Three weeks ago, The Cribs released their sixth album ‘For All My Sisters’. The artwork was designed by ELP keyholder Nick Scott. Here he talks about the process behind the artwork and gives us an insight into his practice as a designer and printmaker.
After working together for the past decade, The Cribs and I have finally created a record sleeve using screenprints. When we first collaborated in 2005, I had just graduated from Leeds Met having completed a BA in Graphic Arts & Design. I had specialised in screenprint and I was making art & posters for clubs & gigs I was putting on; this is where we met. In hindsight it’s amazing it’s taken this long to do this.
I set myself a simple rule when working on this project; I wanted the work to have a physicality, a weight, which meant where possible, the artwork should be produced by hand. I printed everything in East London Printmakers’ studio in Hackney, a studio I have used since moving to London in 2008.
Digital manipulation of imagery using photoshop is still at the foundation of the work, but I also used prisms & mirrors where possible to make the source material before producing the screenprints. This was a process that evolved from two strands of thought. Initially the band and I were discussing water as a start point for the artwork and I was considering distorting imagery with water. Then, Louise Mason – a friend and talented art director at DIY magazine – introduced me to shooting through prisms. This was a perfect fit for my other ambition for the sleeve, which was to make this informed by the graphic playfulness of New Wave New York.
One major difference of producing all the elements by hand compared to digital is the finality of it. If I want a colour to behave in a certain manner, I can’t just go in and fix it (although I can tweak it in post), its on the paper, it’s not going anywhere. So to make sure I don’t get halfway through and find I’ve messed it all up, I spend time mixing and testing the colours I’m going to use. This is all part of my set up process.
Being organised is really important when printing by hand. I was going to need to print close to 20 different images, all of which were between nine and four colours. As the process requires me to pull each colour individually by hand, this means I need to be really organised. These (above) are the positives which would go on to make up the screens I was printing.
I knew I wanted to set a palette for the artwork and stick to it, so the testing at the beginning was vital – I would mix up large quantities of that ink, and then once it was gone it was gone. Matching is possible but there is something instinctive and organic about mixing by eye. It is important when printing by hand to find the balance between being creative and open to changes in the plan and maintaining a consistency and awareness to the bigger picture.
I spent a LOT of time in the studio. each time I wanted to make a screen, it would require coating, drying, exposing, washing, drying, masking, registration, pulling, then cleaning and stripping. It led to a lot of late nights, loud music, and strong chemicals.
This tactile attention to detail does begin to pay off. The biggest error I see when people are faking a printmaking style is that they always misunderstand the reality of it’s inherent imperfection. They always lay it all on too thick, with mis-registration far too sizeable and wildly out of sync. That’s not how it works in the real world. As printmakers we’re striving to get it right: the minor imperfections give the work character, but we’re talking about millimetres not centimetres. Anything too widely misaligned feels like something that should be sold in a shop with totes that have pictures of telephone boxes on and Banksy art prints.
I knew that this project would have multiple formats and that I wanted to take this opportunity to make the sleeve a piece that really drives home the value of the music. Because of this I negotiated with the label manager Ali to get the finest formats the budget would stretch to.
The band and I have always worked hard to expand on the experience of the records but without producing things which overshadow the music at the core. For this sleeve the band were recording in NYC, so photographer Pieter M. Van Hatten shot the chaps during the process at Ryan’s house. The band are three brothers (two of whom are twins) who currently live in Portland, NYC, and Wakefield, so coming together in one city to make a record also means it’s our opportunity to get them in for photos and videos. It felt right to shoot them together in their home, it seemed fitting as this record is a new start of sorts (this is their first record on their new label Sony Red) and we can see a clear comparison to their debut LP which features them on the cover.
I wanted to make the artwork feel fragmented and discombobulating as that was my experience of the music. There was a confrontational quality to the record so I didn’t want it to be an easy ride, but I also wanted it to encourage the listener to engage with each song individually and have a sense that it was deserving of their attention.
The band and I come from a scene which believes in doing it yourself, a punk rock approach to creativity. I wanted this to feel like an artifact, an art piece that feels both made with love and attention to the details, but also made by a real person. Not just put together by a bored designer on autopilot dropping art into pre-existing templates.
Regardless of what format you choose to listen to the record, I wanted to make sure as a fan, you could have a full experience. This meant when laying out the cassette, I sacrificed the vanity of presenting the prints, to make sure the lyrics are there. This was a real technical nightmare as I only had a single fold sleeve (modern budgets!) but I managed it. This was one of my favourite victories of the project!
It’s such a cliche these days to talk about how the increased scale of the cover is the ideal format for viewing artwork that I normally kick against it, but this project is a good case for this. On the LP you can really get an idea of the fact that this image has been hand made. You can see the way colours have been made by overlapping others, you can see the grain in the paper, and the imperfections on the edges. It’s been laborious, but what else would you expect from a labour of love?