Stefan Schyga plays one of my favorite types of music: acoustic guitar. And he plays it well. His musical touch is sensitive and nuanced. He expresses the guitar’s emotional range with astonishing intricacy. He plays fluidly, clearly, and dynamically.
All of this makes the cover for Stefan’s album, A Little World Music, a surprisingly incongruent choice.
The portrait is a fairly good one; it shows Stefan’s intimacy with his instrument. Yet, the background is full of rectangles. Beyond the photo, everything else is in rectangles, with rectangles on top of rectangles, creating additional phantom shapes. And, of course, the entire image is in a rectangle (a square, specifically). The look is heavy, stuffy, and jarring. Each block takes on visual weight and outlines a strictly confined, angular space of its own.
The rectangle imposes constraints that are unnatural to our eye. This can create a suitable effect in particular contexts, but for the organic music that Stefan weaves, blocks and angles hardly create a fitting cover image.
Although the blocks have colors pulled from the photo, which helps to unite the look, the overall message is incoherent. There isn’t a clear focal point for the eye. Do we look at his face first? Or the blue banner with Stefan written in brush script? Or the big block of text on the right? Or the logo in the bright field? And what’s that A hanging out down there on its own? Why do we need the title shown twice like that?
How might Stefan’s album artwork be more representative of the energy he speaks through the guitar? How can sound be communicated through an arrangement of type and image on a small square field?
Here’s an idea…start with one photo. The focal point of the music is the guitar, so a close, intense shot of a guitar is fitting. Fill the page with it. Convey the vibrancy and rhythm of Stefan’s music through rich colors and textured patterns. Allow plenty of white space to mirror the music’s free-spiritedness. Position the text and the photo together so that the eye quickly can digest the information. The logo can bleed off an edge.
Following this general recipe, you can come up with a variety of riffs (pun definitely intended). Each one evokes a different mood.
Here’s an edgy one (notice the text tucked behind the guitar strings, to add a bit of texture and dimension):
And here’s an elegant one:
And here’s a rustic one:
Let’s try applying the recipe to a photo with a musician. In this example, the words mimic the texture and colors of the skirt, tying it all together.