What’s In The Box?

2019 has been a productive year so far, and has featured a few more ambitious music-packaging projects than I usually get the pleasure of contributing toward. The project I’ve been most excited by this year has finally become real:

Jet Star meets Hospital stopmotion

Jet Star Meets Hospital is a collaboration album between Drum & Bass record-label-and-good-friends Hospital Records, and legendary reggae record label Jet Star Music. The album has been a long time coming. We have all worked on it for multiple years, through various moments of flipflopping between looking like it’s definitely going to happen and looking like it’s never going to see the light of day, but it’s finally here!

JSMH Dinked Centre Labels

The physical product is special. It’s eight 7″ 45RPM records, each of which have been ‘dinked’ (which means they have the huge centre holes, like classic reggae 7″s have). It’s a full version of the album on CD in a digipak packaging. It’s a pair of exclusive 7″ Hospital logo slipmats in a unique ‘Surgical Slippers’ packaging. And because centre holes are big and label copy is long for collaboration records, it’s also a minuiature poster/flyer of the artwork and credits too. And all of this is wrapped up in a miniature record box adorned with the artwork, and ready to fill with the rest of your 45RPM record collection.

Inside the JSMH box

It’s not often I get to design a package with so many individual parts, but doing all the pieces proved to be the easy bit. As is often the case in my world, the much harder part is the creative idea. We didn’t want to go too dumb with the reggae clichés, so we agreed on a cover design approach featuring all the names of the artists involved in the album. I found a nice old record sleeve from the seventies I liked as a starting point, but quickly found that fitting so many names around a central title using pre-designed type an unnecessarily difficult task, so quickly changed my approach to doing it all by hand.

JSMH Cover Design Process

This idea was sound, but direction came from Hospital to make the title more pronounced and to use this as an excuse to emphasise the 7″ format of the project, so we did that. Everyone on the Hospital side was happy, but when Jet Star saw it, they were concerned that it looked too much like one of their competitors’ albums, so back to the drawing board I went. The solution I ended up finding was to not throw all my nice hand-drawn type out completely, but to change its layout, wrapping it around the centre-label design in the middle. The idea got signed off, and after a few more foolish changes, we were approved enough for me to get working on everything else.

JSMH Box

Many elements of the package (the centre labels in particular) were inspired by some of Jet Star’s designs from the seventies. Using these and a little of my own inventiveness, the package came together like a dream. I was very excited to assemble my own box on a visit to Hospital’s offices earlier this month, and I’m very proud of the work!

Fate Has Been Tempted

Considering my last post here involved inventing runner-up positions for imaginary awards, fate has been tempted and now one of my projects has been nominated for an honest-to-goodness real award: the packaging I designed for the 2019 edition of Hospital Records’ Sick Music album series is a nominee for Best Creative Packaging at the Association of Independent Music (AIM) awards. If you scroll far enough, you can see that the nomination really has happened in this BBC News article!

As Hospital’s label manager Romy put it, it’s kind of amazing for us to be competing against Keith Richards.

The record came in a pretty unique hardbacked sleeve, which was packed in a further box containing stickers, T-shirt and extra versions of the album on CD and USB. My favourite part of the packaging, though, was the set of inner sleeves, featuring my petri dish artwork:

Sick Music 2019 Disc 1

Sick Music 2019 Disc 2

Sick Music 2019 Disc 3

Sick Music 2019 Disc 4

Welp, I’m officially a runner-up! We’ll find out if it’s anything more than that in September.

Cover for me

Designing record covers is ostensibly my job! Here are a couple of artworks I made this spring that I am particularly happy with:

Hospitality On The Beach 2019 Record Cover

This year’s kind-of-annual Hospitality mix album was timed to tie in with the label’s Hospitality On The Beach party. Our first idea turned into an awkward problem involving a girl with a tattoo, so I decided to follow the form of the last couple of Hospitality albums, but this time make it out of sandcastles. Well, I really raided my baking cupboard and made it out of brown sugar, but the effect was perfect. I sculpted moulds out of foamboard and filler, and the cover basically did itself. I am pleased with it!

Etched vinyl disc for Urbandawn's 'Come Together' record

Urbandawn did a cheeky cover-version of The Beatles’ Come Together, and it blew up the club scene so much that Hospital felt obliged to release it. The cover design job fell in my lap, but having never been a fan of The Beatles, I found the job hard. It was as difficult as I found the task of designing beer labels as a non-drinker: these are worlds with very deep, revered cultures with which I have no relationship.

Given that, I must confess I don’t feel great about the actual cover I made. It’s a neo-Junglist agglomeration of Yellow Submarine and Abbey Road, so as a total outsider to Beatles Culture, I worry it seems like an awkward mashup of two things that a more learned person would never want together. But hey, it pleased the label and the artist, and has been well-received by its target market too, so maybe it’s a case of two great tastes that taste great together after all.

What I do feel great about, however, is what’s inside the sleeve! Hospital have been making an effort to make their vinyl more special as the market has continued its shift from DJs to collectors. Because this was a total one-off track, we got to do something for this I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is to etch some artwork into the reverse of the record, as in most other contexts, the other side would’ve had another track.

Even better still, the design we had etched into the reverse was a revival of an illustration I did several years back. The illustration never ended up getting manufactured as the T-shirt I had intended it to be, and I was always a bit sad about its rejection as I was a big fan of the design. It suited this project perfectly, so it was an extra sweet reward to bring it back in such a unique context.

Etherwood's Lost In The Right Direction packaging

Etherwood has been living/touring in a campervan while writing music for his latest EP, ‘Lost In The Right Direction’. We wanted a way of snapshotting his life on the road, as it seemed like such a crucial part of the experience, but we only had a handful of in-the-moment smartphone photos to communicate that. We ended up using projector slides to contextualise these images on the cover, but my favourite part of this package is the inner sleeve.

Given the retro-photography concept of the cover, I extended the metaphor with the packaging of the inner sleeve. I wanted to evoke my all-too-brief darkroom days, and based on a couple of lovely comments left on my Instagram, it seems like it evoked it for other people too!

Levela - Cerebral EP

I still work with Critical, but my role with them has been a bit more technical lately, as they’ve been getting some excellent artwork done by some of tomorrow’s graphic artists. It was a nice treat to do a whole cover for them again, and this was a Critical classic – mostly black, but a shot of colours and oh-so-minimal. I’m pleased with how this one came out!

Headstand

Whiney's Waystone LP

Catching up a little on this one: Last autumn I had a fun extra-project for an album I worked on. Med School came to me with Whiney’s second album, and the title for it was ‘Waystone’. I really liked the title, and it made me think of the Giant’s Causeway, which was the main inspiration for the artwork. To make it a bit more interesting, I had an idea of using rotational symmetry to ‘break’ the faux-3D graphics, making it feel like it bent around the other way.

The idea was a sell, but as this is Drum and Bass, Whiney wanted my original version to be grimier. I obliged, and although it wouldn’t have been my choice, it ended up opening up an interesting opportunity further down the album’s development run. The label wanted some extra video content and asked me if there was some way I could do a live painting of the artwork – I thought a stencil would suit the more roughed-up design very well.

Conveniently, the label had recently moved into a new office featuring some dead space waiting to be converted into a new studio. The back wall of this space was offered to me to fill with spray fumes, and I was glad I brought a new respirator with me (Don’t spray-paint indoors without one, kids)! I spent a dark winter afternoon down south of the river laying down a bit of colour:

It made for a good backdrop for a live-streamed DJ set before it was entombed behind the new Hospital Records studio this winter. And it gave me a good excuse to do a bit of artwork on a different scale to what I usually do!

Freezing in a Heatwave

A new record cover I created is released today! It’s the debut single for a new signing to Med School Music – a chap called Lakeway. Aside from the title, I was kind of given carte blanche with the direction for this project, so I ended up creating some artwork intended to feel ‘connected’ like nerves, which I then physically froze.

I made it by hammering some carefully-placed nails into a surface I painted, then winding cotton thread between the nails (it’s all one continuous piece again!) to form the letters. I was happy with the design at that point, but it needed to represent the frozen part of the title too, so (obviously?) I put the whole thing in my kitchen’s freezer. I sprayed it with water at intervals until the ice had built up enough around the cotton threads for the lettering to solidify satisfactorially.

It hung out with the frozen peas for a couple of days while we got final approval, then for a little something extra, I timelapsed the ice melting away from it again and reversed the result, so it was becoming frozen again. Harry at Hospital Records then swept in and edited the timelapse into some nice motion graphics to accompany the track uploads to YouTube.

It’s nice to have a bit of ice-cold artwork for this long hot summer we’ve been having in Britain!

On Line

I’ve been feeling good about a lot of the record covers to come out of my brain-hands lately, but the cover for New Blood 018 deserves a spot of text to go with it – perfect for the blog.

New Blood 018

This artwork was inspired by a visit to my brother, who managed to break his leg while taking his kids to the park, and was in real-hospital as a result of the accident. One of his ward-mades was getting a transfusion while I was visiting, and I found the vividness of the blood running from the bag and through its tubing partly fascinating and partly humbling as it squiggled all over this poor chap’s bed.

NB018 CD Reverse

The image stayed with me, so I took the idea of the constant line to the typography for this artwork, and designed a suite of artwork around the concept. My original version was just as bold as the blood I saw in the hospital that day, but the creators of an album series called ‘New Blood’ insisted that it was too bloody, so I changed the palette entirely to some classic clinical teal shades.

Sweetpea - Closer - custom typography

Ox7gen - Trinity - custom typography

As well as the typography that made the cover itself, I also sweated the details with the entire tracklisting, with every artist and title drawn in the same single-line style. I was really pleased with how it looks, but we all agreed it wasn’t the most legible, so we compromised and I created a design that had transcriptions too.

NB018 Digital booklet label copy

I continued the single-line concept through all aspects of the design, including all of the label copy, which I snaked on single weaving lines through the artwork on all formats. With most of my indulgences approved in the end, the album went off to press, and is out on Med School Music this week.

NB018 Vinyl LP back cover

Somewhere Between The VCR Heads

Another record cover I designed recently has been getting a surprising amount of love… Nu:Logic’s second album ‘Somewhere Between The Light’ has been out for a couple of weeks now, and is my first Instagram post to not just reach but blow past 100 likes!

The design is a homage to old VHS packaging, which was an idea suggested by Nu:Tone and Logistics themselves. It was down to me to turn this idea into a record package, which tied together nicely with a retro thumb-hole cutout, printed inner sleeves for the records, and a solid black jewel case for the CD version too.

Even the shrink wrap looks good with the thumb hole design. Nice!

A Quick Cuppa

Here is my latest and greatest record cover artwork! It’s for St. Petersburg’s Bop, and a collaboration between Med School and Microfunk.

Bop wanted the artwork to look “pretty but a little bit dangerous so you wouldn’t drink it”. I tried using petrol to get a thin-film effect, but it made my Rickmansland studio smell like a garage. After a different approach, I ended up on this psychedelic cup of cha. It’s one of my favourite pieces of artwork in a little while, and it’s out today!

Tiny Dance

Flea Waltz

The latest cover art project to come out of Rickmansland is Frederic Robinson’s Flea Waltz. It’s his second album, but first on Med School and first I got to create artwork for, and it’s a good one!

The brief started with Joan Miró, but I brought in a little bit of a Matisse to it too with the cut-out vibes, then I made it all out of wood. It turned out really well, and compliments the music too (if I do say so myself). Thanks to all involved for indulging me, and to Frederic for making a great album to inspire it!

Still Not There Yet

One day in a meeting at The Purple Gates, Tony said ‘I’ve had a great remix done from Are we There Yet, maybe we should do a whole album of remixes’. A few weeks later, I was briefed on ‘Are We There Yet: The Med School Scans’.

Tony’s idea for the artwork was Soviet X-ray bootlegs, but this wasn’t something we could produce with any kind of authenticity, even on a small scale, without looking like just another X-ray record cover.

Instead I came up with an idea for coloured vinyl with a purpose (rather than coloured vinyl for novelty), and made a cover design that you have to scan with the record to be able to read.

The whole project looked great once printed – fluorescent Pantones worked perfectly with the colour-blocking idea and look super-tasty in person!

 
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