Anatomy of an album cover

Seattle musician Dick Rossetti and his band The Jilly Rizzo needed art for their release 3 Strike Mooser. I met with Dick to discuss ideas. He told me that he wanted something irreverent, fun and maybe even a little racy. That could mean a lot of things, so in an attempt to narrow that down a bit, I asked him what kind of album art he liked. Dick's taste is very broad, but he kept coming back to the classic Blue Note Records designs of the 50s and 60s. Which sent me to the internet for inspiration.

I've always loved the Blue Note stuff, especially everything recorded by Rudy Van Gelder. But's that's another story. What I found as I looked at cover after cover was that my eye kept returning to the most monochromatic images. And I noticed that many of them shared the same design sense: text laid out along horizontal and vertical lines, over a single image with a strong diagonal to it:

I now had a jumping off point, but what about the "irreverent, fun and maybe even a little racy" part? For that, I looked to my own catalog. What I came up with was this photo of Mister Johnson, a life-sized, anatomically correct sock monkey made by artist Monika Lidman:

First, I cropped the image to emphasize the diagonal of the leg, and cast the whole thing in a more "Blue Note-y" hue. I also removed the chair from the background, careful to leave that "cut out" look (there was no Photoshop in the 50s - only scissors and airbrushes). After Letter-boxing the photo for a more vintage look, I was ready to move on to text


It turns out most Blue Note designs of yore were made using a core set of fonts. Luckily for me, they're readily available on the web. I started with the name of the band, The Jilly Rizzo. I had a design worked out that would make it look more like a logo, but it required some heavy manipulation of the text, so I rasterized it and started chopping until I was happy with it:

With this as the "anchor" text, adding the title, the presenter credits and record info fell into place quickly:


I sat with the design for a bit, and couldn't shake the feeling that it was too slick. I needed a way to add some grime to it. Anyone who owns a vinyl record knows how the cover wears along the edges of the record inside; it's part of the tactile nature of vinyl. I decided to "age" my design the same way, and add some fading for good measure.

That was what it needed, and this cover was a wrap.