Album and single covers are often a great way for an upcoming illustrator to make a name for themselves. Although the art does seem to be dying out, when done well it can really lead to great things. We asked Gordon Reid, aka Middle Boop, to create a single cover based on one of his favourite songs. He chose Mogwai’s
How To Be A Werewolf (with the band’s permission), and the result is a great example of the form.
See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials
“I aimed to create something a little different, hark back to the times of [legendary graphic designer for the 4AD label] Vaughan Oliver and create some stylised chaos,” says Gordon.
He will show you a slick psychedelic-influenced cover by adding a unique twist on a few simple filters. You will go through editing stock images quickly and easily as well as some useful tools in Illustrator such as the Blend tool. This will teach you how to manage multiple layers on top of merging a number of techniques and preparing for print.
Time to complete
Photoshop and Illustrator CS2 or later
First off, choose some suitable stock images like those shown above. Bear in mind the title and feel of the song. Naturally, as this song is called How To Be A Werewolf, it goes without saying images of wolves would play a big part.
Also, create a square document 300 x 300mm with a black background. This will form the background of your single cover.
Once you have your chosen images, cut them out using the Pen tool (
P). Photoshop has other cutout tools, but for me the Pen tool really is the best way to cut out layers from backgrounds – and to master the Pen tool will open you up to so many other possibilities in developing your illustration skills.
Now that you have your chosen images cut out, select the wolf image that will be the main focal point. Hit
Cmd/Ctrl + U and turn the saturation right down, making the image black and white. Repeat this for the other shots of the wolves, but you can leave the images of the man or woman in colour.
Cmd/Ctrl + L to open up the Levels dialog and take out a lot of the greyness by increasing the black and white tones. Use a large, soft edged brush to go around the edges of the wolf images to ‘blend’ them more into the background, as this will come in handy later on.
Now that your images are looking good and ready to go, it’s time to organise the main colours you will be using in the piece. One effective way of doing this is to play about with swatches. For this piece I have used Pantone Solid Coated as we will need some bright colours for the next step.
Let’s experiment with some gradients, so use the Gradient tool (
G) to place one across the whole of your document. We want a gradient with at least four different colours going from dark to light diagonally. Open the Gradient Editor and select some colours in the purple to pink range. Now add a new layer on top and repeat this technique using orange and pink colours, then set it to multiply.
Once you have your gradients in place it’s time to focus on the layers and develop the collage. To blend layers into one another, get a large, soft-edged brush and erase parts such as around the wolf’s head.
Duplicate your layers with cutout photos and group them together. Invert the images of people (
Cmd/Ctrl + I) but leave the wolves black and white. Experiment with your composition and once you’re happy, select all of the layers, duplicate them ( Alt + drag) and merge them together.
Select the whole layer by
Cmd/Ctrl + clicking the thumbnail and with the marquee round it, bring in your gradient layer on top of it. Using the marquee, Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I to invert the selection and hit Delete. Change this layer to Difference, then select Cmd/Ctrl + U and play about with Hue to find some interesting colours.
Now to experiment with different settings in the drop down menu. Duplicate the gradient layer you’ve just made. This time change its blending mode to Luminosity, and take the Opacity down to around 4%. Duplicate it again and change the blending mode to Multiply. Offset this layer a fair bit so that it rests across the collage rather than on top for an unusual colour shadow effect.
Continue to duplicate different layers a few more times and offset them slightly. Add some bold geometric shapes using the Custom Shape tool (
U), making sure its set to Shape layers in the Layers panel.
Place them in the middle and build your illustration around it. Use your inverted layers from the last step and start adding them into the background.
This is where you can really start to get creative with the effects I’ve just shown you.
Duplicate your layers from Step 10 and
Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal one of each. You should now have two layers with blending modes of Luminosity and two with Multiply. Lay them over the top of your collage and invert them ( Cmd/Ctrl + I). You should get some really ‘trippy’ effects.
As a CD cover, typography with the name of the artist and song plays a very important role, so you really have to make sure you pick the right typeface. And for this level of typography, we need to head over to Illustrator.
Fire up Illustrator,
File > Place your artwork and start experimenting with different typefaces. With the overloaded nature of the artwork, I needed a clean, subtle font. Choose a thin, sans font and place it near the bottom.
While we want to keep the type simple, we can still tweak it slightly. Add a weight to the type of around 1.5. Click
Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + O to turn the text into outlines. This way you have a lot more freedom to edit your font.
When you’re done with your typography, copy and paste it to your Photoshop document.
We also want to use Illustrator to add some graphics elements. Create a white diagonal line on a layer above the placed image. Copy it and go to
Object > Transform > Reflect. Set the Axis to Vertical and the Angle to 90°.
Line the two up at the bottom and add a vertical line in the middle. Set the two diagonal lines’ weights to 5pt and the middle one to 1pt.
Select all your lines. Go to
Object > Blend > Blend Options. Change to Specified Steps and set to around 15–20. Now hold Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + B to see the results.
Place this blend layer back in Photoshop at the top of your image behind the inverted layers.
Middle Boop is the moniker of designer and illustrator Gordon Reid. As well as working for clients including Malibu, Maxim, and Digital Arts, he has worked extensively in the music industry, working with record labels 4AD and Warp. Reid has exhibited his work all over the UK including the most recent Inkygoodness show in Bristol and puts on events as part of the Publishers Club. He is a member of the KDU and has recently re-launched his music blog as a proper site at middleboopmag.com.