is the first time I formally approached this part of the project. This is not to say that it hasn’t been thought about. At every stage, including the initial ideas, the back and inner areas are considered whilst the cover is being refined – how can this be continued onto the disc? Could this be reversed and used as a knockout on the image? Will this line treatment work as a border style too? Everything is processed as part of the bigger picture; have you ever bought a CD and been drawn in by the cover design and been disappointed with what you find inside? I have, and all to often.
Adam and I had discussed a number of formats for the booklet, from a simple two page affair, to more complex multi page books, cardboard sleeves and foldouts. Because there were no lyrics, there was no need to go overboard on the booklet format and we decided to opt for a four panel foldout, where the cover is opened as a booklet, then opened vertically to create a large square, four times the size of the cover and would feature a larger image of himself, a little like a poster.
As you open the ‘booklet’ the first opening spread would contain all of the credits and additional text, allowing for a cleaner feel on the exterior panels. The first drafts were generally well-balanced with some additional swirls, but I needed to develop some of the other parts a little more before bringing this one up to the mark. This was shown to Adam to give a general idea of how the text would be generally composed and show the secondary typeface ITC Giovanni Book Italic:
This was chosen as it flows well in small text, and some similar line qualities that reflect the swirls on the cover. I was particularly swayed by the lowercase b, k, m, p, w and x.
On his previous albums Albums, Adam has been very modest and either declined to be photographically represented, included incidentally, or even combined into the design (Curious Liquid, 2005):
This time he was keen to be featured more prominently and suggested that we use this shot which was obviously taken at the same time as the silhouette image we used earlier:
My first thoughts were to vectorise the face, silhouette the guitar and make the strings all fly out into swirls. This is a very early ‘sketch:’
Adam wanted to retain the image as a photograph as he preferred the expression. Looking at the two together now, the vector image does look a little sinister by comparison.
I decided to elaborate on the guitar scratchplate rather than the strings at this point, whilst still keeping the photographic face. I wasn’t sure of this approach with the full colour photograph as the design had used a very limited colour palette so far so also explored a monochrome version too, which I thought worked much better:
I also began to put together the inner tray design and the on-body design. I was keen to keep the design consistent, but also wanted to throw a few surprises in too.
The inner tray then was to be a graduation from the cream to the full pink, with a more geometric swirl from the right. The disc itself would sit over the top of this, so the full extent of the pink would not be fully revealed until the disc was removed:
The back cover was approached from different directions and the two design I presented were very different. The first one followed the cover design with a green block within a cream border, with transparent layered swirls within the block, focussing in on a faint crown symbol. The track listing was spaced vertically within the block
The alternate approach dispensed with the green block all together, leaving that particular graphic device purely as a cover element; all the other panels/pages are full bleed. Using the cream and pink this time, The track list was made larger (19pt – which is really big for this sort of format, and the numbers are in just 9pt!) to make more of the details within the type, and a slightly darker beige was used to pick out the background swirls:
On a very beautiful Spring afternoon, we met up at The Windmill at Great Cressingham (couple of miles south of Swaffham) to look at a full proof, all cut and folded, and discuss some more details. One of which was the CD on-body design, which I hadn’t shown him anything of so far.
We had decided early on that the disc was to be black only on silver, primarily to save on production costs, but also as we had used it before on his previous two albums, both in different ways but each working well within their respective designs:
The first approach was to dispense with the swirls and features a centrally positioned, single black crown. I eventually declined to present this, as I felt that it didn’t relate to the rest of the design:
I went back to the swirls but opted for a much more paired down composition this time. I had created much more complex designs prior to this and explore spiralling out from the centre, all of which were rejected for being too ‘over-designed.’
Another approach was to simply use the longer calligraphic swash lines. I had originally worked from the centre but each composition looked to contrived and lack the organic qualities established elsewhere. This design flows from the lower right and will create a more positive dynamic when positioned within the jewel case:
In the end, Adam went for the second swirl design, which allowed for a couple of modifications for a secondary release he was planning. This meeting was productive and positive on all counts. I had a number of small alterations and additions to attend to, as well as a colour proof from the printers to check that the greens had enough contrast in print. My inkjet proofs so far had not shown the full contrast levels of the different shades and tones of green that I had been compiling on-screen, so I needed to get a print from the digital printer to make sure I got an accurate colour match. On the sample was a patch test of colours used with other alternatives so that I could review the print quality and make an informed decision of what alterations I needed to make. These images show the difference the printer makes:
There were two main issues; the greens were wildly out on my first print (first image, printers copy at rear), the off-white almost disappeared on the printers proof (second image, printers copy at rear). The pinks were a little more defined on the printers proof, but this can only be seen in the colour test panels I included on the artwork (third image, printers copy at front).
The printers proof allowed me to make an adjustment to the off-white background colour, to make sure that when we go to print, it is a little stronger, as well as breathe a sigh of relief that the greens were ok. To be honest, I had been dreading the greens being out – that would have been an awfully time-consuming task bringing them to the correct tones, with several more printers proofs along the way! It’s worth mentioning that I was more than just a little relieved at this point, but also very pleased; I have spent quite a lot of time calibrating my colour systems for accuracy and this proves that time spent on a few ‘boring’ tasks whilst setting up your technology can reap its rewards later on. (I’m still surprised that many designers don’t take the time to learn about their digital equipment and expect it to ‘know’ what it should do!)
So there is a short wait in the process whilst Adam and I can arrange to meet for what I hope will be our last meeting before we go to print. So far this post has been being typed during this wait, haven given me some time to reflect upon the process and the outcomes so far. When the post continues, I will have had the meeting…
A couple of meetings later spanning over a month or so for various reasons, and we have agreed on the final design, signed off on a second proof from the printers and finally gone to print. All went pretty smoothly, albeit slowly, and I have just received my copy of the finished CD:
All these fine recordings can be purchased online by following the links through the Evesound website – they are available as actual CD’s complete with their fine artwork as well as downloads. I recommend the CD’s, obviously…