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
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Matthews: Yes I keep my originals
(which are not digital) for exhibitions and for sale.
Normally I do not sell the
originals and keep them.
I've given away one or
two, the rest I have at home. Now I sell high quality prints of the images I
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
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?
Wilkinson: 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
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
On average two to three
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.
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?
Matthews: It happens both ways.
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.
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
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
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
Finding the perfect idea
when I need it, and having the bills paid on time
Getting decently paid!
Wilkinson: Unsocial hours. No sick
pay, no paid holidays. What am I saying, illustrators are never allowed
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
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
I think the hardest
thing is to deal with the customers.
Are you working on any exciting new commissions right now
Yes, I have a few on my
plate that I think are going pretty well
Commissions for a Dutch
collector and pitching animation projects in the U.K. and the U.S.A.
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.
Just finishing off a lot
of work for Judas Priest for their massive world tour.
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.
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
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
The images in this article
have been reproduced with permission
The before and after
illustration in the header is by Marc Klinnert
All Images are by protected
Contact the artists for
details of copyright ownership
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