The Spark:

I’ve been thinking a lot about my design career lately. More importantly, I’ve been thinking about how I could meld my artistic side and my design side into a single unified aesthetic. I’ll be the first to admit that my artistic side is really just brain vomit. It’s an attempt to create from the subconscious and to embrace the freedom of making mistakes. In other words, it’s a place where I can make a mess and create without restrictions, rules, interferences or clients. Design is a much more calculated intention. I plan, sketch, and analyze a visually represented solution from a set of abstract problems. How can I get both of these worlds to play nicely together?

The Inspiration:

I launched my Instagram page on January 1st, 2016. Every morning I would sit down, create a new collage and then post it. This went on for a total of 365 days. On December 31st after I posted my final piece, my intention was to kill the page. Where else was there for me to go? Besides, I was completely exhausted. The demand of posting every single day had worn out my creative engine. I did learn a few important things from this project which were discipline, time management, and consistency. There were all practices that my design side needed.

At the dawn of 2017, I decided to keep my Instagram page. I posted new pieces here and there but my output had slowed considerably. However, once I had a less restrictive timeline, I could experiment with the format and develop new ways of displaying my collage work. I began turning my artistic endeavors into short animated sequences. I thought to myself that this could be a new avenue to explore. The thing that excited me the most was adding an element of sound into the mix. I’ve been home recording and writing songs since I was twelve. Adding an element of noise to my collage work just seemed like a natural progression. In addition, it helped bridge some of my design practices into my artistic side. At least from a production standpoint.

As I continued to deconstruct my design career path, it all seemed to lead back to that initial spark that got me interested in design in the first place. Record cover art. I was fascinated with Estrus Records when I was a teenager. Art Chantry’s branding directions had such a deep profound effect on the way that I not only listened to music but how I looked at visual communication. Ultimately, it’s how I look at the world around me. As I grew older and discovered the likes of Barney Bubbles, George Hardy, Linder Sterling, Reid Miles, Mark Farrow, Bob Cato, and Keiichi Tanaami, I could see the power that visual design had when attached to sound. For a period of my life, one almost couldn’t live without the other. Perhaps turning my art into record covers was the next evolution in my Instagram project. I’ve done my share of record covers for various bands and labels, but this was something different. This was an opportunity to create something out of nothing and to utilize my home recording skills. I came to the conclusion that my art is best left in my own hands.

The Concept:

My idea is to build a series of virtual records to be experienced in short bite-sized bursts. By taking the language that I’ve developed through collage and illustration, my goal is to construct an entirely new way of experiencing my brand of visual design. This would not only lend itself to the graphics aspect but to an audio one as well. I would initially create the art and then produce the music that best matched its aesthetic.

The second idea is to manipulate the Instagram format. As a product, its only real function is to post photos and videos. How could I ultimately use this platform in a way that it wasn’t intended for? Suddenly it clicked. I could turn my feed into a glorified record label of sorts. It’s not genre-bending. It’s format warping. It’s bite-sized singles made easily digestible on your Instagram feed. It’s like putting Instagram, Spotify, and my unique collage style into a blender and making a musical smoothie.

The Purpose:

The real purpose of this project is an attempt to meld my two creative loves into a cohesive combination of sight and sound. The representation of this idea allows me to explore record cover design and the music attached to it. For the user, it’s a chance to experience Instagram on another level and to provide a tangible approach to playing records on a turntable; even if it’s filtered through my own illustrative surreal point of view and especially if it is relegated to a single social format.

By cross-pollinating my art with the emotional impact of sound, my hope is that the user can enter a world unlike anything that they’ve experienced on Instagram. It helps that videos are played on an automatic loop. Thus allowing the user to replay the piece over and over. The songs are much shorter as well. This is meant to cram a lot of information into a small space as Instagram itself is meant to be experienced for short bursts of time. When we scroll on our phones, we’re speeding through our feed and only stopping if something catches our eye. We like it or comment on it and then move on. No one has time to sit there and listen to a three-minute pop song in the middle of their scrolling.

The Beginning:

For as long as I can remember, consistency and rhythm have played enormous roles in my artistic output. When I launched my Instagram page, my mission was to complete an entire year’s worth of digital collage that could ultimately be tied together through similar color schemes, assets, typography, imagery, and feel. To this day, anything I create for Instagram has to follow a rigid set of rules.

• Always use the same textured background.

• Use square format.

• Artwork must be centered and take up 60% of the composition.

• Create a cohesive form from a variety of resources. (Symmetry is okay but not required.)

• Avoid being too literal with the message. Include contrasting themes.

• Be obnoxiously colorful. No monochrome or single color use. (I’ve broken this several times.)

Once I understood these rules and applied them to my burgeoning collection of artistic nonsense, I could begin to break my own rules. When applying an element of sound, new challenges came to the forefront. What did my art sound like? What repetitious elements of my art can I replicate with music? Could the songs just be ambient noise? What about lyrics? I could instantly see that this was going to be quite the adventure.

The Tools:

• Visual - Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator.

• Audio - Logic X, Midi Controller, Microphone.

• Production - After Effects

• Platform - Instagram

The Process:

Once I put some ideas down on paper, the next step was to build a templatized system to work from. I needed a series of smart objects in photoshop that I could easily duplicate and alter. This allowed me to systematically output a consistent set of materials. Once my photoshop template was solid and my file set-up was in place, it was then time to build my animated turntable. This proved to be a tad more laborious as I knew that it would eventually need to be adjusted dynamically. I designed the skeletal framework first. Next, I experimented with color and visual aesthetics. I resolved to keep the color scheme (muted tans and browns) in the same vein as the background texture. Once this was completed, I set out building my After Effects Template.

Since each composition was going to be at different lengths, I had to ensure that altering my template would be an easy fix. The challenge was coordinating my keyframes so that they could be moved in multiple sets at once. It helped that I broke the animation sequence down into three categories.

• Beginning - Cover is displayed for 5 seconds. Cover leaves the screen as the turntable animated around the vinyl.

• Middle - ‘Play’ button is activated, vinyl spins and the arm falls on the record. A song plays for 22 to 34 seconds.

• End - Total reversal of assets. Turntable animates out while cover re-enters screen.

I ran a series of tests as I was building my template. It took a few tries before I was finally satisfied with it.

The Sound:

I’ve often wondered what certain brands sound like. A good solid brand should take into consideration how it is being perceived from an aural level. After all, hearing is one of the senses that we use to experience life and our surroundings. Whether it be a jingle or a set of sound effects which communicate brand features, I would certainly have a better-refined view of a brand if it had some sense of music or sound. That kind of thinking eventually got me to act upon my impulses.

Since my art was more or less a poor man’s attempt at designing fake record covers, it seemed like the next logical step for me to turn my Instagram compositions into bite-sized records.

My background is rock n’ roll. I spent a lot of my teenage years into my twenties playing in garage bands, hardcore bands, punk bands and whatever was currently hot on the underground circuit. I had to think long and hard about what my art was trying to say and what it would sound like. Since my artistic approach has always been collage-based, it only made sense that the music should reflect that. The best solution would be to designate certain sounds to specific graphical elements. For instance, I always thought that the smoke bubble illustrations that regularly appear in my work sounded like echo-y harpsichord plucks. The halftone patterns always sounded a little distorted and my slime drawings had an air of squishy bass tones.

I came to the conclusion that I could also use plunderphonics as a foundation for how I would write and record music pieces. My collage work often takes some antiquated piece of advertising and then gets filtered through my own surreal manipulations. The sound aspect can essentially follow the same rules. I scoured various online resources looking for sounds that I liked and sounds that I felt best suited my needs. After splicing out what I needed, I set out to wrap it all up in a variety of synth sounds and ambient noises (squishy bass tones and slinky synth riffs). I soon found myself with a set of songs that weaved an interesting pattern. A lot of it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but then again, my art is pretty nonsensical. It was a perfect pairing.

• Collage elements: Samples, field recordings, stock sounds.

• Illustrative tones: Synth Bass. Poly Synth, Drum track.

The Conclusion:

There is only so much that I can explain in this blog. I could easily spend another 10 paragraphs writing about the overall build process and what it personally means to me. In a way, I feel like I’ve accomplished my goal in combining the two creative sides. As much as I’ve tried to keep my artistic side far away from my design side in the past, the fact of the matter is that one can’t live without the other. As soon as I allowed my brain to make visual messes and create without restrictions, my design work drastically improved. I second-guessed myself a whole lot less and took more chances. Let go. Sometimes, amazing things can happen.

At the end of the day, there is really only one thing that matters. See and hear it for yourself.