The illustration on every CD you buy is as much a part of the album
as the music itself. I know I'm not alone in admitting that I've discovered several progressive and metal gems by browsing the record store shelves and taking a
flutter on the record based on the picture. Camel's The Snow Goose comes to
mind, and so do Yes and Iron Maiden's early LPs.
The picture without is a reflection of the music within.
It is more than mere
packaging – it helps describe the concept or the theme of the music, and is
often the basis of the insert booklet, concert posters, adverts and web sites.
Early pioneers like Roger Dean, Derek Riggs, Storm Thorgerson and Paul
Whitehead famously elevated cover pictures to an artform worthy of independent
appreciation. But who are today's standout practitioners?
Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday spoke with five of today's best cover illustrators – some
are relative newcomers, and others have a history covering many decades of the
best music in our genre.
This is part one of a three part article, and examines the artists'
biographies and training, their musical influences, and their successes.
Part two will examine the
business of CD cover artwork, working with the musicians, and the life of the
In part three we discuss the
art itself – the influences, the media, and the artists' favorite pieces.
The artists we spoke with
Californian Travis Smith is
best known for his covers of heavy metal acts like Opeth, Anathema, Demons &
Wizards, Iced Earth and Riverside. In keeping with the heavier genres of music
he covers, his work is often dark and introspective.
Initially famous for his
elaborately detailed covers of Marillion's early CDs, Angland's Mark Wilkinson
is still very active today – working with bands like Satellite, Judas Priest and
From Arena and Ayreon to
Winterlong and Wolverine, Sweden's Mattias Norén
has become one of today's
most successful progressive and metal cover artists.
German-born Marc Klinnert
and his wife / business partner Gaby live on Australia's Gold Coast. Their
cover art includes Rhapsody and AINA, and their efforts are evenly divided
between cover art and lifesized sculptures.
For three decades Englishman
Rodney Matthews has published sci-fi and fantasy creations on record covers,
books, posters, calendars, video games and on TV. His cover art graces albums by
Asia, Rick Wakeman, Barclay James Harvest, Uriah Heap and Thin Lizzy.
Are you familiar with the
Sea Of Tranquility webzine?
Yes, I have been
familiar with it now and again in the past.
recently, when you requested the interview. It looks professional.
I wasn't…but I've
had a look now…and very interesting it is too.
Yes, actually I
do. It's a great one.
Where do you live, and
I live in Nayland, a
small Suffolk village just over the Essex/Suffolk border, about 10 miles from
Colchester. I work from home usually, but I have a studio in another part of
the village for the larger scale work.
North Wales – United
I live and work in
Australia, Queensland, the beautiful Gold Coast.
I live in and am from a
bit outside of San Diego, CA.
I live in Alingsås,
Sweden, a small city about 50 km from Gothenburg.
Marc Klinnert's Original Illustration For Rhapsody's Symphony Of Enchanted Lands II
What kind of formal training
do you have in fine arts, and did it help you with the work you do now?
I was what they call a
'mature student' when I started art college in 1974 at 20. Having spent 4 years
in engineering after leaving school, I decided it wasn't what I wanted to do
after all. I had started doing caricatures and designing posters for bands
appearing at local colleges and universities and a few friends had said that I
ought to consider 'doing it for a living'. I was skeptical about leaving what I
saw as a secure job…but I thought I'd give it a go when I saw an advert for an
art college in Watford, north London. I went for an interview with some of my
drawings and posters and to my amazement…was accepted for a 3-year 'multimedia'
course taking in graphic design, illustration and copywriting. I left in 1977
(the year of Punk Rock) with a diploma in graphic art and illustration.
I just studied a view
semesters of design in Germany but during the study I worked as a freelance
illustrator for advertisement agencies and no, in my opinion it is not important
2 Years at The West of
England College of Art, Bristol, UK, on a Commercial Design Course. This
included; Package Design, Still Life, Creative Lettering, Costume and Nude Life
drawing. Yes, I found this training very helpful
Outside of a semester of
art in High School, I have no formal education or training with art.
Basically I have no
training in "fine art". I studied something called "technical illustration" for
two years. We learnt how to create building instructions, exploded views etc.
It was more about drawing things very realistic and informative, not very
artistic. But in some way I'm sure it helped me to develop as an artist.
The diploma was, as
anyone in the arts will tell you, not worth the paper it was printed on in terms
of getting work…it's what's in your portfolio that counts. That is still the
case now, and that is how it should be. What going to art college does however,
if you use your time wisely is give you a basic grounding in the arts…but more
importantly it exposes you to people and ideas that you would otherwise not have
had. I met some interesting people there…the college band was WIRE…a very
experimental so-called 'punk' band that went on to be very influential in the
(ahem) 'Art Rock scene', with bands like Blur and REM name-checking them as
influences. For me though, meeting Graham Palfrey-Rogers who had been an
influential artist in the 60's with a credit as art director for The Beatle's
Magical Mystery Tour was the best contact I made. He started a studio in Covent
Garden, London and invited me to join him when I left Watford. It was the first
big break I had as I then met a lot of people in the world of Illustration, and
eventually I joined with an artist's agent, David Lewis who got me work in book
and magazine publishing. That was my second big break. The third big break,
and the biggest of the lot of course…was walking through the doors of Torchlight
Studio, a design group, who that afternoon had been asked by EMI to 'find an
artist' to design album and single sleeves for their new signing, Marillion!
Mark Wilkinson's Cover Illustration For Satellite's A Street Between Sunrise And Sunset
Can you give us a brief
rundown of some of the bands you've worked with?
Alias Eye, Arena, Avian,
Ayreon, Circus Maximus, DGM, Derek Sherinian, Evergrey, Forgotten Suns, Into
Eternity, Jag Panzer, John Petrucci, Knight Area, Kotipelto, Michael Pinnella,
Star One, Triangle, Winterlong, Wolverine…
I think to date I worked
with close to 100 bands. Notably Opeth, Katatonia, Anathema, Devin Townsend,
Iced Earth, Death, Nevermore, Solitude Aeturnus, Soilwork, Novembre, Psychotic
Marillion, Fish, Judas
Priest, Iron Maiden, Hawkwind, Bill Bruford, Syd Barrett / Pink Floyd, Peter
Gabriel, Kate Bush, The Darkness
I worked directly with
some bands like Rhapsody, Shaman, AINA, Gun Barrel and others.
This would include
Nazareth, Asia, Rick Wakeman, Magnum, The Scorpions, Barclay James Harvest,
Uriah Heap and Thin Lizzy
Rodney Matthews's Original Illustration For Magnum's The Eleventh Hour
Presumably, you started out
as an artist - but how did you find your way into record cover art specifically?
I started doing CD
covers with my friend's band, Psychotic Waltz. That let me to some exposure and
connections with other people in band's or labels that I updated with my
progress. When some of them felt confident I could I was up to some of their
tasks, I was asked to do a few things for of them here and there, and it led to
others along the way.
I played drums in my own
rock band during the sixties and seventies, meeting various musicians needing
record cover art. I also sent my work to Bands and Record Companies seeking
I started out for 2
years when I left college doing nothing but black and white pen and ink drawings
for trade journals like Accountancy Age, Computing Monthly, Management Today.
From there I gradually moved into technicolor doing book jackets for most of the
big publishers in London at that time. These could be anything from painting an
oil rig for a book on north sea oil to portraits of bands like The Police, Queen
and Bette Midler for biographies. I also remember doing a series of book covers
for the American comic novelist Donald Westlake.
I painted a lot of CD
cover artworks during my time at the advertisement agencies, for example for
Scorpions, Nazareth etc. and so it started.
I have always been
interested in music and art. So creating a CD cover was a big dream that I
had. I put out some of my work on a website and the right person came across
it. And once the first cover was done, the ball started rolling pretty quickly.
My first record sleeve
was for a greatest hits compilation for James Brown. From that beginning I did
a few compilation album covers for RCA, Decca and Polydor, anything from opera
and classical to a heavy metal compilation called 'Hot Shower' with a guy in a
heat proof suit standing in a shower holding a Guitar with flame throwers as
shower heads!! Very subtle … not my idea!
I'm sure you aren't
exclusively a CD cover artist, are you? What other forms of art are you involved
I do portraits, other
private commissions when asked, I do video…or nowadays DVD sleeves, I've worked
for TV and film related projects like Red Dwarf , Dr. Who and Star Wars
I am working as an
Illustrator for more than 20 years and after a while you are looking for other
challenges and I found mine in sculpting.
My art has appeared on
posters and prints, calendars, snowboards, jigsaw puzzles, CD-ROM, cards,
T-shirts, magazines, paperbacks, illustrated books as well as music products.
CD cover art is my main
occupation at this time. I have done a few things in comics, and the odd company
logo or two, different things like that, but those things are few and far
Lucky me, I work
together with my wife Gaby (I am on gunpoint!) and it was her idea to start this
second business. Today we've sculpted more than 25 different life size
characters for videogames and also our own characters, for example a life size
raptor and right now we are finishing a life size T-Rex head.
Mattias Norén's Cover Illustration For Mattson's Power Games
What is your favorite genre
of music, and what do you listen to the most? What's been in your CD player
I like all sorts really,
no one specific genre…Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley, Tom Baxter, Damien Rice,
Porcupine Tree, a brilliant Italian band called Moongarden , DJ Shadow, Aphex
Twin, Philip Glass, Pretty Things (still my favorite album of all time…SF
Sorrow) Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel … Fish of course…Plague Of Ghosts is my
all time favorite piece of music, Marillion…Marbles and Brave
specifically. The most played album for the past year is by Unkle, Never
Neverland – a brilliant album to work to. I love Underworld for that
Progressive metal and
progressive rock is what I listen to the most. Also some AOR, pop and extreme
metal. Some favorites at the moment are Riverside, Katatonia, Opeth, Saga, Pain
of Salvation, Evergrey, Echolyn.
Well, my favorite genre
is metal, but in saying that I am also accounting for a lot of the different
styles of it, like newer anathema to Children of Bodom, and everything in
between and beyond. Of course I like other styles as well, but that's my
favorite. I've actually been listening to a bit of mellower stuff lately, like
Riverside and Porcupine Tree, and the Gathering.
I am a fan of
Soundtracks, my favorites right now are The Missing, Man on Fire
and Hannibal. And to be honest, in my CD player recently it was the new
CD from Rhapsody, The Enchanted Land II, and it is a great album!
I like to listen to
sixties and seventies prog. rock including, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Genesis
and Yes. I also like all types of American Jazz from New Orleans to post
What styles of music do you
address with your artwork, and how does your style of art vary with the
different music genres?
I am known for my rock
covers mostly, but I have also designed for jazz and folk in the early days
using a more rounded style of art rather than the 'spikey' rock look.
Well, I suppose what I
address is whatever style I'm applying the artwork to at the time. I would like
to think that I could adapt myself to any kind of genre I was asked to work
with. It would just be a matter of tailoring the idea to what best fits. Maybe
take some ideas that work with one kind, and bring them into another, adapting
it a bit so you keep a little of each.
I try in most cases to
tell a story with my pictures. I try not to let the 'style' interfere too much
with the storytelling process. It should be seamless, that transition from
thought to paint to image…if the viewer is conscious of a 'style' of
presentation I think I have failed in my job. Airbush art was always
fascinating to me as it was like painting with light…that realism you can
achieve has been superceded now by digital art to some extent. But I have made
a return to paint and canvas recently for some commissions where I can afford to
do so as there is still a difference I think between what is created on computer
and what is fashioned by hand. But at the end of the day…they are all just
'tools' to get the final image to look as close as you can to the original
thoughts in your mind. Any artist will tell you that the ideas they have in
their mind for a picture are pure…once you start to translate those pictures in
your head to paper, or screen even…there is a compromise. How much you
compromise is the biggest problem you have as a creative person. As for
different styles for different musical genres…I try not to discriminate, every
job I am offered presumably is because the client can see something in my work
that will fit their project.
I can't say I address
any specific genre. I address those who like what I'm doing. Naturally most of
my work suits prog, metal and perhaps AOR best, but in fact I have been in
contact with a couple of hip hop artists that have liked my style, so it might
work for more genres
It depends on the
artwork I am doing. If an artwork includes big landscapes, I listen more to
Soundtracks just instrumental, so that is much better to get an imagination.
I don't vary my style
much depending on the genre a band is in, it's more depending on the music on
the specific disc and what wishes the band have. For instance you can't call
the latest Evergrey artwork a typical metal artwork, yet people think it works
perfect for that album.
Travis Smith's Original Illustration For
Anti-Depressive Delivery's Feel. Melt. Release. Escape.
How close to the music do
you have to be, in order to get a feel for the designs you will use?
Not very close
necessarily. I really love some of the music I listen to for a project I'm
involved in…and some I really don't like. I'm not saying which! It helps though
if I am passionate about the music, but it doesn't always work out. I tried
once to do a picture for Porcupine Tree…a band I love…but it wasn't used for
various reasons, didn't matter how close to the music I was in that instance.
The ideal would be to
get the lyrics and some of the songs before I start working, but this is not the
reality. Normally I try to get some lyrics first and I always prefer to talk to
the band personal directly on the phone about the project, so I get the feeling
for the design. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't.
It helps if I like the
music but even if I don't, I give my customer 100% attention and effort,
producing the best job I can.
It's not necessary for
me to be close to the music, as I've found myself working on many projects
without being able to. However, it does help a great deal with the inspiration
and the motivation when being able to hear and like the music for which you are
trying to represent.
Naturally it is a plus
if I know and like the music. If I don't, I need to have a closer cooperation
with the artist to hear his wishes.
Who decides on the overall
theme and the style of the artwork - e.g. landscape, sci-fi, abstract, pattern,
pictorial, impressionistic, photographic, classical, etc? Do you make that
determination, or is it usually the musicians?
That's very different
from project to project. Some tells me to "Do something good looking", while
others tell me exactly what they want. Most of the time it's somewhere in
between. We discuss some basic things like if it should be light or dark, some
specific colors, any basic ideas for the motif, then I create a quick image that
I send to the client to see if I'm heading in the right direction or if we
should try something different.
It works both ways. I
am happy to take instruction from the band or record company, but in the absence
of an idea or clear focus, I present my ideas by way of pencil sketches with
Most of my stuff is
usually conceptual, so I assume that's what someone is asking for if they come
to me. If not, they will usually tell me what they are looking for. I just
take what information or ideas thew client might have and try to bring it to
life as how it feels best suited, and then see if they agree or if something
different should be tried.
That depends on the
project, but I prefer to decide it by myself in the first way because I have to
paint it J But as I told you before, the decisions are made during the talks on
the phone or the briefing. It is always better, in my opinion, when I am able
to make my own decision, because to many people have to many different opinions
and you cannot fullfill them all. I prefer Fantasy and SF and mostly Horror
It is usually me who
decides such things. Occasionally the bands suggest themes, but never style.
I much prefer an open
brief because it allows me more artistic freedom. Conversely, several of the
Magnum covers have been closely based upon ideas of band leader Tony Clarkin,
not the least of which is 'On A Story Teller's Night'.
This has been very
informative! In part two we'll examine the business of CD cover artwork,
working with the musicians, and the life of the illustrator.
By the way - The 2005
Rodney Matthews Classic Rock Album Covers Calendar is now available from the
mail order section!
images in this article have been reproduced with permission
Images are by protected by copyright
the artists for details of copyright ownership
Unauthorised distribution of these images or any part thereof by any means is
before / after image at the top of this article is from a
Fish CD cover and is extracted from Mark Wilkinson's web site
and can be viewed in its original form at: http://www.the-masque.com