In direct opposition to Peter Saville, who famously claimed record sleeve design is a “dead art,” Designing for the First Impression celebrates some of our favourite designers plying their trade in the music game. Brand identity to record sleeve and flyer design, we’ve gone from a vibrant deep dive through Patrick Savile‘s pastel futurism, all the way to the riso printing techniques of Bristol-based design house Atelier Superplus.
Serving up an eighth instalment, we shine a light on a trio of designers with disparate aesthetics, unified by the sterling work they do to provide accompanying visuals to some of our favourite releases and events.
Few UK labels have remained consistently intriguing over an extended period quite like Lindsay Todd‘s Firecracker Recordings. The Edinburgh-based imprint and its subsidiaries have released music from Linkwood, Lord Of The Isles, DJ Sports and Benoit B to name a few, peddling introspective electronics and leftfield dancefloor cuts with a specific attention to quality. Not only has Todd’s sonic curation earned plaudits far and wide, but the visual identity established is synonymous with the label. When you see a Firecracker record, you know it’s a Firecracker record. Record sleeve design is an excellent indicator to the music contained inside, and few places is that as relevant as here.
“In the past I would pretty much use the screen print process exclusively as all the covers were printed by hand; a lot of subsequent designs relied heavily on new images thrown up by ‘mistakes’ in the process of layering images onto substrates. Now, I still screen print but only some small runs of limited editions and prints as I’m more into exploring the meeting of digital and analogue processes in both audio and visual realms.
I employ traditional screen printing processes and any materials I can get my hands on; from wood, fabrics and plastics for the special editions to neoprene and acetates for club flyers, even stuff I find thrown in skips can be printed onto if it’s flat enough! In the design process, I tend to start with sketches, collage and monochrome fills. Most of that ends up scanned roughly and then edited into using Photoshop and Illustrator. I’ve used lockdown as an opportunity to learn some new software and Blender has been my main crush. 3D rendering, scanning and printing has been an obsession for the last few months so hope to reflect that in new output coming soon.
In no particular order, my influences include: sacred geometry and patterns of eternity, Megalithic stone circles and burial chambers, long walks, birdwatching, the art and design room at George IV library in Edinburgh, surrealism, Dada, whisky, mushrooms and belting hangovers.”
Special Guest DJ
Special Guest DJ, real name Shy, has worn many hats since emerging in 2017. He’s the brains behind Experiences Ltd. and co-founded xpq? alongside D. Tiffany, while releases both solo and in collaboration with a chosen family of likeminded artists have helped forge a strung-out sound popularised by labels like West Mineral Ltd. and Motion Ward. The Berliner is best known as a producer, label owner and DJ, but here we’ve taken the time to enjoy a less widely appreciated facet of his creative output: design.
“My process is heavily play-based. A lot of the time bursts of inspiration come from finding a new way to process and play with source material. A lot of things are sourced from photos I take, or scans I make. I’ve also incorporated some Artbreeder (AI) generated stuff in recent works. My process changes a lot based on whatever I feel like the vibe is for the given project, I like changing it up. I use photoshop primarily, and my phone camera, sometimes I go to nat’s house to use her flatbed scanner. As for influences, I’d have to cite LSD, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and my friends.”
London-based designer and visual artist Charlie Maclagan manipulates natural forms into his uncanny, surrealist designs. Combining a collagist approach with illustrations that use everything from with charcoal and pencil to fine point pens and felt tip, dancing figures and imagined alien fauna become the centrepiece for some of the most original and head-turning artwork we’ve seen of late. Like Charlie’s handiwork enough to have it immortalised on your skin? He also does tattoos.
“The process almost always includes drawn elements, found photography, spray paint, mark making, whatever. I suppose it’s all collaging in various effects and roundabout ways, some really leans to the traditional collaging technique, scalpel magazines, letraset, no computer etc. I really enjoy the intensity and boundaries this way of working provides, although these traditional collages are rarely commissioned.
Recently I’ve really pushed illustration in my work, which has been really enjoyable, and led me to lots of new jobs and opportunities. It was really fun when I was asked to illustrate a record centre-label based on my tattoo drawings, for instance.
I used to use a lot of [Adobe] Illustrator with pngs, but it has so little control over textures and the more physical sides of the image making process I’m interested in, I’ve moved to Photoshop and I drag over vectors or assets that need drawing in Ai. This being said both the digitally assembled images shown in this article were made primarily on illustrator. Funny story about the dancers in Husky’s Piadrum artwork, I made them in Blender, which was a headache to put it lightly, I then spent an entire week fiddling with the software to get the environmental effects back to something workable. This really put me off 3D software, but I’m hoping to get back into it soon. Ironically the whole image got shoved through quite a chunky halftone bitmap in the end.
In terms of influences, I love unmade stuff, like the stuff that happens when layers of posters get ripped down, kind of like found imagery. Biology text books, diagrams, all the science education visual systems influence me heavily. Obviously natural forms, Science fiction, archaeology books, packaging, Moebius. Jean Arp and a lot of ceramic works recently. Those mental Umberto Boccioni sculptures. Something I had to google, which is a movement in art, sort of sums it up but sounds (and a lot of it is) naff: Biomorphism. All goes in the blender at some point.”