is the third and final part of the Cover Illustrations series: And it's the
biggest part too - with more illustrations and more discussion of the art of
In Part 1 we examined the artists' biographies and training, their musical
influences, and their successes.
Part 2 examined the business of CD cover
working with the musicians, and the life of the professional illustrator.
In this final section we examine the art itself - the inspirations, the
techniques and the media.
The illustration on every CD you buy 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.
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.
The artists we spoke with were:
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
Initially famous for his elaborately detailed covers of Marillion's early
CDs, England's Mark Wilkinson is still very active today – working with bands
like Satellite, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden.
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.
Two months ago we discussed the
life of the artist, and last month we discussed the business aspects of cover
illustrations. In this final section, I'd like to focus on the art itself –
your influences, your media, your favorite illustrations, and so on.
To kick it off – can you
tell us about the media you use?
Most of my work is painted with pigmented ink on art board.
I use a sable hairbrush and an airbrush for sky and mists.
The majority of my
work is photography based, whether it's the main subject or basic foundation.
It usually starts with photography. If needed or desired, I sometimes will mix
in other mediums like pencil or watercolors, to varying degrees of effect. It's
all brought together and composed digitally.
It varies, I use acrylic paint and acrylic ink on board or
canvas. I sometimes scan drawings in to the computer and work on the images
digitally. It can be a mixture of both.
That's a wild mix. Most covers are based on photos
but I also use traditional media, computer drawings and I've also tried some 3D
even if I don't like it very much. I hate images that really look computer
generated. Worst are the ones where you can even tell what software the
designer have used. Bryce images almost makes me throw up [Laughs].
I use mixed media, that means the brush, acrylic
colors and for the finish the airbrush. Sometimes I use also the computer.
Rodney Matthews : Tiger Moth
You may have answered my next
question already, which was … To what extent do you mix your media, and to what
extent do you use different media for different pieces?
I used to do lots of drawings
on tracing paper and overlay them to find the right composition, sometimes
enlarging or reducing the individual elements, it's so much easier to do that
now digitally once the drawings are scanned in. I can do printouts and redraw
the picture, or work up the image on-screen experimenting with color and print
out to rework in paint and airbrush.
It varies with each piece.
I mix quite a lot. Many images include photos, hand drawn images and
computer drawn parts. By computer drawn images I mean images that I created on
a digital drawing board. Almost like drawing on a paper, the only difference is
that the image appears on your screen instead. I don't have different prices
depending on what media I use. To me the important thing is the end result, not
the way I got there.
I rarely mix media in the same
piece, but sometimes I work in watercolor for less detailed cartoon work.
How often do you use old
fashioned pencil, paper or canvas, paint, etc?
Every piece of work I do starts
off with pencil sketches on tracing paper. I have not used canvas for many
years. I do not use a computer.
Not as often as I would like to. One reason is that I'm sitting in our
living room working right now and I don't have much space for it. But in a few
weeks we are moving to a bigger place and I plan to have a table just for
traditional media. Will be fantastic to finally get my own studio.
To scribble a new
illustration or a new statue I always use the pencil and paper. The
illustration later on will be made on Schoellnhammer carton. On the carton I
also start with the pencil, then I work further on with the brush and acrylic
paint and finish it with the airbrush. I also work on the computer with a Wacom
Grafic Tablet and a pen, but only if I see something what I like to change,
after we scanned the original illustration. It's a really perfect medium to
change color tones or to add more contrast etc. By the last Rhapsody cover we
used a mix of the original illustration and added some realistic parts like
trees, part of the sky or stone texture later on the computer, but I usually
prefer old fashion.
More recently than I have for a
long time, and I find it really satisfying.
Travis Smith : Devin Townsend, Terria
Travis, you mentioned earlier
that the majority of your work is photography-based. Mark, Rodney, Marc, do you
use photography at all? Perhaps in rough idea layouts, or as a background, or
perhaps as a starting point?
I take reference shots of
natural forms like trees, animals, rocks etc. and occasionally ask someone to
pose for a reference photograph.
No, I don't use photography
for my scribbles, just when I have to find a position for a character of my full
size statues and of cause, sometimes I use photos as reference.
I use photography a lot for
reference. Some of Fish's albums were completely digital, some like the last
one were a mixture of paint and photography and digital.
Coldness is very photographic…
Yes, I use a lot of photos, but since I work a lot on them it's not that
easy to see in the end.
In the event your work isn't
all digital - how large is the original artwork, before it is reduced to CD
All of it is digital. I suppose if you were going to print them in real
size, they would be comparable to a gatefold LP, or a bit larger.
I prefer a size of 30 x 40 cm
to work on and for landscapes I work on 35 cm x 70 cm.
It was long ago since I created covers with no involvement of the
computer. It's so easy to change colors etc in the computer so it saves a lot
of time. The images I created before was up to 40x60 cm.
Usually about 18" x 36"
landscape so the image can wrap round the back of the CD booklet cover….just
like the old gatefold album sleeves.
This varies from 30 X 40 inches
for poster art down to 12 inches square for CD art.
Do you think the tiny size
of a CD cover does justice to your work?
No, I lament the passing
of the 12 inch record cover. CDs are far too small and often badly printed.
Yes, I guess I'm one of the few who really prefer the CD format. And a
CD package is not just about the cover, it's the booklet as well. You can do a
lot with the booklet if you want to. The lyrics were presented in a much more
boring way back in the good old vinyl days.
I think it does. I of course have that size in mind when I plan and
start, so I make sure to utilize it for the best results.
I have no problem with
that, and if it's a cover artwork they are printing posters anyway so you can
see the details on the posters. For sure, LP covers are much more
representative, but the time for the is over.
Mark Wilkinson : The Fool
How much of a technology
expert do you have to be?
I know enough to get by with my
trusty Apple Mac … but I have no idea about the wiring under the boards!
Every bit of knowledge helps, but I'd say that you need to know enough to
work with your programs and keep your equipment maintained.
That depends on what you mean with technology? You need to handle the
software you are using in a good way. On the other hand I don't know much about
computers when they don't work as they are supposed to.
I need to keep up to date with
some technology particularly when working in computer games or animation design,
but I do not produce my images digitally.
I am doing this kind of job
since so many years and in my opinion it depends on your experience and also on
your ability to deal with the different customers and to understand what they
are looking for, that is the main challenge.
Marc Klinnert : Gun Barrel, Battle Tested
Some of the artwork you've
produced has been really otherworldly, and looks like the product of a very
strange imagination. What's the source for some of your ideas? Can you give us
People often wonder where I get my ideas. Most of the time they pop up
while I'm working.
There's really no conscious source for my ideas. They just appear when
they want to, but not always when I need them. I might see something normal, in
an act or situation, and I might get an idea to do something with it usually in
the what if, or has been, usually metaphorically, kind of sense. That's when
the purpose kind of kicks in, and I will see what kinds of paths I can take with
it that will lead me to what I am trying to say with it.
There's no magic formula. I've
always studied wildlife and this is the basis of my work. The natural world is
full of wonders that many people overlook. I take what I see and change
perspectives, relevant sizes, change color expectations, fuse things together
and hopefully end up with images which may look strange but are believable
because they contain elements of the created world. Yes, I believe in God!
I'm a big fan of films…in
particular very visually interesting film makers like Tarkovsky or Herzog.
Tarkovsky's 'Stalker' in particular was a big influence on The Fool…one of my
latest paintings, and the most requested Giclée print I've made. I consider it
one of my best pieces and I had that film in mind a lot whilst painting it,
especially the dog / guardian and empty rooms.
The Buried In Oblivion cover. I had found some cool gargoyle
photographs. I just started to play around with them and ended up with a road
with those beasts on each side. I wasn't happy about it so I added a doorway
and a stair in the background and finally things started to look better. Then
begun work with colour and light. It still looked a little unfinished so the
face up to the right were added and also the boy in the doorway etc. So
basically, most of the time I start with just one item and build upon it until
Mattias Norén : Into Eternity, Buried In Oblivion
Speaking of Buried In
Oblivion, Mattias, in all of your work for Into Eternity, there's a crow
that appears on each cover – and Tim told me that was your idea. How often do
you do that – following consistent themes, ideas or features for a given band's
I think that's the only time I've done that actually. I'm working on two
projects right now where the band's old covers will be included in the new
artwork, but that's not really the same thing as just one little item that
follows a band from cover to cover.
Rodney, Your cover for Magnum's
Sleepwalking is a masterpiece in abstract detail. Am I right in saying that
most of the elements that make up that cover have references in the song titles?
Can you tell us a bit more about how that piece came together?
Sleepwalking was a
collaboration with Tony Clarkin, the leader of the band. He always knows what
he wants and scribbles ideas on bits of paper – or beer mats! Most items are
connected to song lyrics
Rodney Matthews: Magnum, Sleepwalking
And looking through the gallery
of work you've published on your web site, Rodney, I think it's fair to suggest
that all of your work has a sci-fi / fantasy feel to it. Have you done record
covers in different styles – say classical, cartoon, photographic, pure
Some of my early work varied
from my current mainstream style. I have used photographs, cartoons and
portraits but not for many years. Check out the book Countdown To Millennium.
Mattias Norén : Sonic Debris, Velvet Thorns
Other than your own work,
what's your favorite CD cover of all time?
I always liked an album cover for Beaver And Krause called
All Good Men.
Uriah Heep, illustrated by Les Edwards.
That's a tough question. There are many. Probably King
Diamond – Abigail.
Moody Blues – In Search Of The Lost Chord.
I have to say Hugh Syme's cover for Rush Roll The
We actually tried to get Hugh
to join us in this interview, but didn't manage. Final question: You've each
produced a very substantial body of work to date. I know it's a bit like asking
which is your favorite child … but which single record cover is your personal
I'm not sure that I can pick only one, but if I can only say one then
Terria. And Katatonia.
for the folk band of the same name.
I like The Fool the best out of
all my work actually. It wasn't for a CD cover, it was a private commission.
It's impossible to just pick one, but Sonic Debris – Velvet Thorns
is one that I always have ranked high. The Jag Panzer artwork is another
favorite at the moment.
It is Gun Barrel, Battle
Tested, because I didn't use airbrush.
was a close blood brother to Script For A Jester's Tear, which I have to
say is perhaps still my favorite of any of my official album covers. It tells a
story, and that is all I ever wanted to do really – illustrate stories to
accompany the music … that's it, nothing more.
Well we'd like to thank you
very much for the time and thought you've put into this discussion. I really
hope it helps to raise peoples' awareness of the other art that is such
an integral part of every CDs we buy. Take Care!
The images in this article
have been reproduced with permission
The lead picture of the dragon
sculpture and Rhapsody's cover art is by Marc Klinnert
All Images are by protected
Contact the artists for
details of copyright ownership
Unauthorized distribution of
these images or any part thereof by any means is prohibited.