10 for 10: Local Album Art

Is the album cover dead? There was a time when buying a new album involved fawning over the artwork and reading the liner notes. A well-executed cover can attract fans to new bands because the chosen image perfectly represents the music's vibe, or strikes the buyers fancy. In the age of digital downloads, album art is trending away from physical copies. However, music and art form a symbiotic relationship that has sustained the relevance of album packaging. We've gathered 10 local albums and gained a little bit of insight on how the artwork was created. To check out more of an artist's portfolio click on their names in each header. Enjoy!

This is Relevant by Animal Spirit
Artwork by Michael J. Slack

The idea that we’re all stardust is the central theme in Michael J. Slack’s design for Animal Spirit’s upcoming album. The inspiration comes from a track called “Blame the Stars” in which the lyrical content addresses the connectivity of humanity and the universe. “Immediately what came to mind for me is how a lot of nature repeats itself on a macro and micro level. A lot of physics look similar in nature on different scales,” Slack says. This album is yet to be released, but we can expect to hear lyrics full of introspection and wondering where our place in the universe is. Keep up with Animal Spirit's Facebook so you don't miss the first single.

This opportunity came up for Slack due to the illustrations he’s made for his own band Dome Dwellers. He grew up inspired by the idea of rock and roll culture mixing music and art to form a vibrant creative scene. His drawing talent was cultivated in the time he spent visiting his grandparent’s geodesic dome. His grandmother worked as a professional photographer, and his grandfather was an architect who designed the dome they lived in. While Slack does commercial work to pay for the bills, he hopes to continue a life intertwined with musical and artistic expression.

Animal Spirit Bandcamp
Michael J. Slack Portfolio

Longtime friends Cameron Cox and Conor Wallace discussed their ideas for album art over a bottle of bourbon while listening to Friday Mean repeatedly. Cox says, “When he was writing it we were going through a lot of the same things in the same circle of friends. A lot of the content he wrote had very specific memories for me.” The resulting artwork is a personal representation of symbology that is open to multiple interpretations. It’s reflective of the album’s tone. Wallace's music is sweet but contains visceral moments that can cut deep. The artwork also mixes together feelings of doom and hope.

Cox attended Murray State in Kentucky where she began collaborating with artist Joe Duncan. When Duncan and his wife moved to Denton, Cox came along as well to continue her art work. Whether it’s curating or creating new pieces, her life’s work is devoted to creative expression. Soon the winds of opportunity will blow in a different direction as she plans to move to New York within the next few months. Cox regularly updates her instagram with her newest designs.

Album Link
Cameron Cox Portfolio

The final artwork for Spherically turned out very different from designer Olivia Brown’s initial idea. “Graphic design is different than art-making because you have to let go of your ego. It’s ultimately not about what I want. I am used to making and thinking up pictures, so I’m there to help,” says Brown. Ben Garnet and Skyler Hill wanted an earthy vibe to accompany their album which explores the possibilities of music with two acoustic guitars. The selected photo is from a trip Brown took to Portland. It was then turned upside down to present a shift in perspective. At first glance, the viewer might think they’re looking at a painting due to the water reflection at the top.

Brown has had a lifelong fascination with art. She was watching her father draw before she knew how to speak. She views art making as the most open and honest way to communicate with others. Brown says, “Successful works do not require explanation, because they rely on the sensation and feeling of being. Anyone is capable of conveying those kinds of ideas, but I feel that relentlessly pursuing that skill is worth a lifetime of commitment. It is important that a creative mind uses its entire experience to inspire.”

After graduating from UNT, Brown has since moved to Santa Fe where she works with Meow Wolf Gallery. Keep up with Brown's new work by following her instagram.

Album Link
Olivia Brown Portfolio

Evan Sheldon’s design for the newest Moniker album utilizes an old photographic process known as chemigram. No camera is used. Photographic paper is painted with developer and fixer chemicals before being exposed to light. Sheldon then scanned the image at a high-resolution so he could manipulate it further in Photoshop. It’s a process Sheldon had been working on before sharing it with the group. Sheldon says, “like my own work, I feel Moniker’s music speaks to the isolated freak that is present in so many of us in one capacity or another.”

This is Sheldon’s first album design, but he’s enjoyed solving visual problems for the past ten years. He’s currently studying photography at UNT, but he enjoys mixing different forms of media to find new ways of presenting creative visuals. In addition to the portfolio we have linked to, readers are welcome to check out his instagram.

Album Link
Evan Sheldon Portfolio

Fishboy’s album covers have a visual cohesiveness due to the fact that they’re all designed by the band’s founder, Eric Michener. In An Elephant, Michener writes a narrative album about the real life filmed electrocution of Topsy the elephant, who was murdered by Thomas Edison. The cover drawing mimics the viewpoint of watching movement across a film reel. Michener says, “Thematically, the lyrics deal with Topsy's loneliness, so there is a juxtaposition with the visual image of dozens of dancing ghost elephants. The final line of the album is "when you're alone you're not the only one around." I imagine the listener hearing that line and putting the album back into the sleeve and taking away a new meaning from the artwork." The album was also released with a 160-page graphic novel written by Michener. When laid on top of the LP, the patterns can be lined up with a ghost elephant at the forefront.

Michener says, “I like to joke that I write story driven songs and draw comics out of guilt for not using my RTFV degree. Both art forms are just about the cheapest and most singular ways to releases stories, as opposed to gathering a budget, cast and crew for a film.” Since 2007, Fishboy has focused on building a story structure within song lyrics. In 2010, Michener received a Wacom tablet which he utilized by drawing a comic diary a day. “I am definitely always trying to get better with my art and I force myself to created each new piece of album art using the style I've developed over the years,” says Michener.

Album Link
Eric Michener Portfolio

An inspiring artist like Leoncarlo is able to draw in fiercely talented collaborators that he has made special connections with. The Still Forms cover uses a painting created by Lauren Hensens, who has listened to the album on loop while working close to a hundred times. In the drafting process with Leoncarlo she says, “I visualized the movement of clouds over mountains in this vast, cinematic landscape.” As a kid growing up in Denton, Hensens had a special attachment to pockets of wilderness in the city. Traveling and hiking play a big part in inspiring her creativity.

From there, Judson and Molly Valdez completed the design to present a new way of viewing Henson’s work. The Valdez's took their time as they reworked the image until it was more than just cool-looking. “We wanted to make a visual piece that people who have never heard the album could see and say, 'oh shit, there's something interesting and beautiful in there.' Which of course we all know is true in the case of Carlo's music,” says Judson Valdez.

Like a few other designers in this list, Molly and Judson are immersed in music and arts. Molly grew up in Denton as a designing prodigy. Judson attended UNT for creative writing and played in a local band called Chambers. “Most everything we make is a reaction to or inspired by the art we intake in our lives, which is probably why we end up doing a lot of album covers and other pieces for musicians,” says Judson.

Album Link
Lauren Hensens Portfolio
The Valdez Portfolio

Enough Silence by Isabel Crespo
Artwork by Isabel Crespo

The imagery for Enough Silence is directly tied to the music concept. Jazz singer Isabel Crespo says, “My aim was to represent the feeling of being involved in a confrontational interaction, but I wanted to portray it as a 3-step process: Think, Wait, and Speak.” In high-stress conversations, it’s difficult for people to know what to do with silence. Crespo says, “The album art for this song-cycle depicts the two decisions that we have when we find ourselves in these situations: to make silence or to break it.” The final image was created with photographs and pencil works.

Crespo grew up always wanting to be a visual artist, and art continues to be a huge influence as she pursues a career in music. She sketched album art possibilities before writing any of the music for Enough Silence. Crespo has a very visual approach to her songwriting as she often creates graphic scores of compositions to organize her thoughts. Crespo’s interest in nature, the learning process, and the intricacies of human interest are present in her music compositions. Her inspirations often lead her music in different directions.

Album Link
Isabel Crespo Portfolio

Joe Melgoza is another musician/designer who was happy to design an album cover for his friend’s band. The album title is intended to reflect Madaline’s fierce determination to pursue their passions. Being in a band takes hard work, dedication, and a restless nature. The general concept was conveyed by guitarist Mark Kimberlin, and Melgoza came up with the desert background and sleepy skeleton. The band has an established color scheme of blue and yellow which works well to present a whimsical vibe. Madaline is ska after all.

Melgoza moved to Texas from East L.A. four years ago to concentrate on school, but has since flourished in expressing his creativity. He has been interested in illustrations since elementary school when he influenced by abstract imagery and macabre themes. As a teenager he got into graffiti and found a love for typography. In the past year he’s been performing shows solo under the name Filthy Arsenal, and he eventually formed a full band. Now when he gets asked to play a show, chances are he’ll also design the flyer. Melgoza is eager to keep himself busy with creative projects and create letters.

Album Link
Joe Melgoza Portfolio

Sitting around covered in slime isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but Katie Reese willingly modeled that way in support of the grungy and noise-based Jesus Chris + the Beetles. Lead singer Robinson Marlin approached César Velasco about doing an album cover with a reference to The Cars. Velasco suggested using slime due to track titles such as “Slime Girl.” Reese was then brought into the project for her talented skills as an art collaborator. They worked together to pick a background fabric, and then Reese endured the homemade slime for around 30 minutes. Velasco took the picture, but Reese finalized the edit with her signature framing style. Then the band wrapped up the artwork by setting the type, and it's no doubt this is the slimiest cover art created in Denton.

Velasco can often be seen filming and photographing local music shows, but he credits Reese as a huge influence on his work. They perform together in another band called Thin Skin, and he believes collaborations to be extremely valuable. Velasco says, “I think supporting each other by creating together and helping each other with a varying set of skills from all sort of artists is the only way to maintain some sort of genuine outflow of art within any art scene.” Additionally Reese views all her passions and her artwork as essentially being her.

Album Link
César Velasco Portfolio
Katie Reese Portfolio

This photo by Zac Travis was taken two years ago ago while experimenting with expired Polaroid 600 film on a post-college road trip to Port Aransas. “All I can really say about the trip in correlation to the specific photograph used for the album cover is that was a wild time with a lot of good memories,” says Travis. Adam Bertholdi of the Cozy Hawks contacted Travis to ask for permission to use it for End Era. It fits very well with the power-pop aesthetic.

Travis earned a BFA in photography at UNT while performing in the math-rock band Bashe. He designed the cassette and cd sleeve for their first album. Now he’s pursuing an MFA at the University of New Mexico. Photography continues to be his primary focus, but he takes inspirations from all art. His recent artwork is underlined by a fascination with cyberculture.

Album Link
Zac Travis Portfolio

Header image design by Shaina Sheaff