Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or series that's particularly dear to you? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
The cover I recently did for the Jon Brooks LP 'Autres Directions' is a good case in point as Jon had quite a lot of input without telling me exactly what he wanted visually or prompting me too hard. I had long wanted to try a more abstract approach and take a step away from representational illustration.
Autres Directions is an album of beautiful ambient electronica based around Jon's travels in Normandy. While initially listening to the un-mastered tracks, I looked at a lot of old jazz album covers and was particularly interested in those that used shapes to represent music. Jon sent me photos he had taken in Normandy, and the font used on French traffic signs. The photos featured a lot of road signage and railway tracks, gates and lettering, so I took these, simplified them, and used them as abstract shapes in the design, sometimes reversing them out. We used the French traffic font, for all the text and it worked really well with the rest of the design. Jon talked a lot about the morning mist in Normandy, but I struggled to find a way to integrate this on the cover, in the end we went with 'mist coloured' vinyl for the first pressing.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
My strategy is just to sit down every day and work. I'm quite disciplined, though of course there are days when I feel more creative than others, but I find if I sit down and actively pursue a project eventually I will come up with something.
Do you tend to listen to the music in question a lot or at all while working on the project? Is your approach more guided by the emotions or ideas stirred by the music or conceptual considerations?
Yes, I listen to the music I'm designing for while I'm working on the cover, it helps to get me in the mood and generate ideas. Each project is different, but I'm generally trying to encapsulate something both emotional and conceptual. A lot of the music I put out is about 'place' or the records have a theme of some sort - so I guess I'm keen to evoke or somehow describe that on the cover as well. It has to work on all fronts, the image itself also has to function graphically at different sizes so it looks good on a small screen and on a 12-inch record sleeve.
What kind of materials have proven to be particularly effective to work with? Do you maintain an archive of materials for potential use in future projects? If so, what does it consist of and what are your criteria for adding something to it?
I collect stuff generally; I always keep an eye out in charity shops for old books and ephemera with designs or illustration that appeals to me. Before I start a project, I'll do a thorough search for reference material online and in books and build up a folder of inspiring images. Often my finished piece will have nothing to do with any of my reference material but it serves as a way to work through ideas.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I've always found it interesting to make videos for my releases, fitting images with music is a really fascinating thing that I'd like to do more of.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
It is tricky to be honest. I try not to think about it too much, it’s easier for to me to describe myself as an illustrator or designer rather than an 'artist'. I like the idea of working in an accessible area like print and I feel the design work I do for the Clay Pipe releases is closely linked to the music I make. The whole Clay Pipe project allows me a lot of self-expression and often feels like more than the sum of its parts.
It is done solely for the love of it, and creativity and music always come first. I guess that is the only way that it could possibly be political. As for engagement, it helps me to be feel part of a community of like-minded people who are making interesting music and running small labels.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music design still intact. Do you have a vision of it, an idea of what it could be beyond its current form?
It’s weird, in some ways it seems to have stagnated. For most listeners, sleeve design is now reduced to a tiny 500x500 pixel square that pops up when streaming or playing music on their screen. I don't know why interactive images or sleeve notes haven't been incorporated into this. I guess this is something that could happen in the future, who knows?