How Ryan Clark designed the Atlas Moth's wet-reveal album cover

Invisible Creature's Ryan Clark details how he designed an album cover where a new artwork is revealed when water is poured on it (above, embedded from Chris Bruni's Instagram).

While the mainstream world associates heavy metal artwork with the hackneyed cliches of bad hair, misogyny, caricatured zombies and scenes of no aesthetic merit that just make you go yuck (yes I mean you, Cannibal Corpse) – we know that it’s a constant wellspring of genuine artistry from the likes of Skinner, Dan Mumford and John Baizley.

Cult musical genres like metal are also one of the few areas where fans will be buy physical media – especially if there’s a beautifully or innovative design element to the packaging. One of the best recent examples of this is the new album The Old Believer from Chicago band The Atlas Moth. The cover features an eye-catching but relatively subtle – by metal album art standards anyway – composition based on photography by Hank Pearl. Run the cover underwater though, and a darker version of the artwork appears – a contrast that matches the band’s dual vocalists, singer David Kush and screamer Stavros Giannopoulos.

The covers were created by Invisible Creature – aka brothers Don and Ryan Clark. We sat down with Ryan to find out more how they designed the artwork to work with the water reveal process.

NB: Tell me a bit about Invisible Creature

RC: "We started IC in 2006, but have been working together in some capacity for the past 13 years. Nearly all of our work for the first seven or eight years was music-related: album packaging, gig posters, merchandise, etc. The last five or so years, we’ve ventured into a broader range of clients and have expanded our work into more illustration, product design, video, branding/identity projects, and more.

"Most recently, we've been focusing in on releasing more of our own products – which ranges from clothing to toys. We still do a lot of music-related work, but it’s a much smaller piece of the pie than it used to be. We’re fortunate enough these days to be afforded some picking and choosing when it comes to album packages and the like."

The 'dry' cover to The Atlas Moth's The Old Believer

NB: How did you come to work on The Atlas Moth’s Old Believer cover artwork?

RC: "I currently play in a band called Demon Hunter [LINK], which I’ve been doing alongside design work for the past 12 years. Demon Hunter's manager and my long-time friend, Ryan Downey, recently started working with The Atlas Moth. It turns out that the Atlas Moth guys have been fans of our design work for some time, and so Ryan Downey helped orchestrate our working together on their new album.

NB: What’s the concept behind having two covers, one of which only reveals itself under water?

RC: "Admittedly, this is a concept that was brought to me from the band – and aside from being a fan of their earlier material, this concept helped “sell” me on working with them for The Old Believer. I knew that we could do something amazing together if this concept was fully realised.

"Ordinarily, when a band comes to me with a concept this elaborate, chances are they haven’t run it through the necessary channels – such as their label and manufacturer – to see if it’s feasible from both a financial and manufacturing standpoint. I had personally never seen this printing method before, and assumed there was no way a printer who works primarily in music packaging would be able to pull off. Even if it were feasible on the printing side, I thought for sure it would be too expensive for the record label to commit to.

"In this case, the band had already laid the groundwork in getting confirmation from the manufacturer, and approval from the label… so we were able to hit the ground running."

NB: Tell us about the conceptual/creative process for each cover artwork

RC: "We knew that the packaging would be the star in this instance, but it’s always been important to me to create a design aesthetic that doesn’t pale in comparison to the packaging. Elaborate packaging with ineffective design falls flat. With that said, my goal was to create an image that was effective on its own, and even more interesting through unique packaging.

“The band gave me some initial direction in regards to the photographic elements as well. They knew they wanted a female, placed in an empty environment – which would later turn dark and twisted, revealing an elaborate throne room, and turning the female subject into an evil, deteriorated version of herself.

"The band also wanted to incorporate a neon sign into the scene – something that brought a modern dystopian element into an otherwise ancient-looking atmosphere. Again, this is something I assumed would not be feasible, due to budget and timeline… but somehow they were able to pull it off.

"We wanted the icon to be something that looked ancient and cultic, but would transfer seamlessly into a neon application. Given the album title, The Old Believer, I envisioned something that felt somewhat religious, pulling reference from old-world iconography, and adapting it to accurately embody the nature of the record.

The 'wet' cover to The Atlas Moth's The Old Believer

"Instead of drawing from typically subversive symbolism – inverted crosses and pentagrams, which have been far overused in the metal genre – I felt a more unique approach would resonate as more authentic. Within the icon, you’ll notice traces of Nordic runes, as well as hints of classic alpha and omega symbols – and a combination of both hidden and blatant letterforms for ’T,’ ‘A’ & ‘M' - for The Atlas Moth, and ‘O’ - for The Old Believer.

"I created a pencil sketch for both covers, which the band approved, and we moved straight into orchestrating the photo shoot. After having the female model and neon sign photographed, I spent a number of days creating the images for both the original and the ‘reveal' cover. My favorite detail is how the neon sign illuminates in the reveal.

"I’ve always enjoyed creating imagery that is 'more than meets the eye'. I also love concepts that allow for some real hands-on interaction. Ideas like this have kept music packaging exciting for me through the years. With the looming extinction of the CD format, it’s ideas like this that make purchasing physical packaging worthwhile, and I love contributing to the art form in this way.

NB: What process was used for the wet/dry reveal?

RC: "The way I understand it, a thin, semi-transparent sheet of paper is adhered to an additional piece of water-resistant stock. Like any paper, when covered in water, the transparency is increased. In this case, revealing the image printed on the stock beneath. The paper adhered to the water-resistant stock eventually dries, allowing for multiple uses."

NB: Were there any technical requirements that had an effect on the artworks?

RC: "Knowing that the original cover would become more transparent when covered in water, it was necessary that most of the original cover image be minimal and light in colour.

"I knew that the water would increase transparency on the original cover, but it wouldn’t make it disappear altogether, so the more negative space, the better. Too many dark pieces, and the reveal underneath would lose its effectiveness. Likewise, creating a dark, but contrasty image for the ‘reveal' cover was an important factor in allowing maximum visibility once water was applied."

NB: What’s next?

RC: "We’ve always got a lot of irons in the fire. Right now we’re juggling a handful of projects ranging from music packaging to corporate environments, wooden toys, identity work and more."

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