Uncovered: Plain White T’s, “The Wonders of the Younger”
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 Cliff Cramp, the artist responsible for the cover of the new Plain White T’s album, The Wonders of the Younger.
How did you come to be involved with this project?
Mainly through word-of-mouth. I had pitched a Steampunk project the year before, and an individual that I pitched the project to bookmarked my website. At some point it was passed along to the Art Director at Hollywood Records, Enny Joo. She apparently showed the band and got the go-ahead to contact me. The job started immediately after the initial email and subsequent phone call because of the short deadline. The band decided to go with an illustration later in the process, so the turnaround time was quick; I had about ten days to complete the cover and the interior illustrations.
Because of the quick turnaround, good communication was essential; fortunately, we had it. This was one of those extremely enjoyable projects because everything went so smoothly. I’m used to tight deadlines, so I knew I could get the illustrations done, but bad communication could easily have derailed the project. Working with Enny at Hollywood was a delight. She kept the process moving.
What was your inspiration for the artwork on the cover?
The band’s lead singer, Tom Higgenson, had described the inspiration behind the Wonders of the Younger concept as a lost childhood fascination with life. I went with a cool fog in the first color sketch, but that was too cold and lifeless, and didn’t really fit the narrative. Having a warm sun behind the fog gives a sense of hope, suggesting that maybe those childhood fascinations can still break through — lost, but not dead. Likewise the carnival attractions are not destroyed, just overgrown. The Wonder-Wall is pristine and inviting, beckoning us to come in.
Which techniques and materials did you use, and how long did it take to complete the painting?
The illustrations were done in Corel Painter and Photoshop — drawn and painted with a Wacom tablet. I had a studio fire in October of 2000 and lost more than ten years worth of work; thousands of drawings and several hundred paintings went up in smoke (as well as all my supplies). Because the entertainment industry was moving quickly towards digital paint, I decided at that time to embrace it, and jumped in with both feet. Almost all of my assignment work these days is digital — painted in Painter, with adjustments in Photoshop.
To what extent did the music on the album influence you?
I only heard one song prior to working on the cover; however, the band provided a detailed concept of the overall theme of the CD. I consider myself a story illustrator, so the narrative that they provided was all I needed.
I listened to “Rhythm of Love” over and over, but stayed focused on the narrative provided — that song is only a slice. I read several interviews where Tom Higgenson said that Cirque du Soleil’s O show was the inspiration for the album, and the band sent me a thumbnail sketch of what they wanted in the image — it was on a napkin, apparently done while on a plane flight. That image, and the narrative, was the inspiration for the final illustration. I took it from that point and infused mood, atmosphere, composition and detail to the concept.
I recently received a preview copy of the CD, and I must say that the band gave me quite a good narrative to work with — the imagery fits well with the music. I think they’ve branded the album well — the music, design and illustrations work perfectly together.