Designer Spotlight: Howard Finster

While some may consider it odd for an outsider artist to be included in a series about famous album cover designers, the late Howard Finster was commissioned to create several album covers by recording artists such as R.E.M. and Talking Heads. Finster was an American folk artist and Baptist minister from Georgia who believed that he could spread the gospel through the artwork he created.

Finster claimed that his artwork was inspired by visions from God and created over 46,000 unique pieces during his lifetime. His work began getting national attention in the mid-1970s with a feature in Esquire magazine. He had his first major exhibition in 1976.

In 1983, R.E.M. filmed the music video for their song Radio Free Europe at Finster’s Paradise Garden’s museum in Summerville, Georgia. As a result of meeting Finster, lead singer Michael Stipe commissioned him to collaborate on a painting for the cover of the band’s second album, Reckoning (below).

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The painting created for Reckoning began as a drawing of a snake created by Stipe. It was given to Finster to add his folk art images to the background and complete. The result is a piece that is not typical of Finster’s work. However, it began series of album covers for other recording artists and worldwide fame.

The second album cover created by Finster was for Talking Heads’ 1985 album Little Creatures (below). The cover was named the best of the year by Rolling Stone magazine. 

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After the success of the Talking Heads cover, Finster was commissioned to design album covers for several other artists such as Adam Again, Memory Dean, and Pierce Pettis. Finster’s motivation for creating album covers was simply spreading the word of God to millions of people by distributing it on LP sleeves and CD covers.

Howard Finster’s official website ( includes a biography and an online store featuring Finster originals. The website for Finster’s Paradise Gardens ( is definitely worth a look.

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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…

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Designer Spotlight: Marq Spusta

dinosa-farm.jpgArtist and illustrator Marq Spusta has created a number of amazing concert posters, album covers and book illustrations over the past few years. Last year, he did some noteworthy covers for the album Farm by Dinosaur Jr. (right) and the associated singles.

Spusta has a style that is unique and immediately recognizable. When I saw the cover for the forthcoming album Dirty Side Down by Widespread Panic, I knew that it was Spusta’s work.

If you want to see more of his work, visit Spusta’s website at

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Designer Spotlight: Mick Haggerty

One of my favorite graphic designers is Mick Haggerty. Over the last 40 years, he has designed countless album covers for artists such as David Bowie, ELO, The Go-Go’s, PIL, The Police, Simple Minds, and The Rolling Stones. His portfolio is vast and there is no better way to experience it than to visit Haggerty’s mulitmedia website Mixworks.

mick_haggerty.jpgglassj-worshi_03.jpgHaggerty has won numerous awards for his album cover designs. Probably the most notable is the 1980 Grammy Award-winning design for Supertramp’s Breakfast in America (below). Haggerty won the award for Best Package Design with Mike Doud and he has been nominated for at least three other designs, Vacation by The Go-Go’s, Steppin’ by The Pointer Sisters, and most recently Worship and Tribute by Glassjaw (right).

What I like most about Haggerty’s work is that in retrospect it has always been a perfect reflection of current pop culture. Yet, not much of it can be called dated. The slideshow at Mixworks is great because it appears to be presented on a random timeline. You can compare and contrast images produced during different eras.

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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.
(view all posts by this artist)
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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Designer Spotlight: Mike Salisbury

Michael Jackson

The final Michael Jackson “Off The Wall” cover art as created by Mike Salisbury.

Designer Mike Salisbury is the man behind the imprint on a multitude of diverse products from HALO, the world’s most popular video game, Rolling Stone, Surfer and Playboy magazines to O’Neill and Gotcha surfwear and Levi’s 501 jeans (a brand Salisbury created). He is also responsible for creating Michael Jackson’s iconic image in black pants, glittery socks, loafers and a single white glove.

After seeing Jackson in the The Wiz, Salisbury contacted his agent. “I knew his agent and called him to say that Michael Jackson was going to be the biggest star ever and I would be anxious to work on something with him,” said Salisbury. “Michael’s agent called me in to his office and showed me an album cover mock up for his solo album and asked me what I thought. I told him that it looked like a cheap ad for the children’s department at Macy’s. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘It sucks.’ I thought Michael Jackson had the potential to be huge—the biggest, so I suggested he let me develop some ideas.”

Salisbury returned to the agent’s office with several variations of his concept, which only seemed to perplex the agent. “I explained that I was creating a metaphor. I told him that Michael was just a kid out from under his dad so I think the album cover should make a statement that his solo debut is as big as Sinatra coming on stage in Vegas. I explained the concept by pointing to the fashion type drawing and saying, I put him in a tuxedo. That says big deal!”

“The agent hemmed and hawed and was just about to dismiss the whole nutty idea when a little, high-pitched voice softly squeaked, ‘I like it,’ and Michael stepped out from behind the drape covering the large office window. ‘Let’s just do it,’ he said, and so we did,” explained Salisbury.

Jackson liked everything about Salisbury’s concept from the get-go and only requested one change. “‘I want to wear white socks,’ Michael whispered to me. They have to be über socks then…really glamorous,” remembered Salisbury.

MJBeforecoverart.jpgThe photo shoot was taken at the Griffith Observatory at the Hollywood Planetarium. Salisbury’s wife at the time found an Yves St. Laurent woman’s tux in Beverly Hills that fit Michael. “I also told him to get loafers like Gene Kelly wore in An American in Paris. When we went to shoot the photo, I instructed him, to roll up his pant legs, put his fingers in his pockets and pull his pants up like Gene Kelly—to show off the socks. The loafers really made the white socks work. By the way, the socks were custom-made for Michael by famous Hollywood costume designer Bob Mackie.

“Michael drove up the hill to where we were at in the front of the building, the same location where they shot the knife fight in the movie, Rebel Without a Cause,” Salisbury continued. “He was just 21 and had a new Rolls Royce. It was smashed up a bit and he was driving badly.”

There was no place for Jackson to change and Salisbury and his team were under a time constraint because they had no permit to shoot there. “Fortunately for us, the women’s restroom was open and like a real trouper he ran in there and put on the tux,” Salisbury noted.

After reviewing his first shot for the album cover, Salisbury didn’t think it showed the real Michael. “We were rushed and Michael was just not that into it,” he said. “I thought he was a little too serious. We needed to shoot this differently. I mean, this album cover was just for him, not him and four other brothers. I suggested we re-shoot it and when we did, I directed him to be more animated. I suggested he smile and exaggerate the pulling up of his pants and get into it like he was dancing. He was a great sport and agreed to do the re-shoot. We did the second photo shoot against a wall and voilá! There was our cover for ‘Off the Wall.'”

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buy_now.gif The white socks were so successful in drawing attention to Michael and his dance moves, there was a conversation about doing gloves, too. “I felt that would start looking literally Mickey Mouse (and of course Michael was a big Mickey Mouse fan). Between the agent and Michael and me, we got it down to one white glitzy glove. Another great move for attention,” Salisbury concluded.

Salisbury created Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” debut album cover art in 1979. Today, Salisbury is recognized worldwide as one of the leading talents in American brand design. People see his artwork every day in some of the world’s most recognized corporate branding and product designs for companies such as Volkswagen, Suzuki, Honda, and Hasbro—the biggest toy company in the world.

His work can also be found everywhere in the motion picture industry. Salisbury helped create marketing campaigns for over 300 movies including Aliens, Jurassic Park, Romancing The Stone, Raiders of The Lost Ark and Moulin Rouge. The “exploding boxing gloves” that introduced Rocky IV to the world is an iconic Salisbury image that drew more recognition for the film than its title, ultimately becoming the visual symbol for the film and Salisbury’s most copied graphic metaphor. George Lucas is a collector of Salisbury’s work and recommended him to Francis Ford Coppola, who used Salisbury imagery creations in Apocalypse Now.

His music industry work includes creating album covers for George Harrison, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones, Ry Cooder, Ike & Tina (for which he garnered an album design Grammy nomination), and many others. Mike additionally developed branding identities for top labels Blue Note Records, RCA, United Artists Records and PolyGram.

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Designer Spotlight: Andy Warhol

The first thing that pops into my mind when I hear the term “pop art” is Andy Warhol. The second thing that I think of (being an album art geek) is the yellow banana album cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico. However, I don’t think that most people think of Warhol as an album cover designer, even if they are familiar with this iconic image.

So, I was quite pleased to read about a recent exhibit that features all 50 album covers designed by Warhol during his life.

‘Warhol Live’ exhibit looks at pop artist’s connection to performing arts

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Growing up in Pittsburgh, far from Andy Warhol’s New York scene, I can distinctly remember my first exposure to the famous Pop artist’s work. It was the shockingly yellow banana he depicted in his inimitable silk-screen style on the cover of the Velvet Underground’s first album that got my attention, one of three albums I received for Christmas in 1976, along with my first stereo.

I know now, but didn’t then, that Warhol designed 50 record covers in all. His first was in 1949. The last, the year he died — 1987. Though the bright yellow banana on the Velvet Underground cover is stuck in my mind forever, perhaps Warhol’s most famous album cover was for the 1971 Rolling Stones album “Sticky Fingers,” in which Warhol used an actual zipper on the record sleeve.

A few more notables: Warhol designed album covers for Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Blondie, and for a recording of Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”

Now, the latest exhibit to open at the Warhol features all of those album covers and more

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The AlbumArtExchange gallery features several of Warhol’s most notable album covers. It would be interesting to see a list of all 50. Many of the covers are immediately recognizable as Warhol. Others are a bit of a surprise. You can click the images or the “buy now” links to get the album title and artist.

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If you have any Andy Warhol album covers in your collection, please upload them to the gallery. There are 40 more to go!

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Designer Spotlight: Frank Olinsky

The Smashing Pumpkins website has posted a wonderful interview with Frank Olinsky, the art director responsible for developing the group’s album covers from 1995 through 1999. Olinsky explains his role as an art director and shares some original sketches by Billy Corgan that provided the concepts behind many of the band’s covers.


Thru the Eyes of Frank Olinsky

June 12, 2009

Frank Olinsky is the art director behind the extravagant and intricate packaging that accompanied all of the Pumpkins’ official releases between 1995 and 1999. From Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness to the singles that supported Adore, he oversaw the creative process that led to some of the most visually engaging albums in the band’s discography. He has also worked with R.E.M., Sonic Youth, Duran Duran, and Philip Glass, just to name a few, and helped co-create the chameleon-like logo and original look of MTV.

I caught up with Mr. Olinsky to talk about his time working with the Pumpkins, and just what exactly an art director is.

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For more information about Frank Olinsky, check out his blog at You will find lots of great examples of his work and cool personal stories like this:

I still can’t believe I actually worked with David Bowie, Brian Eno and Philip Glass together on one project. The package design for Philip’s Heroes Symphony, based on the music from the Bowie and Eno album Heroes, began as rough sketches on a napkin. (Yes, it is true that some really good ideas begin as rough sketches on napkins.)

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Designer Spotlight: Vaughan Oliver

On June 15, Pixies are releasing Minotaur, a box set of five of their classic CDs. The following video is a mini documantary about how the artwork for the box set was created by graphic designer Vaughan Oliver. Oliver created the covers for the original releases and was asked to do a “reinterpretation” of his work for the new release. The set will include the Come On Pilgrim EP, Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova, and Trompe le Monde.

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For those of you who have to have this box set, the Minotaur Deluxe Edition will retail for $175, while a Limited Edition will be priced at $450.

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Designer Spotlight: Peter Ashworth

Photographer Peter Ashworth has published a portfolio of his work online at The site includes several iconic album covers. Most of them require no captions. It is great to find out who photographed these images.




There are photos of many other artists on the website, including Morrissey, Erasure, and The Clash.

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