Have you ever wondered what inspired the images on your favorite album covers? With Uncovered, we discuss the stories behind the artwork with the people who made them. This week, we talk with Travis Smith, the artist responsible for the cover of Anathema’s A Fine Day To Exit, as well as a long list of other albums.
A Fine Day To Exit found Anathema really embracing the prog rock side of them, and the album has a concept surrounding it. When you were approached about doing the cover, how much coaching was necessary in order to fit their concept?
Well, the main cover was directly from the band and Vincent (Cavanaugh, from the band) dictated most of it, actually. Some of the interior inside stuff came from my ideas, but I got to run with those as long as the guys felt it complimented the whole thing.
It’s an extremely detailed series of pieces here, starting with the cover which acts as a sort of gatefold image. What was the process of choosing what would be in the photograph – the materials on the dashboard, what the clothes-trail to the ocean would constitute, etc.? Also, the fold works in reverse so you see the left side before the right, folded into the booklet. Once you see the entire image, you’re given a lot more information. What was the process for deciding which elements would be shown first versus what would be seen once unfolded?
On the back tray, you have an image of that same dashboard at night, the car speeding down a dark road with the barest hint of a child caught in the path. Did you ever worry about how “on the nose” you might be with the storytelling or was it explicitly encouraged?
The inside of the booklet has the lyrics scrawled like they’re confessions written in a journal and the images that go with it are a combination of photographs, line art and digital work. What are the tools you use to get those images together, and how do you strike the balance between the elements?
Some of the fans consider A Fine Day To Exit to be the album where Anathema embraces their inner-Pink Floyd. Was that ever a notion presented to you going into the project, or does the whole (the images along with the music itself) just lend itself to such an interpretation?
How many font schemes do you go through on any given project just to find the one that sets the right tone visually? I think this is an element people don’t often think about because the right font becomes almost invisible inside the whole, but the wrong font can be instantly jarring, if not a complete mistake. How difficult is the selection process?
The art for A Natural Disaster is much different. At the same time, your work for Anathema in general is much different than a larger part of your work (being very aggressive image-wise, since you do a lot of design for metal bands and artists.) Is that a conscious decision on your part to develop a graphic sensibility for them?
Contrasting your work with Anathema to Opeth – You tend to go with monotone color schemes and a bit of a hazy filter for their images. While Opeth’s sound also has changed over time, they also hold to elements of death metal and a sort of “look”. Is it easier or harder to take on a project knowing the group you’re working with has some established style boundaries you’d need to stay inside?
It’s a bit of both. When something has been more or less established or expected, even, it can help to serve as a starting point. But at the same time you want to expand on what you might have done before and be sure not repeat it completely. Maybe start with something that feels familiar or comfortable with each band, and try to do something different with it, or add something new to it in some way (that gives it an identity of it’s own) , in varying amounts or degrees. Sometimes they might feel a need to abandon the past stuff completely to do something fresh and different for a time or two, and that gives you a clean slate and some room to play, but you still have that familiarity with the band and what they’re about and how they see things, to bring to it as well.
As far as coloring and texturing and the general feel, that is usually tailored or inspired by each particular project at the time or even the band itself.
One of the more fantastical designs you did was for Devin Townsend’s Terria. The balance between dark imagery and dream-like illustration is very striking. How were those elements put together? Did you ever need to pull back from one pole to the other because preliminary designs went too far in either direction?
What got you into design for music and who are designers you’ve looked to as your mentors (if any)?
There are many designers and artists that I’ve admired or been influenced in some way. People like Derek Riggs and Mike Clift when I was younger, or Dave McKean (because it was so odd and fresh when I discovered him) to countless others later on.
Because of the detail in your images, what’s your personal feeling about labels and artists coming back to the vinyl format? Did you ever have a design you put a lot of effort into that was released only on CD, so that the imagery was too small to get the full impact?
When you are hired on to do a project, what are the sort of jobs and conditions you like the best? Conversely, what descriptions do you dread hearing when jobs are being proposed to you?
It’s oversimplifying your work to say you’re a “metal guy” – You’ve done pieces for prog bands like Glass Hammer, you helped put together the package for Townsend’s Ziltoid The Omniscient which, for anyone unfamiliar, puts his puppet character front-and-center… Is metal a comfortable niche to be known for or does it feel like an unnecessary stereotyping?
Up to this point, what are the covers you point to when someone asks what your best work is?