Sleeve art

Anna Filippova, October 17, 2013

The 1960s is the very special decade in modern music and everything connected with it, including the design of vinyl records’ covers. They used to have the artists’ photos or musical instruments as a cover, at least there were the pictures of the artists playing musical instruments. And it’s hard to believe that art sleeve has become not only a legitimate form of illustration but a separate kind of art.

The Beatles "Revolver"

The 7th album of the Beatles (Revolver, 1966) was one of the first records with an illustration as a cover. This psychedelic collage was made by Klaus Voormann from the archival photos and old newspapers. (There’s the artist’s caption plaited into George Harrison’s hair) He was inspired by the song Tomorrow Never Knows. However, that wasn’t the Beatles’ Revolver but Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) that went down in history with a Grammy for the best cover.

The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band"

Several people worked on the cover: a gallerist Robert Fraser, a pop-art artist Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth. There were the portraits of more than 70 most influential people, according to the musicians’ opinion, including the wax models of the members of the group. Every character was drawn to scale 1:1 and printed on the cardboard separately, afterwards the models were combined and photographed.



The Velvet Underground & Nico

These covers as well as many other ones were made by the artists who took sleeve art as a new platform for an art experiment. As a result their works were hardly related to the music. For example, there was a famous Andy Warhol’s banana on the cover of The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) where was neither group nor album name, just the one of the artist’s. It also bore an inscription in small pointtype “Peel slowly and see”, the yellow skin of banana turned out to be a sticker on a red one.

Pink Floyd "A Saucerful of Secret"


The Hipgnosis were the first commercial artists who proclaimed themselves masters of this form. They were students of the Royal Art College Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell from London, and they took that name from the door graffiti of their first studio. The Hipgnosis got up all the albums of the Pink Floyd from A Saucerful of Secret (1968) and later on, including the legendary Dark Side of the Moon (1973).

Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon"


The illustration shows how the light goes through the prism and turns into the spectrum of six colors. (There are 7 colors in the nature but the indigo merged into the violet so they neglected it). This phenomenon is called light dispersion. And there is the inverse process, which is called spectrum convergence, on the back of the cover. So, if you put the two sides together, you get the eternal cycle of the conversion of the light into the light spectrum and back.

Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon"


After the success of this work Thorgenson and Powell became the most demanded artists in business, they dealt with с Led Zeppelin, The Who, Genesis, Black Sabbath, Yes, Peter Gabriel, Alan Parson and many others. Eventually, the duet transformed into a studio with the staff of artists and designers. Their style, based on the “dark room” tricks, has become an independent manner in which illustrators work.

Работы Hipgnosis


Covers from 60s & 70s


The works of the Hipgnosis were treated coldly only by the managers of sound-recording studios. Powell says that the bosses of EMI who cared about sales only and never understood the high-brow concepts, hated Storm and him with implacable hatred. For the rest of the world the Hipgnosis have  become pioneers in the new sphere of illustration, which was developing as fast as musical industry. Ten years later it went a roundabout way and joined the époque of local post-modernism with its self-repetition, quotation and hyperlinking. The album cover of Joy Division (Unknown Pleasures , 1979) has become a symbolical sum of everything created by sleeve artists for two antecedent decades.

Joy Division "Unknown Pleasures"

The author of this work, an Englishman Peter Saville would be a star designer thanks to the cooperation with Factory, the label owned by Joy Division. The cover of Unknown Pleasures with the radio-frequency pulse of the pulsar CP 1919 on it has become his first step down in history. That’s another picture from a book on Physics.

Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy


This picture has been copied hundreds of times since then. It’s become a peculiar archetype in the space of music. “It’s tense as Morris’ percussions and light as a heart’s beating at the same time” – this is how Saville describes the illustration. There was nothing but the picture on the cover – but this time it was not the chance but proclaimed anonymity.

Unknown Pleasures tattoo


Работы Питера Сэвилла


Two years later there was a demo version of a modern CD - The BeeGees: Living Eyes. Future has come and vinyl records became history. Then there was mp3 in late 1990s and iTunes soon after. Each medium destroyed the previous one so quickly that they couldn’t have its own culture, like vinyl records. And it’s only culture that guarantees immortality.

Пластинки 80-х и 90-х


Vinyl records today is a tiny industry for geeks and collectors, who prefer material devices to some cloud services. Release on vinyl has become an act of image, a small form of art. That means there is even more space for self-expression and creative freedom for illustrators. In other words, it’s never been so nice and easy to draw the covers as it is now.

Covers from 00s