Elizabeth Maplesden / EMdash Design

11th Annual Album Art Nominee

See More At The Vox Pop Jukebox

Nominated Piece: Electrotype – 7.50 (Seven
and a Half) cover

www.elizabethmaplesden.com

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COMPANY NAME: EMdash Design

Contact: Elizabeth Maplesden

HOMEBASE: Yardley, PA, US

CATEGORY ENTERED: Design Album Art/Photography

DESCRIBE YOUR NOMINATED WORK: Album cover for the EP 7.50 (Seven and a Half) by Electrotype

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THIS PROJECT? I am “everyone” in Electrotype, and also a professional graphic designer. I did everything myself on the EP, so it seemed a natural idea to design the album as well.

WHAT WAS THE CONCEPT & PROCESS? DID YOU & THE BAND COLLABORATE? As far as the band’s collaboration, they threatened to walk out if they weren’t included in the design process… The serious answer is that, of course, I never considered hiring anyone else to do the design. Usually when I design for other people, I go through a much more formal process of sketches, research, refinement, and coming up with a minimum number of distinctly different ideas to present. But when I design for myself, I’m more relaxed and free-associating. Lately, I’ve been attempting to be less analytical when coming up with ideas, and just allow what I call “prethoughts”, which is any concept or picture that pops into one’s mind before a person really consciously thinks about what it is. The cover for 7.50 is a result of this.

By the way, I should probably note that I think of the package as a whole when designing. Of course the album cover is an entity unto itself, and the most important part of the album, but I don’t create in a piecemeal fashion.

When I seriously began working on the art, all of which I was certain was that the image should contain seven and a half objects and that it should be like a pictogram, which would make it feel iconic. From a production standpoint, I knew that the iconic-ness should be recognizable at both a small or grand scale. I made two quick sketches on a notepad: one of seven and a half connected paperdolls, and another of seven and a half hash marks. I also considered seven and a half dollars (with one bill ripped in half), which was a holdover from a previous album title idea. After thinking about them for some time (maybe a day or two) I settled on the hash marks. For some reason, when I would think of the hash marks, I would think of matchsticks in that position.

The truth is that I don’t know exactly what it means, but it seemed right. So I photographed the cover image, outside in natural daylight, against a white piece of illustration board. Visually, it’s just the presentation of a mundane object treated in an elevated way onto which you project your own interpretation. It’s not new, in that sense. I could lie to you and tell you that I am deliberately echoing Oldenberg or Warhol, or Bernhard, but I’ll be honest and say that the presentation just came to me. Yet it’s not meaningless. In itself it’s very different from much of the work I’ve done in the past, which were more illustration-based visually and less abstract conceptually. Unlike other forms of abstract art, however, because it’s on an album, and not alone on a gallery wall, one would assume that the image does have a specific meaning, where otherwise you might wonder if it isn’t just junk thrown together to make fun of gallery-goers.

When I’m finished with a piece about which I have a good feeling, I’ll look at it and try to think how other people might interpret it. For instance, because of the proportions of the matchsticks, I suppose someone might think it’s a barcode (and because the title might suggest a price). Also, if people got the correct interpretation, they might read into the details of the matches themselves: they are supposed to be all the same, but each has an imperfection that gives it character. That’s a happy accident. If I’m able to come up with alternately valid interpretations (even if they are wrong), I know I’ve hit the nail on the head.

WAS THE DESIGN/IMAGE YOU CREATED USED IN ANY OTHER PROMOTIONAL MATERIALS FOR THE ARTIST? PLEASE DESCRIBE: I did variations of the arrangement of the matchsticks for the back cover, plus photographs of different objects for the inside of the album. It’s too soon to talk about promotional items, but it’s safe to say there will be similar images. If anyone’s interested in buying a t-shirt, poster, or whatever with the album cover on it, let me know! I’d also love to do a version of it on vinyl, because it would look great at that scale. But right now, we’re struggling just to get a CD out.

DESCRIBE WHAT IT WAS LIKE WORKING WITH THE MUSICAL ARTIST: Well, as I said, I’m the only one in Electrotype, so it’s easy. I think people would be surprised that I really had nothing in mind for the cover while working on the songs. There wasn’t even a definite album title until the very end. However, there was a typographical reason the album is 7.50: you can’t type a fractional character unless it’s in the font! And 7 1/2 looks awkward. So, for ease of typing on the internet and other digital media, it had to be expressed as a decimal.

WHAT OTHER INDEPENDENT MUSIC PROJECTS HAVE YOU WORKED ON? I haven’t worked on many. I also designed the Electrotype logo, which appears on the cover.

WHICH MUSICIANS WOULD YOU LIKE TO WORK WITH NEXT? That’s a tough one. I was warned once in college that artists are the worst with which to work because of the egos involved. But I am certainly interested in working with any musicians with humble spirits, open minds, and are interested in collaborating on thoughtful art that complements or extends the concepts in their own work. That probably narrows it to musicians who write their own material and who aren’t worried that every single person will get it. Not everything is meant to be understood in a single pass, which is why I design with multiple layers of meaning. While I am open to most genres, I’d probably enjoy working with someone within the rock genre (in itself a broad description) because that is the music I listen to most of the time and of which I am the most knowledgeable. Money helps, but it isn’t the sole factor. This album art cost me nothing additional: I didn’t even buy new matches!

WHAT ROLE WILL ALBUM ART/PHOTOGRAPHY PLAY IN A DIGITAL/STREAMING WORLD? Cohesive branding, in itself, will be more important than ever to unify the band brand across all sorts of media. The cover image will definitely stick around, at least. While the trend over the last decade or so has been to greatly reduce the importance of supplemental artwork (like the interior of an album booklet), I think it will actually emerge as a richer, more motion-based and possibly more interactive form of album art. Overall, it will merge music video and album art into a single form somehow. The challenges to that are technology, portability, and interest. There needs be a way to carry such a merged art form with you for each of your 1000+ tracks without a significant decrease in performance and space, plus the software to make it easy to access. Obviously, the hardware would be an improved version of digital music players and tablet PCs, while the software would have to be accessible both locally (meaning on your device) and via cloud-based sources. Streaming and “the cloud” are more or less the same thing, but the experience will be somewhat limited due to ever-present network limitations and restrictions, and only desireable to supplement people’s existing collections on their devices. Many people still like to feel as if they own tangible objects, however, especially if they perceive that it has value to them at a deeper level. It’s just a human thing.

As far as interest in digital album art, that will be determined by the depth and quality of the music and people’s perception of the music they purchase. If the music is shallow and forms no connection to a listener other than being an aural fashion accessory, then there’s not much that’s going to happen with album art. If people treat the music to which they listen as disposable as yesterday’s tweets, then album art will be no more than a thumbnail identifier. But if listeners treat music with a certain level of respect as an artistic endeavor (even if it’s not their taste or favorite), and if artists and the industry mechanism treat listeners with respect as intelligent people, then album art will remain an important extension of the music and lyrics, in addition to a marketing tool.

HOW HAVE CHANGES IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY AFFECTED YOUR CAREER & ART? I consider myself an outsider to the music industry, so I don’t believe that changes in the industry have really affected me personally.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SUBMIT TO THE 11TH IMAS? The IMAs was one of the few that has an album art category. I found out about the competition at the last minute from a sponsored e-mail, only a few days before the deadline. I had a lot of questions and was happy that I could talk to a person! Of course, I was eager to submit my music to the competition as well.

WHAT PHOTOGRAPHERS/GRAPHIC DESIGNERS/ARTISTS INSPIRE YOU? Other than the ones I discussed above, I’m influenced mainly by modernists. One important one is Bradbury Thompson, who did a lot of paper company promotions in the 1950s. He did a lot of colorful, playful stuff with 19th century engravings and overprinted color shapes at that time. Throughout his work he had a way of combining old and new in visually fun and interesting ways, which is something I like to do. To a lesser extent, I am also influenced by Paul Rand, another modernist designer, who is probably best known for his logos for ABC and UPS. I like illustrating in a succinct way so that it communicates like a logo.

Specifically in terms of album art, one of my favorite album covers of all time is on Genesis’s Invisible Touch. It was probably one of the first rock album covers that stuck with me as a young child. But then again, I was also enamored of their music at that time too. After art school I appreciate just how difficult it is to illustrate that concept in a graphic or iconic way and get it to work well at all scales. But then again, I also appreciate their music at a deeper level now as well.

WHAT’S YOUR MOST MEMORABLE ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE? As a designer, my most memorable achievement (aside from the IMAs) would probably be getting into Graphis Poster 2010 for a piece I did totally on my own. It’s a big deal for designers to get into any of the Graphis annuals. Coincidentally it was for a poster where I used a photograph as the main element, which is something that was unusual for me at the time. As a musician, my most memorable achievement would be singing at a Vatican ceremony with my high school choir. It sounds trite, I suppose, to go back that far (and one could argue that I was really only 1/42nd of that feat) but it remains the largest crowd for which I’ve performed. I don’t know the exact population, but St. Peter’s Square was packed back to front, side to side. Of course they weren’t there to see just us…

FINISH THIS SENTENCE: THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IS…an enigma.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN THE WORKS FOR THE UPCOMING YEAR? I will be extending the 7.50 artwork for promotional purposes, and I’ll probably continue to create the perfect publicity photo for Electrotype. And I’ll continue to write, perform, and record new material, in addition to widening distribution of the 7.50 EP.

WHERE CAN FANS FIND YOUR WORK?

They can find it on my website at www.emdash-design.com (which is Flash-based). I also have profiles on some of the design-based social networking sites, such as behance.net/emdash (which is probably more phone-friendly). Of course, there is www.electrotype.us and www.reverbnation.com/electrotype as well.