Monday, April 19, 2010

Album Cover Art: "... the final criteria of the success of an album cover [is] what will best sell the product"

Robert M. Jones, Art Director, RCA/Victor Records, writing in the November 1960 issue of American Artist:

The concept of album cover art is the responsibility of the art director and the A&R (artist and repetoire) man. When the A&R man has determined the content of the recording, the art director is called in for a discussion on the particular objective of the recording. He in turn must decide how the concept can best be realized, keeping in mind the relation of esthetics and sales potential.

Should the art be photographic, a painting or drawing, largely typographic, or a woodcut ort engraving?

The decision must be based on what will best sell the product, for this is the final criteria of the success of an album cover.

With this his prime consideration, the art director may make a series of thumbnail sketches to decide whether to commission a painter, illustrator, photographer, or graphic designer. If a painting, illustration, or graphic art is used, the artist will, in most cases, submit full-size colour sketches for approval before executing the finished art.

If the concept calls for a color photograph, the photographer may be shown the sketches, or he may just be given verbal instructions. Closely following a pre-conceived approach often results in an unconvincing and stilted picture which lacks spark and vitality, and the photographer often achieves better results when he is allowed creative latitude.

Finally the art work, whether painting or photography, is turned over to layout artists, mechanical men and typographers, working under the supervision of the art director, for completion.

* My Illustrated Album Covers Flickr set.


  1. rena harma1:03 PM

    I love these illustrations leif!


  2. These are great...and I love the insight!

    I actually own the Dean Martin, Sinatra and Spike Jones albums pictured here...makes me want to frame them and put them on my wall!

  3. Leif, the Sinatra cover was illustrated by George Bartell, an L.A. illustrator who started his career around 1960. I met him while I was attending Art Center College in 62, not long after he had graduated, and was asked to do a show and tell presentation for the illustration department.

    He quickly became one of the top illustrators in Southern California. He did a dramatic series of montage posters of different National Football League teams which was outstanding. He became a master of the rain storm school of painting (bold acrylic washes, with loose free charcoal under-drawing on textured gessoed illustration board. The Sinatra portrait is a little tighter than his typical style). The posters were reproduced quite large, and sold as both mail order and in retail sports and print stores.

    Tom Watson

  4. Wow, Tom; I so appreciate that info - many thanks!

  5. I've been reading your series on album covers and I'm loving it. As you know I've been working on an album cover lately, so I found this blog entry particularly interesting. I hope my cover for Unicorpse will sell the product ;)

  6. One of my favorite album covers of all time is by Frank Frazetta, painted for a Jonathan Winters comedy album, "Movies Are Better Than Ever." It featured Winters as the various 1930's-era movie characters (gangster, monster, great white hunter, Robin Hood) that he imitates on the album - and Frazetta captures Winters PERFECTLY in each role.