Having a clear image in my head of what the cover should be was one thing, creating it was another. I’d recently met a young illustrator, Bernard Gudynas, who had impressed me with his portfolio of airbrush illustrations. They had a futuristic feel which was entirely appropriate to the album concept. We sketched out ideas, including a magnified section of the exploding building which I would build the graphic ‘sight’ around. It was demanding work for both of us to get it exactly right (‘exactly right’ is always a good aim). I had already decided the illustration should be contained within a border which smoke could pour onto – creating a further dimension to the design. The ‘sight’ itself added another – the ‘viewer’ – YOU. The sight, as a piece of graphics, may seem complicated and detailed but it had to imply a weapon much bigger than a rifle sight – a rocket launcher perhaps. Bernard’s take on the perspective – looking up at the building – created scale and dynamics. Originally the border around the illustration was white, to emphasize the black smoke, but when we tried a black border we all agreed it was more powerful.
Describing visual concepts sounds pretentious sometimes but that’s the nature of using words to describe images. (Artists are often asked to explain their visual work in words but I’ve never heard anyone ask an author to describe a novel by painting a picture.) Creating a visual image is based on intuition for the most part and decisions made in that process are not limited by the need to explain them. That’s why I love creating visuals – there are mysterious forces at work which I don’t really understand – or feel the need to.
I have been fortunate enough (I’d like to think talent played some part!) to work with some great artists who understood that intuition is vital. The ‘THAT’S IT!’ moment never comes from a long intellectual conversation – it more likely comes from an instinctive immediate reaction. There are a couple I’ll get to later, with PAUL McCARTNEY and with LED ZEPPELIN, where I was so sure which design they’d choose, I wrote on the back of it before the meeting – ‘You’ll choose this one.’ (Yes – Magic Tricks ARE an intrinsic part of presentations.)
DEF LEPPARD were a band I could rely on for instant reactions to artwork ideas. There was no pissing about. ‘Hysteria’ was a case in point. After working on the cover for close on a year, something Joe said made me abandon most of what I’d done and start again on the central image. In those days, and for such a major project, I had the luxury of time to develop ideas. Now, in the ‘I want it yesterday world’, there is often no time to consider and re-think – budgets and schedules catagorically deny it. I have turned down important work on occasion, simply because the time-frame imposed would have been hugely destructive to the creative process. I simply can’t produce half-arsed work that ultimately I’m unhappy with and almost certainly will damage reputation.
For those of you unfamiliar with DEF LEPPARD’s history, after the phenomenal success of ‘Pyromania’, (in 1984 the band were voted favourite band in the US – ahead of peers like THE ROLLING STONES and AC/DC), the next few years recording ‘Hysteria’ proved to be tragic and challenging on so many different levels. On New Years Eve,1984, Rick Allen, Def Leppard’s drummer, swerved off the road on a sharp bend near Sheffield and crashed into a drystone wall. He lost his arm. I can’t begin to imagine how Rick and the band dealt with the tragedy but what I do know is that their unswerving loyalty to their drummer and friend must have positively contributed to the the quality and impact of one of the biggest albums in rock history – ‘Hysteria’. A one-armed drummer? Surely, most bands would have considered finding a new drummer, however difficult it might be emotionally. Not DEF LEPPARD – it was not an option – they never sought a replacement.
Rick realized, after practising drumming on pillows, that he could use his legs to do some drumming previously done with his arms. He then worked with a pioneering British electronic company, Simmons, to design a customised electronic drum kit. Rick’s triumphant comeback was sealed at the 1986 Donnington ‘Monsters of Rock’ festival with a huge and emotionally charged ovation when he was introduced by Joe Elliott.
Earlier that year the band had moved to Dublin. Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who produced ‘Pyromania’ began to work with the band on ‘Hysteria’. He retired from the project suffering from exhaustion. Pressure from their record company, clearly aware the band were on the cusp of megastardom, was intense – afraid the momentum built up by ‘Pyromania’ would be lost. Q Prime, the band’s management, in typically anarchistic but humourous style, got so pissed off by relentless requests from the record company demanding a release date, they asked me to design t-shirts for meetings which pre-empted executive questions. Working my way through my DEF LEPPARD archives of artwork (they’re huge), I came across the artwork for two of them …
I wish Lep fans could see the DL archives. All the artwork is on boards – singles, posters, tour programmes, calendars and promotional material. There is something about artwork with printer’s instruction overlays. They have an artistic value of their own, and obviously each is an original piece.
I’ve always envisaged an exhibition of the original artwork for DEF LEPPARD (the ones above are 2 of hundreds of pieces). I’m sure hardcore fans would be interested in the process that’s involved – how the work they know so well was physically created. Any ideas?
Before I began the DEF LEPPARD series of blogs I re-discovered the original sketch for the ‘Hysteria’ sleeve – created using colour pencils. So was the final artwork, but there is something about the preparatory sketch – an isolated image, not the final combination of all the elements, which is very powerful. I’ve said before that some of my favourite work is unpublished and this image is right up there with the best of them. I began a few weeks ago to publish some work on my website and I’ve recently created a Limited (there’ll only be 200) Edition of the illustration. Visit andieairfix.com to check it out.
Eight months into the artwork for an eagerly awaited album, I flew to Holland to meet the band where they were recording. The trip was one of the most challenging, upsetting and productive I’d ever had with the band. The working title of the album for a long time was ‘Animal Instinct’ and for months Adrian Baumgartner, an incredibly talented artist and perfectionist, had worked on the cover illustration. I showed it to Joe and he said, ‘It’s brilliant Andie, but don’t you think it looks a bit ‘laboured?’. Laboured? My heart sank. Adrian had worked with such intensity and concentration on the illustration for 5 or 6 hours a day producing about 4 square inches a month. Although the final work was astonishingly accomplished containing unbelievable detail, Joe was absolutely right – it lacked a vital spontaneity. ‘And,’ said Joe, ‘we’ve changed the title to ‘Hysteria.’ I had to start again.
On the plane back to London I gradually accepted that after months of work I had to find something more intuitive, dynamic and more fearsome. I was also dreading telling Adrian. My introspective musings, however, were constantly interrupted by Marc Lebon. At the cutting edge of photography (and outrageous behaviour) he had been shooting pictures of the band at the same time I was there. We discovered we were both coincidentally on the same plane back to London. We decided to meet up in Amsterdam and had a crazy, extremely enjoyable night roaming around the infamous red light district – the emphasis being on the word ‘extreme’. Without going into too many details, let’s say the early morning plane had to accommodate two individuals who were smashed to high heaven. Marc, as part of our previous night’s entertainment had bought a couple of explicit porn novels and he decided halfway through the journey that he wanted to read extracts from them to me. It wouldn’t necessarily have been much of a problem except for one thing – he was sitting six rows behind me! An innocent adopted entourage of passengers were unwillingly (for the most part) subjected to an unrelenting bombardment of sexual scenarios they really didn’t want to hear over breakfast. Fortunately the flight was very short and by the time embarrassed passengers became a potential lynch mob, we landed at Heathrow and beat a hasty retreat before the police and airport authorities could act on the demands of our shocked and outraged fellow fliers.