Music Album Cover Illustration - Portfolio Development
Illustration Project: Korean Music Albums
It started simple enough: A musician friend of mine needed a cover illustration for a single release. The song (and several follow-ups) had a Jeju Island theme, so I felt moderately confident in pulling this off.
Fast-forward to a year later, and I've illustrated for several music releases from the same music label as well as affiliated artists. Isn't it nice when a one-off illustration creates this kind of domino effect?
An Artist Portfolio: Draw What You Love to Draw!
This might sound like completely unrelated advice. But! For a long time, I thought my portfolio needed mostly style samples for a variety of techniques, maybe a couple of previous projects... After graduating from art school, I dabbled in different art styles and went for a broad array of subjects and art materials.
Trying new techniques and different styles is a wonderful way to learn and develop as an artist. But for an artist portfolio, it's also essential to show any potential client what they could get from you, and only you. A typical style. A favorite medium. A certain "atmosphere".
And: A visual example of application.
This is where those first album cover illustrations, a job I got by chance via connections, came in. Having an example of album covers in my portfolio automatically led to more similar art commissions. My skills hadn't (yet) really improved. I hadn't done anything different from my usual style. But since the result was presented as a cover instead of, say, sticker motives, the pieces attracted a different clientele with different mindsets.
Branching out as an Illustrator
Suddenly, I was able to use my skills from drawing comics and scientific illustration, mix them up and apply them to a completely different field.
Someone browsing your portfolio looking for a cover illustration, or even just something similar, like a book cover, postcard, flyer - they might not make the connection between "just" illustrations or sketches and an actual product. Giving concrete examples nudges them into seeing what could be the result of a collaboration, no matter the art style they had in mind.
This doesn't mean that you should limit yourself in your art. Draw what you want, but present it as part of a larger story. Practice, sketch, try, fail, and then create pieces that show possibilities.
After that rambly piece of advice (?), let's look at some drawing process shots!
Watercolor Tiger Illustration Making-Of
This illustration for a single album release "Today" by Korean singer Richard Parkers was one of my favorite works!
(You should definitely check out her work in general, her voice is so soothing and she recently sang an OST for the Korean drama "Forest of Secrets" (or "Stranger" on Netflix) which is my favorite K-Drama in... forever!)
A lot of her previous releases featured the namesake tiger on the cover, so I was happy to bring in my experiences from animal illustration and combine it with the whimsical atmosphere of her songs and the bright contrasts needed for eye-catching drawings.
The tiger head itself was a bit scary to draw. With a tight deadline, I really didn't want to mess up! Light pencil lines served as guides for black watercolor layers. As always with watercolor illustrations, I started with lighter shades and kept adding onto those for a deep black.
To make sure that the tiger head caught the eye, I kept the shadows among the leaves lighter, with mostly blues and greens mixed instead of actual black.
I'd been drawing a lot of botanical illustrations over the last two years, which were mostly rooted in science illustration and realism. For the album cover painting, though, I went for a more graphic, simple look. Instead of focusing on individual leaves, having a variety of forms and lots of contrast became the focus.
Once the blue and blue-green shadows were in place (always start with cooler shades!), the final step was simple: Light washes of different green pigments were enough to bring the whole jungle background together.
After scanning, I added an additional green layer on multiply for just the plants, to make the color itself pop more while unifying the background.
The white border line which disappears and reappears among the jungle leaves is my favorite little touch!
Portrait Art Commission - Sketchbook Practice and Experiments
I've been practicing portrait drawing for a while now. Slowly, my sketchbooks get filled with different styles, from realism to comic, rough to soft, pencil to gouache...
So when another music album commission came in, this time with a human subject, I browsed my little collection and based the illustration on different style samples I'd created previously.
Keeping art journals and sketchbooks is a lifesaver in situations like this! Especially with deadlines hovering, I usually struggle with finding a style that fits and have to try around A LOT. The old sketches kind of did that job for me in advance, so that I could pick and choose among (more or less failed) experiments without having to start from scratch.
This was the result! You can find the song here.
Since this cover would be part of a series, in which several different artists would release singles under a project name, I had a follow-up commission shortly after.
With a different song, different singers, and a different atmosphere, I went back to sketching and my old sketchbooks.
For this second cover illustration, I decided on a more romantic, "pretty" art style influenced strongly by my comic drawings.
I've been experimenting with watercolor textures, too, and really like how the cheek blush turned out here!
As I mentioned my comic art style... it's still so surreal to see my manga/comic background "work" in other fields. I'd always tried to separate my comic art from my "serious work" art, despite having drawn comics professionally. Being able to mix and match the styles for new projects makes me just a bit more confident that, one day, I'll find an art style that feels truly "mine" and unique.
One can hope, right? :)
The reason I'm writing about these: I'm currently working on a second Richard Parkers album illustration! Back to the tiger! I'll document the drawing process for that piece so that I can make a detailed tutorial soon, but just wanted to share my happiness...
Slowly, my portfolio and work are growing and transforming into, well, illustrations that I'm actually proud of. Even if I still lack in many, many areas. Here's to more practice and more drawings in the future!