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Cover Art And Cover Artists - A Discussion With 5 Of Best (Part TWO Of 3)
Posted on Monday, May 09 2005 @ 19:36:41 CDT by Duncan Glenday

The illustration on every CD you buy is as much an integral part of the album as the music itself. I know I'm not alone in admitting that I've discovered some 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.

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.

In part one we examined the artists' biographies and training, their musical influences, and their successes.

This is Part Two of three, and we examine the business of CD cover illustration, working with the musicians, and the life of the professional illustrator.

And in part three we will discuss the art itself – the influences, the media, and the artists' favorite pieces.

The artists we spoke with were:


Travis Smith

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.

Mark Wilkinson

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 Iron Maiden.

Mattias Norén

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.

Marc Klinnert

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.

Rodney Matthews

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.

Last month we spoke about yourselves, your artistic backgrounds, and your musical preferences. I closed by asking who decides the overall theme of the CD covers – you or the musicians.


Taking that question one step further – what kind of interaction do you have with the musicians? For example – do you hear from them with initial ideas? Are there discussions while the work is in process? Do they request changes? Is there a signoff process … etc?

Travis Smith:            Yes, I usually work very closely with one or more of the band members. Initial ideas are discussed, and they are updated with any progress as it develops for their thoughts or suggestions or ultimate approval.

Mark Wilkinson:      I usually do a set of rough ideas which are commented on. Sometimes that process takes a long time, sometimes it is remarkably quick. Changes can be requested at the rough stage…once the picture has started however…it is unusual to request any changes. The signoff process is when hopefully everyone is happy!

Mattias Norén:         That's very different from project to project. Some tell 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

Rodney Matthews:   I've come to know some of my customers well (Magnum, Asia, Rick Wakeman etc) and know their preferences, so that I minimize need for changes. There is a sign off process.

Marc Klinnert:          The interaction has to be very close, otherwise it would not work. First of all we talk about the project and the ideas, then we make a contract, then I do a scribble and send it to the customer so that we can talk about it again and the customer gets an impression how it will look like later. After that I start with the cover illustration, in between and when it is finished, I send the band pictures by e-mail. If there are changes requested we can discuss what is possible and what not. Normally we do not have problems with the approval and everybody should be satisfied.

Mattias Norén:         Naturally there are discussions while the work is in progress. Some just have a few request changes while others don't give up until the deadline is getting close and they have to settle for something.

Mattias Norén's cover for Arena's Breakfast In Biarritz

Once you've completed a piece – do you keep it, or do you sell or distribute any originals?

Yes I keep my originals (which are not digital) for exhibitions and for sale.

Klinnert:         Normally I do not sell the originals and keep them.

Norén:           I've given away one or two, the rest I have at home. Now I sell high quality prints of the images I create instead.

Wilkinson:     I keep some … some are commissions and are sold. I've started selling high quality Giclée prints of my work as there were a number of requests from fans. This has opened up a few contacts from buyers all over the world who have requested privately commissioned work.


Mark, On Satellite's old site, you has a 'tutorial' on how the piece was developed. I don't think it's on their site anymore - but that probably took some time for you to put together. What prompted you to go to that effort?

    I was asked in that instance … it does take time however, you're right!


Travis, In a recent magazine advert for The Laser's Edge, I noticed that several of their advertised CDs had cover art done by you. Do you have a relationship with them, or any of the labels?

Smith:             I like to think that I have a good relationship with The Laser's Edge. I don't work with them all the time, but the owner calls me once in awhile and we do some good things together. I really enjoy working with them and their bands.


Marc Klinnert's illustration for the
AINA project,s booklet

Besides the cover picture itself - how often are you requested to also do artwork for the booklet, the CD itself, or themes and backgrounds etc, for use on the musicians' websites? And do you get involved with the marketing materials, posters, shirts, and so on?


Norén:            It's very common that I do the whole package. And it also happens that I just do the booklet and not the cover, like for the latest Ayreon album and the Star One album. Sometimes I do websites, logotypes, shirts, posters and promotional images as well. My aim is to be able to deliver most of the graphic things a client needs.

Matthews:      It's usually just the cover art but although this is often used for promotion, T-shirts etc., I don't involve myself with merchandising or web sites.

Klinnert:        If it's requested and if the timetable's right, we do that too. For example for Gun Barrel: I illustrated the cover and Gaby designed the logo on the computer. Or for AINA we made the booklet illustration, some black and white drawings, the logo and the titles. When we are doing this kind of work, we have an agreement with the customer, that the illustration is only to use for this particular album and if they like to print T-Shirts or marketing material, they have to ask, because Studio Oxmox has still the copyright, except there is another agreement in the contract.

Wilkinson:     I get as involved as I can when asked. For example for the new Judas Priest album Angel Of Retribution I was asked to provide imagery throughout the CD book and also the tour brochure (I am working on that at the moment) as well as graphics for T-Shirts, posters etc … it all becomes part of the marketing and I like to be involved in all that, or someone else might do it and ruin the whole concept behind the original piece - which has happened before and is a shame when so much effort has gone into it originally.

Smith:            If I can, I always make an effort to do extra art for a project. I don't like to stop at the cover. I like to build on the original theme and say a little more, or resolve it, thematically. I like to use multiple pieces like chapters in a book. continuing the story, or building on or concluding the story, so to speak. Of course, how much I can do always depends on the timeline I'm given, the budget, and the complexity of the art. I always try to give the client more than they paid or asked for. I will get involved with the marketing materials if I am asked to. Doing that can be fun as well.

Travis Smith's cover for Devin Townsend Band, Accelerated Evolution

How long does it typically take to produce a cover image, from start to finish?

Wilkinson:     There's no 'typically' really…I've been known to spend months on a single painting. In one exceptional case (for Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors for Fish) it took 6 months! Which was ridiculous! For most pictures I would say between 1 to 6 weeks depending on how complex the image was.

Smith:           Yes, it varies. A cover image can take me less than a day, or up to a month. it depends on the complexity of the concept and my schedule.

Matthews:       On average two to three weeks.

Norén:          That's really hard to tell. Sometimes you need to do many suggestions until the band is happy, sometimes you find the right idea right away. But lets say about 30-40 hours. Sometimes quicker, sometimes a bit longer.

Klinnert:         If I'm on the table, 8 hours a day it would take a week, but that's not realistic. I do several things at the same time, so realistic is around 3 to 4 weeks.

How do you find your commissions - do musicians approach you? Or the labels? Or do you actively market your services?

It happens both ways.

Norén:           Most of the times I'm contacted by the artist or a label or management. I market myself through my website and naturally through the work I've done before. I've also created a small booklet where I present my services and some of my earlier work, that I send out to interesting bands and labels.

Wilkinson:     I have my website which is very useful to direct people to if they want to see examples of my work. Usually I get approached by E-Mail or phone. If the phone goes quiet I panic for a few weeks and check the line is okay, then think "it's all over" and sob into my coffee! Then the phone rings immediately after that! It must be digital Karma!

Smith:           I don't actively market too much right now. I've been pretty occupied with just getting my work done. I think a lot of the new people that approach me find me through my site, or word of mouth. A lot of them are return customers as well

Klinnert:       Yes, the musicians and the labels are contacting me, for example by E-Mail. We've been in some magazines with articles about Studio Oxmox and we have also our homepage - and we're also named in the different albums we made and so I think, that is the best advertising

Rodney Matthews: Original illustration for
Nazareth's Tell No Lies

What is the hardest thing about your chosen line of business


Smith:              Finding the perfect idea when I need it, and having the bills paid on time

Matthews:       Getting decently paid!

Wilkinson:      Unsocial hours. No sick pay, no paid holidays. What am I saying, illustrators are never allowed holidays! Actually that's how it used to be. I've been traveling quite a lot recently with my work for exhibitions. On the whole it is a wonderful life. I have some good friends who are teachers and when I see what they have to do … I have no reason to bitch about what I do to earn a crust! It is a charmed life in many ways.

Norén:            Like all other businesses I guess. To earn enough money to pay your bills. If you would have been a good CD artwork designer in the seventies or so I think you would have had an easier life. There were much more money in it then. On the other hand, I'm working with something that I really love, so it makes me rich in another way.

Klinnert:         I think the hardest thing is to deal with the customers.


Are you working on any exciting new commissions right now

Smith:              Yes, I have a few on my plate that I think are going pretty well

Matthews:       Commissions for a Dutch collector and pitching animation projects in the U.K. and the U.S.A.

Klinnert:        We're working on three new full size statues right now and in between, I'm realizing some of our own projects, for example a T-REX full size, where I started with the head first and it will become a life size diorama with several dinosaurs involved and the T-REX as the main character.

Wilkinson:      Just finishing off a lot of work for Judas Priest for their massive world tour.

Norén:          I've just started on the artwork for Evergrey's first DVD. I was there when they recorded it and it was a fantastic show. I have also started with a solo album from Andrea Novak, the singer of Mind's Eye.

Wilkinson:     Next, I have to make a start on a new painting for Fish called Return To Childhood. This will revisit the themes of Marillion's greatest success 20 years ago. It will be a brand new painting featuring the boy from Misplaced Childhood…and how he might have grown up. Fish and I polished off a few bottles of wine and watched Amarcord by Fellini and came up with a lot of ideas for the picture – it will be really exciting. The final painting will accompany me at a few of Fish's shows this year for a small exhibition at the gigs, and there'll be Giclée prints available of it too.


One of the illustrations that put Mark Wilkinson on the map
is due for a re-visit
Marillion's Misplaced Childhood


I hope that tour gets extended to the USA! Once again - very informative, and thank you all for your input!

In part three I'm going to ask you about the art itself – your influences, your media, and your favorite illustrations.



Important Note:


The images in this article have been reproduced with permission


The before and after illustration in the header is by Marc Klinnert
for Shadowkeep


All Images are by protected by copyright


Contact the artists for details of copyright ownership


Unauthorised distribution of these images or any part thereof by any means is prohibited.


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