Born and Raised: Behind the Art that Brands the Music

Artwork for John Mayer's Born and Raised
John Mayer at The Reed Space in New York City promoting his new album, Born and Raised. David Smith of Torquay, England, a super-talented signwriter who combines traditional craftsmanship with digital technology, designed the cover artwork.

You might say David Adrian Smith is old-fashioned. After all, he’s a hand craftsman, fine artist and old-time signwriter who plies his gilded trade in south England – the seaside burg of Torquay, to be exact.

Sketching John Mayer's Born and Raised album cover
Here's the Born and Raised cover art in the hand-sketched stage.

All those descriptions of Mr. Smith are true, but while the mainstay of his work is of the Old English pub variety – gilded windows and mirrors glue-chipped and painted to perfection with inlays of Mother of Pearl and whatnot – he’s also an aficionado of all things digital.

And, lest you envision an aged man bent over a workbench, Smith is youthful 43 whose talent was a perfect match for his interest in the sign arts when he began his signwriting career some 20-odd years ago. Having collaborated with Mr. Smith on various articles for Sign Business magazine (now known as Sign & Digital Graphics magazine), I can vouch for the Renaissance, traditional-to-digital nature of his work, not to mention that he’s one of the finest chaps I’ve met in our industry.

Born and Raised cover art
David Smith's final artwork, from a hand-drawn sketch that was scanned in and finished digitally.

Case in point is the work Smith recently completed for John Mayer’s latest album, Born and Raised, the production of which combines Smith’s Old World sensibilities with all the New World gizmos. Mayer, who heard about Smith through the art world grapevine, felt that Smith’s style was a perfect match for the ambience of Born and Raised.

Smith sketched out three versions of the album cover before Mayer picked the one you see here. The final version is a testimony to Smith’s seamless use of analog and digital artistry. Smith explains the process:

Queen of California single artwork
David Smith also designed the artwork for John Mayer's single, Queen of California.

“I start by sketching the design using a mechanical pencil. Once completed I will take the sketch, which has been drawn at around two feet square, and scan it in at a size of A4 sections at around 600 dpi.  From here I clean it up using the automatic photo merge tools in Photoshop’s latest version; what a great job this does. I then drop the opacity to a light sketch and save as a jpeg. I open up Omega software, which is a bit like Illustrator, and import the artwork (jpeg) into Omega. Now with my drawing tools in Omega I vector all the elements individually. Once this is complete each element is numbered and transferred into Photoshop by placing the shapes individually into their own layers. Now the fun part of building the colours can begin: lithographic dots, blending using a Wacom tablet, shading and all the other neat stuff in Photoshop. The faces (band members) on the design for Born and Raised are all hand drawn at a large size and scanned in. I would say it’s 40 percent hand work, 60 percent digital, and what a great combination it is. I have always said if the Victorians had our technology, imagine what they would have done with it… Amazing!”

Large format poster printing
David Smith's artwork for Born and Raised writ large in New York City.

Amazing indeed, and the album cover was only the beginning, really. Here you see some of the related work Smith has done for various collateral materials and a single off the album, Queen of California. The problem with the digital aspect, however, is the potential for the loss of vital information. The globe design shown here with all of its multiple layers and hours of hard work, for instance, was lost in the virtual world. “By mistake in Photoshop I overwrote the existing file. This jpeg file is all I bloody well have,” sighs Smith.

Design work by David Adrian Smith
David Smith designed a variety of promotional artwork for John Mayer's Born and Raised.

Fortunately, everything else has been preserved, printed and sent through the various portals of cyberspace – from Facebook to iTunes – preserving, perhaps forever, Smith’s exquisite design work.

To learn more about David Smith and his work, check out the video embedded below:

Prints that Win: Something Old, Something New

Award winning photographyIt’s rare to find someone from the next generation of photographers who prefers to shoot film over digital. This year’s LexJet Sunset Award winner for Best Quality Print and Presentation at the Plymouth Center for the Arts competition and exhibition, The Fine Art of Photography, is more than just a throwback to traditional photography.

Elizabeth Ellenwood enjoys the interaction of the historical and the modern in both her photography process and in the subjects of her photography. Her winning print of Boston architecture exemplifies this seeming contradiction.

“The image is from a series I started for my senior thesis at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. I started photographing Boston architecture because I enjoy the combination of historical and modern architecture that overlays each other,” says Ellenwood. “I photograph with a Tachihara Field Camera, which renders everything in the viewfinder upside down and in reverse. It’s great to work with architecture from an almost abstract point of view. I’m a film person at heart; it’s what interested me in photography in the first place and it still holds true for me.”

Ellenwood scanned the color negative, printed it on the school’s Epson 9800 on Epson Premium Luster Photo Paper, then matted and framed it herself. Like the image itself, it was a unique blend of history and modernity using analog and digital tools.

Photographing Boston architectureEllenwood was introduced to the Plymouth Center for the Arts exhibition by another Sunset Award winner, Neal Rantoul. A year after Rantoul won the award, Ellenwood took one home.

“When I moved to Boston I started to get involved in the local photography community and met Neal, who became a mentor to me and was very inspiring. He sent me an email about the Plymouth show and encouraged me to enter. It was exciting for me because this photographer I really admire won the same award the year before,” says Ellenwood.