Welcome to “Cover Stories”, where we allow a Figment player to describe an album cover he/she designed in their own words.  From the original idea to the finished product, we’ll hear the story behind the cover.

In this installment, we hear from Figment player frizbee who gives us the story behind the cover for his band Eccentric Arcade’s latest album “It Never Stops Being Now.”

When the concept of “It Never Stops Being Now” first hit me, I knew it was going to be a challenge.  Much like the cover for “EPIC!” I had a basic outline of what I wanted to achieve, but I knew that getting there was going to be a rough journey.  To be perfectly honest, I very rarely have an exact vision in mind when I begin designing any of the covers I’ve made.  Sometimes I’ll have an immediate stroke of inspiration and know precisely how I want the final cover to look, but it’s incredibly rare to ever hit the nail directly on the head.  Many covers in the past have had to be redrafted, adjusted, and sometimes just plain scrapped.  Though, more often than not, I stumble upon the final design somewhere along the creative process of mapping out the album.

For the “INSBN” cover, I had a very rough idea of what I wanted.  I knew that if I wanted to capture the essence of an album from the ‘90s I needed one thing: children.  For some reason, using children on your album cover was practically a staple of ‘90s bands.  Think about it.  Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, Smashing Pumpkins’ “Siamese Dream”, Blind Melon’s self-titled debut, KoRn’s first three albums (before they broke the cycle with “Issues”), all feature children on their respective covers.  But finding the right image of just any random kid is not as easy as it sounds.  I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but I knew I would know when I found it.  “INSBN” is one of very few covers that I’ve ever created multiple variations for.  In fact, the cover went through many changes, almost right up to the release of the album, before I finally settled on a final design.

The first cover I created was very simplistic.  I had found a stock image of a young girl, and the color scheme of the image really appealed to me.  The image itself wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I knew it was a step in the right direction.  The color scheme and the contrast of the image is what interested me more than anything.  I’m a big fan of using textures in my design work, and sometimes even a subtle texture can really make a design pop, which is exactly what I went for with the first cover.  I even decided to experiment and flip the image, which actually wound up making the overall image much more visually interesting.  Then came the tricky part: typography.  Typography can really make or break any design, in my opinion, so the style and placement of the text is equally as important as the rest of the design.  I have lots and lots of fonts, and I do have some favorites that you may notice, so font selection is always a long process.  I will often create mock-ups of the band and album name in different fonts and placements, and then narrow them down until I find the right combination.  The font I chose for the first draft of the “INSBN” cover is called Impact Label.  I don’t know what it was about this particular font, but something about it just really fit with the design at the time.  I also really like the sort of haphazard placement of the text in general.  The font looks like it was printed out with a label maker, so I wanted it to appear as though the text was quickly stuck onto the cover.

Truth be told, I went back to this cover time and time again while deciding on the final cover, and it was always a very, VERY close second.  In the end, a single mistake is the only thing that kept me from using it as the final design.  It’s something that would probably go vastly unnoticed by most people, but as the designer it would haunt me forever.  You may notice in the image that some of the squares that make up the name of the album appear a bit jagged on the edges.  That is because I made the rookie mistake of not making the text a Smart Object before adjusting the angles of the text, which would have prevented the edges from becoming pixelated.  I could go into further detail explaining exactly how that works and why it’s important, but that’s neither here nor there.  It’s a petty thing to get so hung up on, but it’s a big deal for me from a design standpoint.  And I know what some of you are probably thinking, “Why didn’t you just go back and fix the text?” Believe me, I would have if I could.  Unfortunately, shortly after the creation of this cover I suffered a massive computer crash that wiped everything on my hard drive.  Just before it completely bit the dust I managed to grab a few things, which is why I have the jpeg of this cover, but sadly not the original Photoshop file.  If I really wanted to, I could take the image and use the Clone Stamp to erase the text and then fix the pixelated edges, but without the layers of the original file it wouldn’t turn out the same.

I had also created a cover that featured a young boy chained at the ankle to a large pocket watch, which featured a similar muted color scheme and some vague texturing, as well as some rather intricate typography that made the band name appear as though it was an old, wrinkled bumper sticker.  Sadly, that cover was also lost in the horrible computer crash that claimed the original Photoshop file of the “upside down girl” cover, as well as may other designs including a rather intensive piece of work for the cover of what was intended to be the first single from “INSBN”, “Disaster Girl”.  The loss of that one hurt the most.

The next design I attempted featured an image that I really liked, and I honestly thought might be “The One.”  I had found a stock image of a young girl in a field, and I loved everything about the image.

The difficult part was that the image was in black and white, so I had to colorize the image myself.

I added a texture layer, and was initially happy with the way the way the image turned out, but I never had much luck when it came time to choose the fonts and the placement of the text.  The font I used for the band name is called Buteco, and the album title is Jellyka Saint-Andrew’s Queen.

I ended up deciding against this design for the final cover because of two main reasons.  Firstly, I never cared for the font selections I chose, which sadly were the fonts that worked the best.  Secondly, I hated the way the field in the background of the image turned out.  The longer I worked on the cover the more I realized that the grass took on this strange smudged, out of focus appearance.  It almost looks like some sort of optical illusion, which I thought greatly distracted from the rest of the cover.

From there we move on to the next cover attempt, which features a girl on a swing set in mid-swing.  At this point I was really reaching the bottom of my creative well.  I had been working for several months on just this one cover, and I was getting nowhere.  I stopped trying to be creative and sort of started flying blind.  Free form design, if you will.  I hoped that maybe by approaching the design with a clear mind that something might, by accident, come out of it.

Unfortunately, that approach did not pay off.  I don’t like anything about this design.  I don’t like the image I used, I don’t like the color scheme, and I don’t like the texturing.  The only part of it that I like is the text.  You may recognize the font choice for the band name as the same font I used for the final cover design (as well as the “Ropeburn” single), which is called Lemonheads.  The font I used for the album title is called Men In Black Credits, about which you hear more about in the future.

Finally, after about three or four months of working on the same cover, I started to make some progress.  I happened upon a stock image of a little boy in a frog costume.  Immediately I was drawn to the image.

What I loved most about the image was the quirkiness of the frog costume combined with the look on the boy’s face.  It’s this sort of confused, wearied, complying look as though he’s already come to grips with what life is and he’s begrudgingly accepted it.  The original image was very bright and almost washed out, and this bright green was the most dominant color.  To tone down the vibrancy of the colors I layered a couple of black and white copies of the image on top of the original, adjusted some of the color levels and the blend modes and ended up with a much less intense contrast.

The greens were softer, the shadows were more prominent, but it was still a bit too light and airy for my tastes.  I added a layer filled with grey and changed the blend mode to Color Burn, which made the greens a much more dark, rich color and brought out more of the shadows in the image, as well as some more color in the boy’s face.

It was getting there!  I wasn’t happy with the amount of white still in the image, though, so I added a layer of beige with a blend mode of Multiply.  This got rid of all the bright whites of the image and gave it more of an appearance of an old photograph that had started to turn sepia with age.  I still wanted some texture in the image, so I added a layer with a rusty texture and set the blend mode to Overlay.

I had taken the original image from bright and cute to dark and grungy.  I was pleased as punch.  I toyed around with some font variants, but I decided to go with my original font choice from my original design and chose Impact Label.  The plain black text didn’t work with the rest of the color scheme in the design, so I used the same rusty texture from before and created a Clipping Mask to add the color and texture to the text.  Also, I added a drop shadow to the text to make it stand out a bit from the rest of the image.  I experimented with text placement for a while before I decided on a disjointed placement reminiscent of my original “upside down girl” design.  I had finally created a design that I was happy with, and I was set to make it the official cover for “It Never Stops Being Now”.

Six months later, long after I had made up my mind that my last attempt at the “INSBN” cover was the LAST attempt, I started to get a nagging feeling.  I knew it wasn’t finished.  I knew there was still something missing.  I began going back over all of my previous designs and comparing them, trying to pinpoint what I liked and disliked the most about each one.  I finally realized that the final cover design was far too dark.  I wanted it to have a rough, grungy feel to it, but I didn’t want it to look too grungy.  I had also grown to dislike my initial font choice.  I realized that it worked for my first design, but that it just didn’t compliment this particular design.  I had to lighten up the image somehow and change the text.  Not an easy task.  It’s tricky enough to build something from the ground up, but to rip out the middle section and rebuild it entirely is a whole other ballgame.  I experimented for a while to find what I could still use from the original “frog baby” design and what needed to be changed.  I kept the basic foundation, but I only layered one black and white copy of the original stock image instead of two.  I also kept the grey and beige layers.

I then added a new layer of medium blue with a blend mode of Soft Light, which balanced out the yellowed look in the greens of the image caused by the beige layer.

Next, I knew I wanted to keep the texture from the rusty texture image, but I didn’t want such a harsh rust color.  So, I applied a Photo Filter to the texture using the Underwater filter with the density set to 100%, giving the texture a nice earthy green color.

Now the image has texture and the contrast in the greens and the shadows has been bumped up a little, too.  The image was still a bit too dark, though, so I added yet another texture layer.

 

By adding a layer of parchment paper texture set to Overlay, it knocks out the harsher texture from the now greenish rust texture in the lighter areas of the design.  Now the lighter areas have been brightened up a bit and have a subtle texture to them, while the darker areas maintain the rougher texture and contrast from the rust texture layer.  Then I just had to find the right fonts for the band name and album title.  I had already decided that I would use the Lemonheads font from the abandoned “swing girl” design, which I always felt just really fit the ‘90s vibe I was going for.  I added an orange stroke to the text and set the stroke’s blend mode to Color Burn, which gives it that funky gradient look when it mixes with the background layers.  Finally, for the album title I used a font called Don Quixote to which I added a Layer Mask and dabbed at with a soft spatter brush to give it that worn and faded look.

Finally, and I mean it this time, I had achieved what I set out to create all those months ago.  This album cover gave me the most grief out of all of the covers I have ever created, but I am truly happy with the end results.  Thank you for taking the time to actually read this, and if you only skimmed it, I don’t blame you.  My apologies if it seemed like more of a Photoshop lesson in some parts than a recounting of how I created the “It Never Stops Being Now” cover, but it wouldn’t be Cover Stories if I didn’t go into detail, right?  Lastly, many thanks to Eric and the gang at Figment for approaching me to take part in Cover Stories.  I am deeply honored and hope I did it justice.  Thanks again, everyone!

 

 

One Response to “Cover Stories – “It Never Stops Being Now””

  1. theHoseman Says:

    Filled with incredible detail on Frizbee’s creative process! I am awed by his attention to every last little thing in the design. It only proves to me once again that I am lost in the sea of Photoshop. I need to retire to the lab and get to business.

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