From Sketch to Finish—The Journey of an Album Cover

Album Cover | Pyragraph

The sketch phase can be the most difficult part of a project.

This is where the majority of the hard THINKING has to happen, and sometimes zeroing in on a rock-solid concept winds up being harder than making an image.

I recently had the pleasure of working with French metal band Hacride on album art for their new release. I had worked with these guys before and we have a good relationship so they gave me a lot of freedom. As it worked out, I wound up doing a TON of sketches for them. I got excited about a bunch of different ideas and wound up, honestly, kind of overdoing it.

Album covers take time.

There’s no denying that this is a pretty absurd number of sketches. For whatever reason I just couldn’t seem to find a solution we were all happy with at first. This is one of those tricky situations that you run into in freelance illustration. Normally I would start charging an additional fee for this much extra work. This happens to be a band I’ve worked with before, and I respect them both as a client and as a band.

In other words, I made an exception for these guys because I like them and what they do. And I really wanted this album cover to turn out as well as it possibly could. And I’m actually glad I did because we did eventually settle on a good image for the cover, and I got a lot of solid work out of the deal. This is not the best way to handle every client, but when you are your own boss you get to make exceptions every once in a while. In this case, I chose to push in a little overtime.

Here are some of the sketches (OK, 23 of them) I’ve chosen to show you, including the final one we ended up using.

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So yeah, this is a whole lot more work than I probably SHOULD have done for this album, but I wound up with a bunch of art that I’m excited about and that’s kind of what I got into this business for in the first place.

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  1. Not speaking for Alex here…but I’d start by getting to know local bands who are making CDs and letting them know you’re an illustrator (or artist, or whatever you call yourself). Put up a simple WordPress blog as a portfolio of your work and make your contact methods clear. Basically just network, which is easy in this case since you can focus on bands/music that you like, right? Go out to shows and get to know folks in bands and their friends.

    Be really good about calling back and follow-through, and be careful what you promise. For example, don’t just agree to do the art for an album cover for $100 without being clear about whether they can request revisions, and if so how many (I have learned the hard way to be very clear about this). It takes a little time but take that time to figure out the specifics of what you want to offer, pricing, workflow, etc.

    And above all do good work and be a pleasant guy to work with. Unless you’re some sort of legendary, sought-out artist, no one will want to work with you if you’re difficult or unpredictable.

    In a nutshell, that’s how I’d start. Paying attention to the above stuff will start turning you into a professional. I hope that helps!

  2. Wow, Peri said it about as well as i could have hoped to! Great advice.

    I’d say you should also try emailing bands that you’d like to work with, and of course, put together a portfolio of genre-appropriate work. In other words, play to your audience. If you’re going after metal bands then make some appropriately evil looking images, and if you’re not then aim for less skulls.

    And don’t be afraid to make artwork in the album cover format just to show you can! Don’t wait for a client, you have to make it clear to bands that you are comfortable working in the medium.

    Good luck out there!

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