Tag Archives: graphic design

Favourite Australian Album Covers 2017

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve covered this, but being an area of certain interest to myself I figured the time had come around to give it another shot. The main reason I stopped  doing it a few years back is because i was having such a hard and frustrating time coming up with with a substantial enough list to make it viable. Design for music really seems to be in the doldrums in Australia, even as I noticed a significant uptick in quality the quality of overseas cover design in 2017. Maybe we just need a bit of time to catch up. My choices are based on the sole criteria of ‘I wish I had done that’, so judge the results as you will. There are some fantastic contributions to the form below, mostly coming from the fringes of what you would regard as mainstream releases. I’ve got to say it was a real slog coming up with what I regarded as worthy inclusions, but maybe I’m just not thorough enough or I’m getting too old to know what ‘the kids are down with these day’. I’ve always held that if the musical artist cares enough about their records, then more often than not, they will package it in a design that shows the care they’ve put into it. Maybe in this age of Spotify and Apple music it’s just not a consideration anymore. Most of these albums are also available as vinyl releases, they certainly deserve to be presented in that format. I haven’t tried to credit the designers /artists/photographers behind the covers this year, is was holding me back from actually putting this up, digging for credits for every piece, but please feel free to get in contact if you know of any and i’ll add them accordingly, in fact, If you are one of the creators of these pieces I would love to hear from regardless. As I’ve said above, these are my favourites, if you have any of your own please feel free to leave a comment, I’d certainly love to see any crackers that I might have missed.


A great, beautifully simple design by Traianos Pakioufakis (check out some more great album design on the site), for Jen Cloher’s self-title album. It’s really comes down to the sublime candid photograph by Luke McLean Stephenson (the black edge of the pic poking through is a nice touch). The restraint in the design is what really works for this cover, it helps that it’s a cracking batch of sons to listen to as well!



King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released 5(!) full album releases in 2017, the above is just one example, they are all great designs, awesomely produced by the great Jason Galea. Nice to see a current band so involved with producing good music and great visuals.



This is an album that has sort of snuck under the radar, I haven’t really heard much about it at all for such a high-profile Australian act. That said, I like the cover, and Cut Copy seldom disappoint with their artwork – sort of a through-back to the 90s, it has that late Not Only Black & White magazine aesthetic happening (design by vocalist Dan Whitford) – plus the imagery forms a kind of visual haiku if you look at it long enough.


The Kite String Tangle-The Kite string tangle

A great image can make all the difference as this cover demonstrates. It’s an engaging graphic used here (not sure if it’s a photo or some photoshop trickery) by The Kite String Tangle – I like the little logo in the bottom corner there too but I’m not sure whether it distracts too much from the overall visual. Great colour range too.



Country music isn’t renowned for it’s engaging album cover imagery, but Fanny Lunsden’s cover here for her album Real Class Act is a definite exception in that regard. Even a seemingly simple photograph can be used to stunning effect when handled right. I love the choice of typeface in the top left corner as well, I only wish the artist’s name had been similarly considered, as it kind of spoils the overall effect tucked there in the bottom right-hand corner.


Methyl Ethel

Methyl  Ethel have been getting plenty of airplay and some love from international music mags like NME. As you would expect from an outfit described as an ‘Art Rock Band’ the cover comes with the requisite ‘first year of art school’ painted nude, aesthetic -(by Holly Fewson) which is actually meant as a compliment, there’s a really nice freshness to it, in contrast to the choice of that black background which gives the cover a bold standout quality. I’m sure this looks stunning on the full 12 inch album, brave choice to leave the band name and title off only their sophomore release.



There’s alway room for a bit of nostalgia when it’s handles just right. The name ‘The Cherry Dolls’ lends itself  to such a treatment – and they’ve certainly gone with it. There’s kind of that early 80s indie record artwork thing going on there too with the hand script at the top and the colour overlay. It’s in ‘full stereo’ too! Which is always good to know.



There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about Holly Throsby’s After a Time cover, but in a year worth of covers that couldn’t be bothered, I thought it would be nice to finish up on something that shows just a little bit of thought can produce something quite sublime and appropriate – needless to say the typography is well considered also.


Art Vs Design

Can design be also defined as art? Can the two converge or should they be viewed as completely separate disciplines?

I am a graphic designer but that seems to be a job title that a lot of people have trouble getting their heads around. When I was growing up, I was referred to as being ‘artistic’ but I don’t ever remember thinking to myself as being an ‘artist’, as if such titles overly matter that much when you’re a kid and you just like to draw. Even now when people try to describe what I do I am more than often referred to as being ‘artistic’, I usually can’t be bothered to spend the time correcting that description, even though it often ends with people being put out by my refusal to paint a portrait of their baby or their dog.

It does get me often thinking about the relationship between art and design and just how each is perceived and defined. How much similarity are there in the processes and the final results? The type of work I do as a designer varies greatly. I can go from doing very corporate layouts following strict identity guidelines to the work I do for an independent record label where I’m given pretty much carte blanche over what I want to design and create, where I incorporate a lot of my drawing, painting and even sculptural skills. This is very personal work from my standpoint, sometimes someone might even look at it and call it a ‘work of art’ but I cringe at the title of ‘artist’ and the pretensions that the term implies. I’m not ashamed of being a designer, but if someone looks upon the work I produce and calls it ‘art’ is that enough to make it so?

I may not know a lot about art, but as the saying goes ‘I know what I like’ and as a designer and knowing perhaps a little about my chosen profession, I think I can at least define a few areas that might be seen differentiate art and design.

Art often creates questions in the minds of those viewing it.

Art should encourage some sort of emotional response in the viewer.

Art can instil different responses, emotionally or mentally from different people often depending on their individual circumstances.

Art is created for the artist, it is ‘selfish,’ there is no client or message to be communicated other than what the artist themselves wishes to impart.

Art has meaning (often to only the artist themselves or depending on the viewers interpretation) but seldom provides a tangible use other than decoration.

Design needs to be comprehended to fulfill its purpose.

Design solves a problem, provides a service and clarifies information.

Design has a distinct message to impart.

Design engages, whether that be to read the instructions on a medicine bottle, to operate your iphone or navigate your way through an interior space.

Design is created with an end client, purpose and audience in mind.

Design is collaborative is always a collaborative endeavour (even if that is just between the designer and client).

But the difficulty in these definitions is that they are not so cut and dry. Many are in fact interchangeable between art and design. Design can just as often create questions and emotional responses in the mind of the viewer and still be a ‘work of design’ under any other of the above listed definitions, while a work of art can also be collaborative and have a distinct message to impart.

So while I call myself a designer and tend to hate the term artist (I even hate it when someone else refers to themselves as an artist – it seems a title that should be bestowed rather than taken ad hoc) it’s easy to see where the boundaries can become blurred. It doesn’t help that in an industry who’s very job description is ‘to communicate’ doesn’t do a very good job of actually communicating what that job is to the general public.

Judging Albums By Their Covers

Massive Attack: Mezzanine

The mono album cover obsession/examination continues, this time looking at Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. I can’t say I’ve ever been a big fan of the whole ‘trip hop’ scene, but Massive Attack are a whole different animal, as ably demonstrated by the cover to Mezzanine. If listening to the album conjures anything immediately, it’s a creeping menace that builds as the music progresses. The heavy metal beetle on the cover certainly qualifies for the creepy bit, it’s also a brilliant way to express what you can expect from the music. It’s an amazing graphic representation of the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness, calmness and anxiety, the brooding intensity of the songs. Both graphics and sounds are confrontational, perfectly complimenting each other.

The artwork is a collaboration between designer Tom Hingston, fashion/art photographer Nick Night and Massive Attack band member 3D. Tom Hingston had this to say about the collaboration.

“The band’s collective philosophy was born out of hip-hop and club culture. 3D, a former graffiti artist, was looking for a different way to work. He came up with themes and words applicable to the project, so that designer, photographer and band could push and pull each other in different directions until we were in a place we were all happy with.”

Happy seems an unusual choice of word for such dark and menacing imagery. Like the music though, there’s a lot to discover when looking deeper into the cover. It may not be immediately apparent that the ‘beetle’ is actually an intricate organic/metallic sculptural piece. I also have to mention that this beautiful overall mono colour concept is topped off inside with a plain vibrant orange CD disk. It juxtaposes nicely against the rest of the graphics, a concept I have stolen/borrowed on many occasions for my own work 🙂

Interview with James Hancock

Previously I have reviewed the beautiful album artwork for Josh Pyke’s ‘Memories & Dust’, I was so enamoured, I decided to get in touch with the artist, James Hancock, and throw a couple of questions his way regarding his work methods, ideals and ambitions. He’s currently on a bit of a world jaunt, but he’s kindly answered, and the interview follows below.

A bit of background on James from his bio. James is based in Sydney, Australia. His work draws together elements taken from found objects and hand-generated content from a variety of media such as drawing, collage, printmaking and painting. His work projects a naievety, and seek the fantastical and cute in explorations of the realness of objects and emotions and their macro and micro processes. He also explores animating his world into video works. He runs his own graphic studio and has exhibited in Australia and internationally. He is also very active as a curator of exhibitions of national and international work as part of the SPACE3 collective, which connects him to a strong creative community.

Chris Bowden: When did you first decide to become a designer. Was there a proverbial ‘pivotal moment’?

James Hancock: Not sure there really was one, and not even sure I’d class myself as a straight ‘designer’. I’ve drawn all the time, by myself, with other people, I’ve gone through design university which satisfied one part of my personality, but I also took subjects at art college and have always found myself somewhere in the middle of art and design practices. I consequently have loved people that are between disciplines; writers that draw, musicians that paint, collectors that make sculpture. I wonder if the ‘pivotal moment’ was the moment I accepted this dychotomy within myself.

CB: Who or what inspires you at the moment?

JH: I am consciously influenced by outsider art and ideas of hoarding and psychology. This outside observation of the world and psychological analysis of internal worlds.

Contemporary artists like Julie Mehrtu, and sculptors like Nancy Rubins, and conceptual artists such as Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla – google them, they do some really fun stuff. I find it much more inspiring to look at things outside of the graphic design world. I get easy sucked into trendy aesthetics and I feel much more satisfied if I draw my creativity from a personal world of experiences rather than referencing current design trends. I’m moving around the world a bit at the moment, with studios in different cities, trying to make work on the run, and I really think this studio-in-transit and being around new environments means I constantly re-address what it is I do. Sometimes this stops me doing anything at all, but I always come back to drawing as the basis of everything, as a way of releasing the buildup of creative need.

CB: Which of the projects that you have worked on in the past are you most proud of and why?

JB: From my client based work I guess the Josh Pyke stuff really stands out as a solid project, with print, animation, and new media applications all working together. This project also started an approach of applying a personal art practice to a client based project.

CB: Could you discuss a little about the work you’ve done for Josh Pyke, how it came about, the process, how much freedom you were given?

JB: I’d recently come back from an artist residency in Indonesia and was drawing all these people in a naive anatomy style, revealing the congestion and pollution and density of humanity I experienced there. So lungs contained buildings, crowds walked through the hair, and cars drove through the veins. So then when I came back to Sydney to work on Josh’s first release I started reading the lyrics and saw all these references to things jumping through each other, holes being cut in each other, there was this grotesqueness to it, but on a cute kind of vibe. So after some initial sketches and talks with josh I started doing all these little animals with their insides showing little hearts and music inside. It was a real flow on from my artistic practice of the time, it also lead me to do more works on the theme on a larger scale, big canvases. These graphic elements then flowed on to other releases including the latest one, where it has all exploded outside and the new albums imagery of buttons and sewing stiches together a big mammoth plan. Kind of like an obsessive document, where an outsiders mind is pulling together all these ideas and making a big mind map on the table, using old craft techniques of sewing and stitching to pull it all together. The first album was relatively free, but of course as Josh became more well known there were more people interested in how the album art turned out so the recent album release had much more label involvement integrating his photo on the cover for example. Luckily it didn’t get pulled in too many directions and came together as a very neat creative package.

CB: You have a very individual style in your work which has been used across a range of promotional items for Josh Pyke’s Memories & Dust from the album to posters to film clip etc. With the album being such a success, do you have any concerns that that style will now be seen indelibly as part of Josh Pyke’s image?

JH: I actually like it when artists works become recognisable through a music release, it provides people with an access point for people’s art and the symbiosis of two creative individuals (art & music) coming together can be really interesting. I like it that behind music releases there is also this visual artist that is audibly silent but has their own creative voice on there, so the album speaks across two senses. This chain of creativity is great, and I always enjoyed finding out about artists through cd cover work. It can be a great promotional tool for the visual artist if the CD is successful, but it’s not only a promo tool, it is two worlds coming together. A CD can be a little world when it works really well, a glimpse into all the artists involved, their world. I think my creative world is strong enough to stand within other creative worlds and still retain it’s own identity, I think this is where coming from an artists perspective is important because you are not solely motivated by the client but by your own processes as well. This is what joins the two creative experiences together but also what separates them.

CB: You’ve done a few album covers, any artists you would absolutely love to do work for?

JH: I’m keen to work for any artist, I’m constantly making work and really love applying my world to the world of other creative people. I’m not sure it would be any different (apart from budget) working for bigger more famous artists.

CB: What are some of the things you do to keep yourself motivated?

JH: As I said before I really get a lot out of looking at other people’s creative worlds. Jealousy of those worlds sometimes spurs me on to create something like what I like, but inevitably I create something of my own from that inspiration. Again I think the contemporary art world is great for this, where you deal with abstract and alternate views people have of the world. Objects and images that change the way you think or see, this is what keeps me motivated. At the moment I am surrounded by a friends amazing library, so I am reading and reading and the links I make from this in psychology, biology, fiction all serve to motivate me in new directions.

CB: How do you approach a new project? How do you overcome the ‘dreaded blank page’?

JH: I don’t really feel like I ever have a blank page, I always have images I have previously made around me, in sketchbooks, photographs, reference books etc. There is always a pile of imagery I like to sort through and draw from. I have a folder on my laptop with heaps of scans of drawings and collages I’ve made in the past that I draw from all the time. I really like Gerhard Richter’s ‘Atlas’ project where he has organised all his reference material into one book – this kind of obsessive collecting really appeals to me, it almost strives for an end to imagery, to finish collecting, finish seeing. Then this contrasted with Francis Bacons studio chaos where there is a realisation that imagery will never end and juxtapositions of images amongst piles of images will constantly make new narratives and statements. I think collage is an amazingly powerful process for building narrative and generating ideas, simply by placing images next to each other. I sometimes am stunted by the realisation that the blank page holds the opportunity to go in infinite directions. This can be overcome to some extent by surrounding oneself with images that act as starting points. The infinity of the blank page is then reeled in by a process of accepting or rejecting what you have at hand at one particular moment.

CB: What project and, or client that you haven’t worked on would you love to and why?

JH: I would love to have the opportunity to work with someone with unlimited budget, to be able to do all the things with printing and cross media integration that I’m not really able to because of cost. To do things like get origami folded by hand for cd covers on a small Japanese island, to make sculptural objects and installation sets for photo shoots in the desert… There are these amazing massive prop lots for film and advertising in LA I’d love to be able to go in there and make worlds from what they have. I remember going into the dungeon at the PowerHouse museum in Sydney and looking at their collection… thousands of toy cars, and old science machines, and bits of rocket, and typewriters, I’d love to be able to play with all that stuff creatively. Maybe I just need a massive house so I can start acquiring all this stuff, start making a set to live in that I can introduce other creative people into and work that way?… hmmm…

CB: What music have you been listening to lately?

JH: Just saw a Bjork concert in San Francisco, amazing live show with a brass band and super electronic triggering and improvised jazz drumming, like a weird, creative school concert! also myspacing LA artists such as Lenka and The Bird And The Bee.

Thanks once again to James for his time and generosity. I’m sure you will be hearing about him and seeing a lot more of his work in the future. You can see more of James’s work here at his website.

Recent Surfing Highlights 12

A collection of ‘the greatest album covers from the 70s’ as selected by a panel of distinguished art directors, designers, photographers and editors in a 1991 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Not too many arguments over the selection.

I love me some Mambo gear, one of the few companies that have been able over the years to portray an Australian perspective in art and design. They have a new site up, and as is to be expected, it’s great.

Why design goes wrong, find out here why it all so often goes pear shaped.

And on a similar note, the top ten things they didn’t teach you in design school here. I could probably add a few things.

The Adelaide Art Directors had their awards ceremony the other night, as usual, some nice work from design firms Parallax and Black Squid weren’t enough to perk up a pretty lacklustre collection, especially from the advertsing side. Judge for yourself and download the ‘winners’ catalogue.

An Australian icon, the Sydney Opera house has had a rebrand courtesy of that clever English chappy Vince Frost.

Clever cat catches the bus daily to the local fish and chip shop. Your cat wants Whiting with minimum chips.