Cher reveals artwork for forthcoming album

On the heels of David Bowie’s reveal of the controversial artwork for his forthcoming album, The Next Day, Cher has posted the cover for her newest project. Similar to the Bowie cover by designer Jonathan Barnbrook, the cover for Woman’s World uses recycled artwork from Cher’s 1971 album, Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves, with Cher’s face covered with a white box containing the new album title. Unlike Barnbrook, the designer of the Cher cover wisely chose to remain anonymous.

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New RockPop Gallery Interview: John Lorenzi

The RockPop Gallery blog has just posted an interview with artist/illustrator John Lorenzi about the making of the cover for Megadeth’s 2007 album United Abominations. It is an excellent account of how the Lorenzi came to create the cover and the creative process involved.

Founded by Mike Goldstein, the Portland, Oregon-based RockPop Gallery showcases the best artistic and photographic talent from all areas of today’s music industry. Their ongoing series of interviews are intended to give ;the music and art fan, an inside look at the making of the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the industry’s most-recognized and influential images.

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UnCovered Interview – United Abominations album cover by John Lorenzi

UnCovered Interview – John Lorenzi and the making of the cover for Megadeth’s United Abominations album

Subject – the making of the cover of the Megadeth album titled United Abominations, released in 2007 on RoadRunner Records.

As it is true in most of the careers of “creative types” – the folks that rely on whatever it is inside them that makes them want to devote themselves to making things (art, music, literature, etc.) that somehow stimulate others – sometimes, you just need a break to be discovered and for your career to get some sort of a boost. Not that that break will necessarily lead to fame, riches and the adoration of the masses…sometimes, it just serves to introduce you to a patron or two and helps kick-start your fan base to some degree. From there, it usually just takes a tireless work ethic, marketing savvy and gobs of luck before you can have a life-long career doing what you’re passionate about.

Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine has long shown a flair for invention, both in his music and how his musical efforts are promoted visually. In a song (“Skull Beneath The Skin”) from their first record release in 1985, Mustaine describes a character – a macabre manifestation of “See/Hear/Speak No Evil” – who he then realized in an initial sketch he did (and then worked with a series of artists over the years to recreate to fit applications including album cover art, merchandise, music video/stage props, etc.). And, like other examples of iconic rock images done before and since, each artist’s interpretation of Mr. Rattlehead would reflect – some more successfully than others (according to fans/critics) – the status of both the band’s music, internal politics and the state of the world in which Vic “lived”. In some cases, it seems clear that even a guy with all of his facial orifices sealed shut just can’t get a break.  

In the case highlighted here though – that of artist/illustrator John Lorenzi – his own break came as the result of an almost-first-place (!!) finish in a contest to redesign an iconic image – that of Vic Rattlehead – where he just hoped to gain a little notice and, perhaps, win a guitar for his kid…

Continue reading…

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My latest famous album cover

ndiamo-neildi_04.jpgFamous Album Covers is a fun collaborative blog that I have been contributing to for many months. It features fictional album covers by fictional bands and often fictional stories about them.

My latest creation uses an acid-washed stencil font like those that have been popping up on a lot of recent album covers, particularly the various ICON greatest hits collections (right).

I also wanted to follow the trend of using scans of old family snapshots and amateur photos as album art. So, I used a scan of a my late mother in a photo booth with a friend that was taken in the 1950s. Mom was the blonde on the right. I imagined that it was the kind of photo girls would send to their boyfriends who were away at war.

I like making up stories that are almost believable and based on real artists. You’ll have to guess who inspired the fictional artist Ellen Townsend. You can click the image for a larger view.

Ellen Townsend: Missing You

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Ellen Townsend (born August 16, 1956) is an American singer-songwriter and musician. Townsend was born in St. Joseph, Missouri. A musical prodigy, she learned to play guitar by the age of 10. Her formative years were spent in the small town of Clarinda, Iowa, where she began performing in a bar owned by her stepfather. Her first public concert was at age 15 at the University of Iowa campus. Townsend cites Joni Mitchell as a primary influence on her music, and her initial recordings reflect that.

Townsend began working in the music scene professionally in the late 1970s. She moved to New York City in 1983, where she became involved with the Fast Folk cooperative in Greenwich Village. She has recorded 10 studio albums.

Released in August 2010, her most recent album, Missing You, is being called the best of her career by many top music critics. The title track was used for the theme of the TV series Deadly Little Bitches and has reached #4 on the pop music chart.

Famous Album Covers accepts submissions. If you’re inspired to create a fictional album cover and a short story to go along with it, feel free to drop them a message.

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Why fonts matter in album art and sports

blackk-brothe.jpgLast week, Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was publicly ridiculed for using the Comic Sans font in an angry letter to player LeBron James. The letter was posted on the team’s website after James announced that he is leaving the team. Gilbert’s ridiculous font choice was instantly a trending topic on Twitter and become a hot topic on blogs across the Internet.

It has been quite a long time since I have seen Comic Sans used on an album cover. However, I often see other fonts that have become cliche from overuse or have been reviled by graphic designers for their lack of artistic merit. There are just some fonts that should not be used unless it is intended to be ironic. The recent cover for the album Brothers by The Black Keys (above right) is an excellent example of an ironic cover. It uses a version of the overly common font Cooper Black for a generic look.

Recently, I saw that the font Copperplate Gothic was used for the cover of David Archuleta’s forthcoming single, Something ‘Bout Love (below). Copperplate Gothic is certainly not as despised as Comic Sans. However, it is a font that has been used for countless rock and heavy metal album covers. It has a kind of horror movie look to it, especially when modified to include crosses and other symbols. It definitely doesn’t work on a David Archuleta cover.
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Posted by: zeefritz

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Perhaps the art director who approved Copperplate Gothic for Archuleta’s cover should have gone the ironic route instead and used Comic Sans and Cooper Black. At least that would have been cute and creative.

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When pop art and album art collide…

warhol_soup.jpgIn 1962, legendary pop artist Andy Warhol caused quite a stir in the art world with Campbell’s Soup Cans, thirty-two canvases each featuring a painting of a Campbell’s Soup can (right). Each painting represents a diffferent variety of Campbell’s Soup.

I saw Campbell’s Soup Cans in the 1980s at an Andy Warhol exhibit in Los Angeles. Like most of Warhol’s work, the scale was surprising. The canvases take up a huge amount of wall space. It can be seen on permanent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The paintings at MoMa are arranged in the order they were introduced to the public by Campbell’s.

Campbell’s Soup Cans was one of the first major pieces that uses a branded product label as fine art. It led to an entire series of Campbell’s Soup can paintings by Warhol. There have been dozens of parodies and tributes of the work over the past 48 years.

I do not know how many album covers have been based on Campbell’s Soup Cans. Two recent exampes is Soup by The Beautiful South and The Housemartins and Dog Food by Mondo Generator.

A version of the collaboration by The Beautiful South and The Housemartins actually came in a soup can. I have seen an alternate cover that looked more like a copy of the Warhol painting. I assume it was changed due to copyright issues.

The Mondo Generator cover more closely resembles the Warhol original. I think it stands up better as a parody of Warhol rather than an imitation.

The Beautiful South and The Housemartins – Soup (2008)

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Mondo Generator – Dog Food (2010)

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My Christina Aguilera Bionic cover

caguil-bionic_04.jpgWhen I first saw the album cover for the forthcoming Christina Aguilera album, Bionic (right), I took an instant dislike to it. Now that I have seen the original photograph on which the cover is based, I hate it even more.

So, I opened the photo up in Photoshop and started messing around with it to see if I could come up with an album cover that conveys the “bionic” theme without making Aguilera look like a robot zombie that has had half of its face removed. The Rocky Horror mouth that the artist pasted on her doesn’t even resemble Aguilera’s.

I also dislike the horror movie blood streams that have been applied to the typography. The typography is also very weak and not proportioned well on the image.

DebbieHarry-KooKoo2.jpgI decided to apply some futuristic tattoos to Aguilera’s face. I wanted the effect to be subtle, yet convey the idea that she is perhaps part machine. I think that the result is a nice start. The tattoos need quite a bit more detail and 3D effects, but I think this is a major improvement.

I think what I would like to end up with is something that is similar to what H.R. Giger did for Debbie Harry (right), just not as morbid and creepy. I haven’t found just the right font yet either. I think a custom font would be nice for a major artist like Aguilera. (I’ll be updating the image as I work on it.)

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What’s that album cover font?

I’m known for being somewhat of a “font geek” in my circle of very geeky friends. I am usually the one people call when they need to identify a certain font on an album cover. Often, I am able to help. In other cases, I can’t. That’s because many fonts used on album covers are custom fonts that have been created especially for the artist. It may be similar to an existing font. It could also be unique.

However, there are many recording artists that use a common font. I have listed a few of them below, along with the name of the font.

Weezer – Century Gothic

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weezer-weezer_02.jpg buy_now_240.gif Oasis – Arial Black Italic

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oasis-defini_07.jpg buy_now_240.gif Glee – Avant Garde Medium

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soundt-gleeca-bustam_02.jpg buy_now_240.gif Yazoo – Broadway

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yazooy-upstai_05.jpg buy_now_240.gif Coldplay – Albertus MT

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coldpl-parach_04.jpg buy_now_240.gif The Clash – Stencil

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Do you have a favorite album cover font? If so, let me know about it by leaving a comment. I may share in an upcoming article.

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Notable Album Artist: Jim Flora 1914 – 1998

Jim Flora (January 25, 1914-July 9, 1998), is one of my favorite artists… right next to Paul Cadmus.  Both an artist for album cover art and fine art, his tradition continues into the 21st century as young designers license Jim Flora’s images for CD covers.
 
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Jim Flora is best known for his distinctive and idiosyncratic album cover art for RCA Victor and Columbia Records during the 1940s and 1950s. Jim Flora’s wildly modernist album artwork for records in the early forties created a “look” for jazz music in a time where film and television footage of jazz musicians was few and far between. Flora covers appeared in many configurations (e.g., 78 rpm set, 10″ microgroove LP, 12″ LP, 45 rpm 7″ set, open-reel tape, tape cartridge, and foreign editions).
 
Flora had a cartoon like style that in its earliest (1940s and 1950s) incarnations, portrayed a diabolic humor and uninhibited sense of outrageousness. Despite a later reputation for “cuddly” kiddie lit and family-friendly illustrations for mainstream magazines, Flora’s fine art–both early and late–was by turns bizarre, playful, comic, erotic and/or macabre. It could, on occasion, shock or offend.
 
He was also a prolific commercial illustrator from the 1940s to the 1970s, an author/illustrator of 17 popular children’s books, and freelanced as a storyboard artist for UPA’s commercial unit in New York City. Less well-known is that he was a fine artist with a diabolical bent, who created hundreds of paintings, drawings, etchings and sketches over his 84-year lifespan.
 
His style evolved radically over the decades; comparing his sharp, edgy commercial work of the 1940s to his middlebrow buffoonery of the 1970s sometimes leaves the impression they were done by two different artists who happened to share the same name (he was always credited as James Flora). It seems that the more popular Flora became, the less “threatening” his art appeared. This is certainly true of his commercial work, which softened and became more generic in the 1960s and 1970s.
 
Flora dotted many works with images of violence and sexual excess.  The cover of The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora is adorned with figures from his 1940s absurdist burlesque painting, The Rape of the Stationmaster’s Daughter, as his private fine art, often served as an outlet for the artist’s inner demons.
 
(The Rape of the Stationmaster’s Daughter)
The Rape of the Stationmaster's Daughter by Jim Flora
Flora’s biographer, Irwin Chusid, said that Flora “crafted rhythmic design in unfathomable meters. “Many of his smaller temperas and pen & ink sketches, particularly from the 1940s through the 1960s, featured clusters of unrelated images interlocking like rune-shaped brickwork, every square inch of surface crammed with bizarre figures, some disturbing, some nonsensical, all intriguing. As Flora once explained, “I could never stand a static space.” Music was one of Flora’s muses, and his montages radiate overtones of improvisation, a one-man band jamming on a canvas.
Related Links:
The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora (Paperback) by Irwin Chusid
Source: various / Music Hog / The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora
 

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Mr. Brainwash discusses Madonna album covers

Andy_Warhol_Marilyn.jpgHere is a short clip of street artist Mr. Brainwash discussing the album covers that he created for Madonna’s recent retrospective collection Celebration. I wrote previously that the cover for the standard version of the album fails due to the cliché Andy Warhol-style blue eyeshadow and red lipstick that the artist applied to her face.


Mr. Brainwash also says that he feels his album cover is better than the 1962 Andy Warhol portrait (right) that inspired it. Obviously, Mr. Brainwash doesn’t understand that Warhol applied the garrish makeup and yellow color to Marilyn’s face as a form of social commentary. It was an insult to her beautiful face to cover it with harsh colors, masking the real person beneath the artificial image.


After Monroe’s suicide in August 1962, Warhol used a 1953 publicity shot of the actress by photographer Gene Korman to create his silkscreen portrait of her. It was a shocking image at the time. No one had ever seen the face of Marilyn Monroe reduced to pop art in this way. Warhol’s portrait was timely and extremely morbid.


For Mr. Brainwash to copy this important work of art and claim that his imitation is better than the original is ridiculous. It shows a lack of understandering of the artist he is imitating. Perhaps if he’d created his album cover shortly after Madonna’s death it would have a similar impact and an irony worth consideration. However, it would still be an imitation of Andy Warhol.






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52nd Annual Grammy nominees announced

The nominees for the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards were announced yesterday. The three categories that are of most interest to album art aficionados are those for Best Recording Package, Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package, and Album of the Year.


Here are the nominees for Best Recording Package and Album of the Year for recordings released during the eligibility year October 1, 2008 through August 31, 2009:


Best Recording Package


Spinal Tap – Back From The Dead
Brian Porizek, Art Director


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David Byrne & Brian Eno – Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Stefan Sagmeister, Art Director


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Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Neko Case & Judge, Art Directors


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Splitting Adam – Splitting Adam
Jeff Harrison, Art Director


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Various Artists – Tathagata
Szu Wei Cheng & Hui Chen Huang, Art Directors


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The Spinal Tap CD packaging features an “action figure stage show” that can be assembled from an insert in the jewel case. I wrote about it a few months ago. I am not surprised it was nominated. The David Byrne and Brian Eno CD also has a very cool design. From photos that I have seen, the Tathagata CD features what appears to be handmade paper.


My favorite for the win in this category is Splitting Adam’s self titled album. It features an amazing 3D hologram as demonstrated in the video below.





Album of the Year


Beyoncé – I Am… Sasha Fierce


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The Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D.


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Lady Gaga – The Fame


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Dave Matthews Band – Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King


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Taylor Swift – Fearless


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Of course, album art won’t be a consideration in selection of the Album of the Year. However, the winner and the nominees will influence the design of album covers for years to come. Art directors tend to look at successful and critically acclaimed albums for inspiration. I really do not have a favorite among the nominated albums as far as album art goes. They are all fairly average.



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