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.

For this installment of Cover Stories, we sought out Figment player formerwageslave, whose cover designs not only netted him the 2011 “Album Cover of the Year” Figgie, but also the #1 selling album on Figment in 2011.  We allowed him to pick a cover of his choice, and he decided to give us an inside look at his design process for the Lucifer and the Long Pigs album “Occult Outlaws.” Take it away formerwageslave!

The cover art for Lucifer and the Long Pigs’ “Occult Outlaws” is one of my favorite designs I’ve done for Figment so far. The artwork was complete long before I had a name for the album, and even before LLP released their double-album “Screwtape” collaboration with Squidbitchez. I had already used old parchment and worn leather textures for previous LLP albums, and in continuing that Wild West theme I knew that using an image of distressed, weathered wood was inevitable. I sorted through a lot of wood stock art before I found one that clicked– it had to look really old and dry, but it had to still be light enough that text, etc. wouldn’t get lost in it.

I had this image in my head of the LLP boys as true hell-raisers and outlaws, and few images communicated that more effectively than the murder of a lawman, a sheriff. I sorted through pages and pages of antique badge photos for one that looked old and beat-up enough, and one that was taken at the right angle with enough resolution for me to work with. I had almost given up when I found one of those old 5-pointed star badges (which also subtly reinforced the usual pentagram imagery of the band). It was perfect, but cutting it out and getting the lighting and shadows right were a chore.
I also wanted to include a spent bullet casing to drive home the idea that the victim had been gunned down. It took a lot of searching to find a bullet with the same finish and aging as the badge, and though the lighting, shadows and size are probably not quite right, I think it does the job just fine.
Next was the all-important blood. I wanted a bloody smear behind the badge, as if the band had just walked into a saloon and casually tossed the gory piece of metal onto a table to show off what they’d done. There are tons of stock photos of “blood,” and most of them look extremely fake. The one I went with might have been a little too bright, but I really liked how it popped out and had the exact dynamic shape that I wanted.
You can’t have a badge smearing blood all over the place without getting some on the front, right? I then cut out a chunk from another stock image of blood stains for the drips on the badge itself. I was also reminded of the Comedian’s blood-stained happy face button from Watchmen, which was also a visual influence on this design.
The final piece was the standard LLP text above and below the main image. Their logo font and text size are pretty standard at this point– except for special releases like the Rapture single, it rarely changes.
I had originally intended the text to have a red gradient, but decided that it took too much away from the contrast and coloring of the blood stains. I instead opted for a metallic gradient that was similar to the finish on the badge and bullet casing.
The rest is history!

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!

 

 

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.

This week we hear from thehoseman, who gives us the story behind the cover of the recent Zandergriff Miggs & The Parliament of Owls record “Erwin Schrodinger Brought Him Back.”

thehoseman:

When I first stumbled upon Figment, I had absolutely no experience with photo manipulation or graphic design. The writing part has always come fairly readily to me, but it’s taken quite a bit of experimenting and trying different things in the hopes of developing my own style of cover design. I wish I could say that the outcome and/or look of every cover is plotted, planned and known in advance of the creation, but, that’s not really the way I work. I start with an idea and then just dive in and see what happens.

One of the things I have been messing around with is what I like to call “old fashioned cut & paste”. I am constantly raiding magazines and newspapers to build up a collection of images, then grouping the images into collages and photographing them.  I’ve used this method for a number of recent albums.

This album started with a phrase. A play on the old wives tale, “Curiosity killed the cat. Satisfaction brought him back”. I’ve had the line (that comprises the intro and closing coda of the album) written in one of my notebooks for months. “Curiosity killed the cat. Erwin Schrodinger brought him back.” I don’t remember if I read it somewhere or made it up myself, but I knew I wanted to use it. If you dig into it, you can find multiple meanings and I thought that fit pretty well into what Zander & the Owls were all about.

All the images were cut out and grouped into the design using an actual album cover as the background. It’s completely black with limited text that’s easy to cover with the images and it makes it easy to create a square, album sized design. I acquired a cardboard display sign for a t-shirt design that had an eagle whose wings look like the 2 tiered manuals of a Hammond organ. (if you look closely you can see the drawbars.) Everything about it was perfect, except it was an eagle and not an Owl. I cut out the head of one of the owls I used on the “Down The Owsley Hole” cover and placed it over the eagles head and voila…the eagle was now an owl.

For Zander, I took a pic of myself as him with my computer’s built in camera, printed it and cut out just his torso and head. The cat and foliage in the background were found and cut from random magazines. I had a hard time figuring out how to do the box (necessary to tie in the Schrodinger’s Cat theme). I eventually found this image online, printed it and cut it out. I tried setting it up in a variety of ways, none of which really worked out. I settled on the overturned placement…as if the cat were just freed from Schrodinger’s experiment. (which was his way of trying to visualize the abstraction of quantum uncertainty in a tangible, physical way. For those that are unfamiliar with the experiment, I won’t bore you with the details.)

Once the images were assembled into the cover design, I photographed it with an old point and shoot digital camera and dumped it into iPhoto where I darkened it and over saturated the color as well as cropping it square.

The text was added in Pages (a Mac word processor). I kind of screwed myself a little here by not leaving very good space for the album title. I like the band name “painted” on the crate, but the album title placement was a total punt (though I do think it somehow manages to fit the style.)  Then the file was converted to jpeg and uploaded to Picnik.com for some additional effects and filters. (I don’t have Photoshop at my disposal.) I’ll keep the exact parameters used as a trade secret, but I will say there are about 5 or 6 layers of filters and effects added, all faded down to between 10 – 30% opacity. All of the effects were built upon each other to make the cover look more like a painting than a photo. I wanted to wash out the glossiness to give it a faded, early 70’s vibe. I also needed to cover up the flash reflection from the camera that sits disturbingly in the middle of the design. For that I created the spiral (that sort of becomes the owl’s vapor trail as it swoops in to the scene) using the Hypnotic effect. I used the Circle Splash effect to create the beams of light projecting from the owls eyes. Finally, for purely aesthetic reasons, I rounded the corners to again, give it a vintage, uniqueness, just a little detail to define a style.

It seems so totally egomaniacal to say, but I was really thrilled with the way it turned out.

I had already hashed out some song titles and with the complete cover, the rest of the songs and description fell into place. In some of the song titles you will see not too subtle nods to songs by bands that the Owls would consider influences. I’d be curious to see if they are easily recognizable or not. (yes…feedback requested.) All in all, from start to finish this project took me about 4 hours. Once I get rolling, things kind of just pour out and I run with it until It seems finished. I don’t very often go back and make changes or edit…(though some would probably argue that I should! – and as I look at the cover image now, I see many things I would change or do differently.)

I certainly don’t have the knowledge base or skill set of some of the designers on Figment, but I think I have a decent eye for art and through experimentation, I have found ways to utilize the limited tools at my disposal. I definitely attempt to tie each cover in so it makes sense with the band/genre/album it is for and that the overall “feel” of the cover fits the album. (which is highly important to my buying/listening to other albums on Figment.)

I hope anyone who reads this will find it at least somewhat interesting. I look forward to more of these Cover Stories, because I know I am totally curious to find out how all the rest of you create your covers!

Welcome to a new regular feature we’re starting here on Figment News called “Cover Stories”.  In each installment of “Cover Stories” we’ll 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.

Javdoc’s entry in the Metal Concept Album Contest; ‘five’ by doom metal band Crimson Eye, is without a doubt one of the most striking covers on Figment, and one of which he’s justifiably proud.  Fronting a concept album inspired by the 5 murders central to the Jack the Ripper legend, javdoc’s cover captures the essence of violence and terror inherent in the story in a simple and stark image.  While cover art is obviously a key factor to success in Figment, it’s particularly so with respect to concept albums.  The ability to immediately draw a buyer/listener into the gist of the story with a well-chosen-and-prepared cover is critical.  Javdoc definitely has a knack for this, evidenced by his win in last year’s concept album contest with ‘The Saga Of Carus: I. Journey To Roh’Orn’ by Lords Of Winter, his strong showing in the most recent contest, and the high quality of his work in general.

So for our first entry in the “Cover Stories” series, we turned to javdoc to discuss the genesis and creative process behind ‘five’.

Javdoc: Thanks, I’m honored to kick off this new series.  I hope a little insight into what I did with ‘five’ will be helpful to some of the other players, and I look forward to learning more about some of the other amazing Figment covers as this continues.

I was psyched when the announcement of the Metal Concept Album Contest was made.  In real life and on Figment, I have a definite appreciation for concept albums.  I love the story-telling, whether on ‘2112’, ‘Animals’, ‘Tommy’ or ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’.  I don’t think it’s a surprise many of them are considered the definitive works of the artists who produce them.  And of course, and most relevant here, they almost always have killer artwork that has to tie strongly to the story.  I’ve done a bunch of concept and pseudo-concept albums on Figment, so they are certainly near and dear to my heart.

With some of the albums I’ve done, I’ve had an image first and then created an album to go with it, as in the case of ‘Portals’ by Zeroth.  For that one, I was fooling around with a picture taken by a friend of mine, and the idea of portals came to me.  In the case of ‘five’, I decided to do a concept album around Jack the Ripper, and had most of the songs plotted out before I started on the cover.  My original concept was of an extremely close partial view of a shape in the foreground with a knife in hand looking at a woman in the background, to create an anticipation of violence to come.  I had something very specific in mind, and wasn’t sure how I’d be able to come up with what I envisioned without a lot of editing work.

The image I started with for ‘five’ was a found one – from a BBC story regarding Jack the Ripper.

[Editor’s Note:  The use of found images is, as many of you know, something that you need to be careful with for copyright reasons.  Although javdoc did use an image from a BBC program, he heavily edited it to create a new image that he used for his cover, and thus it was not banned.]

It’s moderately creepy in its’ own right, but I think I upped the ante quite a bit with the way I worked it over.  Though this wasn’t really the image I had been thinking of, I started playing with this one for fun to see where it would go.  The first thing I did was to tweak the color, saturation, contrast and brightness.  I knew I wanted a red scheme, to reflect the intensity, violence and fear of the situation, and not to mention, blood.  I also made it quite a bit darker, so the red was really red and the black was absolute.  I have to say, the result turned out even better than I was expecting, and once I had this I knew I was onto something special.

The next thing I did was to crop the image.  If you look at the original, the perspective of the viewer is about on-level with the shape and the view is fairly wide.  I wanted to adjust that, to give the feeling of someone being trapped, cowering in a corner.  I cropped it so the head of the shape is closer to the top, as though it’s looming over the viewer, and giving more of a looking-up perspective.  The structure on the right side is very dominant, to again give the feeling of being closed in.  When you add this to the heavy, dark coloring, I think it creates a real feeling of closeness.

As I said before, my original intent was to focus on the potential victim, with the killer represented only by a partial silhouette.  Though the actual image was now focusing on the killer rather than the victim, I still wanted to convey the sense of imminent violence, so once the coloring and cropping were set, I painted in an arm with a very visible knife.  It is being very deliberately presented to the viewer, so there’s no doubt as to what is going to happen next.  It took me 2 or 3 tries to get it just right, and though I wasn’t shooting for it, I like the way it’s hard to tell if the knife is protruding from the bottom of the shape’s fist for a downward plunge, or from the top for a slicing swipe.  Personally, I thought the shoulders of the original image were a bit narrow, and to add to the feeling of looming threat and closeness, I bulked up the shape a bit at the same time.

The final thing I did, and I am not even sure if it’s noticeable to most who view the cover art on Figment, was painting in two red eyes for the shape.  This was probably the hardest thing to nail, and took me 5 or 6 tries to get right.  I wanted this to be subtle – I didn’t want some Jimmy Page “Song Remains The Same” special effects fiasco.  Partly it was the positioning, but it was also getting the color intensity just right.  I wanted them to capture the background shading, as if the viewer was looking through the eyes of the shape at the wall behind: playing on the “windows to the soul” concept, and implying the viewer is being stalked by a soulless monster.  I think I finally nailed it, and I must admit feeling a little creeped-out by the final product.

I debated with myself a bit what font style would work for the title.  I was considering some handwriting/scrawl options, and some period typset fonts.  I finally settled on one I thought looked like what might have appeared in the newspapers of the period, as the media coverage of Jack the Ripper was one of the key factors in the establishment and sensational nature of the legend.  The signature Crimson Eye logo was applied, a faint softening was done to tie everything together, and it was finished.

Overall, I think this is one of the best covers I’ve done, and even though it appears very simple a lot of thought went into the final product.  I hope this look into my approach was entertaining and helpful, and as always, I appreciate everyone’s interest and support for the things I do on Figment.

Thanks.

javdoc

Do you have an favorite album cover on Figment that you designed?  We’d love to hear about it for “Cover Stories”, so send it to us using the feedback link on any Figment page.  Make sure to include images that we can use to help tell the story and a full step-by-step write up (use javdoc’s above for a reference) on how you put the cover together.  Please keep in mind that the decision to post your Cover Story will be based purely on the editorial discretion of our Figment News editorial staff.  We look forward to hearing your cover story!