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 Julie Speed, the artist responsible for the cover of Shawn Colvin’s A Few Small Repairs.

Which came first, the painting or the album? Were you commissioned for this project, or was it licensed after you’d already finished it?

I had already done the painting. Shawn visited the studio one night and we went through a box of transparencies of all my past work and she chose that one. A couple of weeks later she handed me a CD (or maybe it was a tape?) and told me to take it home and listen. She had written that most amazingly beautiful of all songs, ”Sunny Came Home,” to the painting.

The title of the album cover painting is actually ”Setting the World on Fire .”A Few Small Repairs” is the title of another painting/collage I did of a woman all stapled, stabbed, and sewn together (also a little part of her was on fire) that was sort of second runner-up for the album cover. Shawn took the title of that piece, ”A Few Small Repairs,” and wrote it into the ”Sunny Came Home” lyrics:

Sunny came home with a list of names
She didn’t believe in transcendence
“It’s time for a few small repairs,” she said
Sunny came home with a vengeance

It became the title of the album.

You say “Shawn visited the studio one night” — how did you come to work on this album? Was she already a fan of your art?

We both lived in Austin, but we hadn’t met yet. If I remember right, she bought some of my work from Davis Gallery in Austin and they gave her my phone number. Since then we’ve become good friends, and she has a large collection of my work — though I don’t see her as often anymore, because I moved out to far West Texas.

What inspired you to paint this particular image? Can you talk about the significance of the three eyes?

There was no particular inspiration. I mostly just saw it in my mind, made a composition out of what I saw, and then painted it. I put the third eye in where it looked like it was needed. Most of the elements in my work that people assume are symbolic are really there for the composition.

What was the process behind the image? What did you use to create it?

It’s oil, on either linen or panel. I can’t remember which, and it doesn’t say in my book. I work very slowly and paint layer over layer. It takes a month or two to complete an oil painting.

What was it like for you — and your work — to be so deeply involved in such a huge hit record? Did it open up new opportunities for you as an artist?

Well, when she won two Grammys ( I think for the album and for “Sunny Came Home”), she thanked me on TV, so that was really cool. I don’t know if I could say it opened up new oportunities for me as an artist, because I don’t do commissions — my work doesn’t turn out right if I try to be the boss.

Can you talk a little about your book, and what kind of work you’re doing now?

The new book, SPEED: ART 2003-2009, came out last fall. It’s the second large monograph published by the University of Texas Press. The first one came out in 2004.

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Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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