The Tea Club's Grappling
For the past six months, I've been happily working on The Tea Club's latest album design. The Tea Club is a local progressive rock band who has recently finished their masterpiece Grappling. Filled with whimsy, intensity and an elaborate concept, Grappling's design took a lot of trial and error. The finished piece is enough to drink in, but I thought a little glimpse into the world of what an artist and their client go through to get the final piece would be inspiring.
The finished piece. Now, let's rewind the clock 6 months.....
I always work with the music on. Exactly where this image came from, all I can say is it came from the music. I popped in the CD, sat in front of a blank sheet of paper and started scratching with my charcoal. The cover was drawn with charcoal and sumi ink on paper. The initial drawing was then sealed with clear gesso (my favorite method!). Once the drawing was sealed, a small amount of pastel was applied; I must've found and lost the image a dozen times before settling on what I have here. The white, pink & purple colors are screen printed ink. Each shape was cut by hand out of a paper stencil that sat under the screen. Some of the ink is sanded down and re-applied. My hope was for a visual dichotomy between the dark, earthy organic grit and the colorful shapes. I want the interpretation of the image to be open-ended so people can see different things.
Once the cover was finished and photographed we took our first shot at a layout. We got a lot of different opinions on it being too bleak, too plain, etc. So, we thought of creating a second album cover and make a 3-panel fold out. So after chugging away in the studio for a month, it was time to make ANOTHER album cover... in a week!
To give an idea of how I work, here's the initial sketch for the second cover. My intention was industrialized looking hard edges and telephone pole like movement. This is what gets gessoed and then inked.
The initial inking was going well, I was liking the shapes and energy. We were thinking red would be a good color to use!
OH HOW WRONG WE WERE! I'm showing this to you all because I want you to know that bad things happen in the process of making art. And when bad things happen you KEEP GOING. I was upset for a little while and then it was time to move on. I did a sketch from this failure and decided what I really wanted- both in shape and color.
There's something eerily calming about knowing exactly what you want, even if you're not there yet. You have faith you're on your way. Once this was done, it was time to get back on the horse!
Abra Cadabra! The double-cover was here! Yes! The next hurdle was lyrics. The inside of this 3-panel layout contained 3 other panels, one for the disk and two others for the lyrics.
Riiiiiight. A graphic designer's nightmare. We wrestled with this for a while. The bottom line- there were too many lyrics. Period. Can't get around that. So, the next idea was to eliminate lyrics altogether and create imagery that alluded to the lyrics. Both McGowan brothers started drawing imagery for the so-called "timeline" of the album. Here are some of those sketches.
Once the idea was fleshed out, I took the heavy black & white drawings and created a watercolor painting instead. The color would help with the bleakness of the cover.
This was done a few times to get the color, size and detail just right.
And back to the layout we went!
I printed out the mock-up and I didn't feel the thrill I was hoping for. At first it was too little imagery and now it was too much. Too much going on, too much color! Arg!!! I expressed my concern, and we went back to brainstorming. The breakthrough finally happened when we considered going back to the 2-panel and having an insert. The insert would be double-sided, lyrics on one and the timeline on the other. We tried it.
Mmmmm! Color, image and concept. A great hit of color that is pulled out of a sleeve inside the album- not noticeable at first glance. Perfect! After we agreed the 2-panel with an insert was best, we still had two interior panels to deal with. We grabbed imagery from a few old sketches and came up with this.
With the interior of the album so dark, the second album cover became the on-disk design. It's bright blues and yellows are illuminated against the grey. And then everything fell into place...
Disc makers did a great job of printing. I was so pleased to see it printed and complete!
As a final touch, I hand-cut stencils & sprayed envelopes to make each press kit more impactful. The image of the man on the back of the envelopes is from the on-disk design. I love this album and I loved creating the design. I think The Tea Club will go great places with it!