Album art

One of my minor hobbies is making album art. Sometimes albums don’t come with any art; sometimes it’s not possible to get it or the size is wrong; sometimes the album art looks ghastly.

Most of my interaction with album art involves resizing it for the practical reason of keeping the size of the sound file small. When a picture is 3Mb or so, that can add a lot to the size of an album. My current policy is to resize the art to 512px2, which usually reduces the size of the image to less than 100Kb while leaving the physical dimensions of the image large enough to remain legible. WMP’s insistence on embedded album art at 200px2 seems to come from some remote age of puny screen resolutions and tiny storage capacities.

But sometimes I start from scratch. I was quite pleased with the results for Telemann’s Complete Concertos and Sonatas with viola da gamba because I not only found the cover picture, but managed to make a cover that fairly close­ly corresponded to the original.

More recently, I’ve been replacing the album art for older albums from Accent Records that come in caramel or yellow so that the new versions resemble the current full-screen and letterbox styles. The artwork for these, as with quite a lot of labels, is nothing beyond my ability to produce.

I’ve always liked the ASV Gaudeamus covers with their bright colours and flower decorations, but I was horrified to see what a mess had obviously been made of the scans of original artwork on some albums. The colours were saturated so that Christ appeared to have severe jaundice on the Merbecke cover, and the Gibbons had a violently orange image from a tapestry and an unpleasant blue background. I redid the covers, but I don’t have the skill to do the flowery borders, opting for a slightly different ap­proach.

I used a decorative flower border around the edge of the cover, before placing the main canvas on top of it. Although the sides of the border don’t match, it’s barely noticeable. I had to give up with the logo. One of my Achilles’ heels is things on angles, and trying to recreate the ASV logo was beyond me (not to mention the odd font). I must learn how to get vector shapes to lean sideways.

On the other hand, I knew I’d seen the main font before (Dauphin), and managed to find it among my collection. It was a small triumph. Overall, the results were satisfactory even if they aren’t close reproductions of the origin­als.

I don’t just find a suitable picture and slap some words on it. I think about the font I want to use, the size of different parts of the text, the colours, and the general layout. Even with simple covers, there are calculations to be done so that things look right. The background image is also important because whether it’s relevant to the album, there needs to be somewhere for the text to go where it can be seen clearly, which is why paintings with skies are often good choices. Busy background images can be used, but there might need to be a semitransparent layer to allow the text to be more legible.

I often try to find pictures which are relevant to the album and come from the right period, although that can often mean “Vivaldi, therefore Venice”; but there are so many good pictures of Venice, it shouldn’t matter even if it’s too obvious. Well, if I buy Vivaldi’s Dresden concertos, I have a painting of Dresden which would make a suitable background.

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