Who Shot Rock?

Who Shot Rock and Roll
Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present is a photography exhibit that has come to the Columbia Museum of Art, and having gotten a chance to see it myself, I can say it’s a wonderfully entertaining, enlightening experience.

The exhibit covers the music genre from its birth to now, with photos, album covers, and music videos all on display.  Far from just a predictable collection of staged portraits and performances, the content of the photos is varied and frequently compelling, such as the candid shot of Kurt Cobain breaking down in tears backstage after a concert.  Other pictures were taken with very interesting techniques, like the massive panorama of a Madonna show, made using shots of several concerts at the same location taken from the same vantage point.

Every sub-genre is covered, from the intensity and intimacy of punk shows to the gigantic scale of stadium rock and the surreality of progressive rock.  I was particularly pleased to see a section dedicated to the works of Storm Thorgerson and his old graphic design group Hipgnosis.  There are also some great bits of history, including the slightly out-of-focus photo of Bob Dylan that would become the cover of Blonde on Blonde. The breadth of the exhibit is surprisingly large, offering something for anyone who appreciates rock and roll in any of its forms.  For anybody with even a passing interest in the imagery or history of rock music, or just really compelling photography, Who Shot Rock and Roll comes highly recommended.


The art of Paul Romano

Paul Romano is a graphic designer living and working in Philadelphia.  He has been a professional since the 1990’s, and is now best known for his work in the music industry, frequently working with heavy metal bands to not only design album covers, but to craft a visual identity for each artist.

Romano is today perhaps best known for his work with Atlanta-based metal band Mastodon.  As one of the most popular and well-respected heavy metal groups today, Mastodon’s music has given Romano’s beautiful works a wide audience.  True to his reputation, he has not only designed cover art for every one of the band’s albums and singles, but also liner note art and merchandise, and his distinctive style has become a core part of Mastodon’s identity.

Romano's art for the Mastodon album Leviathan

This is one of my favorite examples of Romano’s work.  The bold, contrasting colors, the symmetrical design, and the highly detailed illustrations come together to form a grandiose, almost dreamlike spread.  The piece also shows off Romano’s trademark tribal style in his illustrations, producing a look which perfectly meshes with Mastodon’s primal sound.  This talent for creating a visual look that perfectly matches his clients’ sounds is perhaps Romano’s greatest strength as a designer and artist.

The art design of BioShock

It’s no secret to those who know me that I am a big video game nut, and few things get me going in a game like a strong art design.  Even if it doesn’t run on the most cutting edge hardware, a game with an excellent art design can still look beautiful.  And 2008’s BioShock has beautiful art in spades.

Called an instant classic upon its release, BioShock was a wonderfully artistic game.  Its story tackled intelligent philosophical themes that are hardly ever touched on in the medium, and its atmosphere of isolation and fear was thick enough to cut with a knife.  Much of that was due to the unorthodox setting.  Rapture is a city at the bottom of the sea, a retro sci-fi dystopia left in near-ruins but still dripping with 50’s art deco design.  That design permeates every visual aspect of the game, and turns it into something that is visually distinct and uniquely gorgeous.


BioShock screenshot

BioShock is permeated with a wonderfully retro art deco vibe.


One of my favorite visual aspects of the game is the advertisement posters scattered throughout the walls of Rapture.  These are where the retro design comes through the most, and they are all wonderfully designed pieces of art in their own right:



Cool, huh?


I’m certainly not the only person who feels this way.  BioShock‘s art has garnered a lot of praise.  So much in fact, that it has a good chance of ending up in the Smithsonian.  The museum is planning an exhibit dedicated to the artwork of video games, and they are letting the public vote on which games will be concluded.  BioShock is not only in the running, but is considered a front runner to be included in the display.  It’s a fantastic opportunity for some of the best artwork of an often-overlooked medium to be shown off to a wider audience.

The Works of Storm Thorgerson

February 23, 2011 1 comment

Have you ever stumbled upon the work of a new artist that you love, only to realize as you dug deeper that the same artist was responsible for a ton of things other things that you loved but never knew who was responsible for them?  That happened to me with Storm Thorgerson.  The British graphic designer is known as the designer of the cover art of albums by a lot of famous rock bands, especially progressive rockers.  In fact, it was Thorgerson who designed the iconic cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.


Thorgerson's Dark Side of the Moon cover

I'll see you on the dark side of the moon...


I found out about Thorgerson while looking into the designer of the cover art for the album Frances the Mute by Texas prog rock group The Mars Volta.  I’ve long been a fan of the cover, with it’s surreal, abstract design that strangely fit the album’s tone.  Turns out, Thorgerson is responsible for more than 30 years worth of memorable album art, having worked with bands like Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, The Mars Volta, and Muse.

The cover of The Mars Volta's Frances the Mute

Thorgerson's cover for Frances the Mute. So simple, so surreal, so cool.


Surrealism is a major component of Thorgerson’s work, and it’s fitting for many of the artists he works for.  It’s also what attracts me to his designs.  I love the mix of simplicity and abstractness that defines his style, and I love the way it meshes with the music that it is frequently tied to.  Such designs are great examples of visual designs working in tandem with music to elevate the artistic effect of both.

The basics of web design

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Millions of webpages populate the World Wide Web today, and, put bluntly, many of  these pages are not well-designed.  Unlike designing, say, a logo, web design has both an aesthetic component and a function component.  Both of these must be carefully considered if you are going to make a website that will stand out from the pack.



The above is the home page for a website I designed as part of a project for a graphic design course.  It’s certainly not perfect, but it will do as an example.  This site, a redesign of an existing web page, shows off the basics of good web design.  First is a header.  You want something that’s eye-catching without being overly chaotic.  Choose a color scheme and stay with it.  When setting up your page, the dimensions are important.  Monitor sizes vary wildly, obviously, but there are guidelines that you should remember.  1000 pixels wide is the maximum, but 800 is safer.  My page is set at 800 pixels to make it as accessible as possible.


As for height, you want the most important information and links on your site, mainly your navigation bar, above 700 pixels.  Anything below that mark is “below the fold,” meaning that many people will have to scroll down to see it.  Usability is a major concern, as people won’t want to visit a site that is a pain to navigate.  Speaking of navigation, your navigation bar is absolutely one of the most important things on your homepage.  It should be horizontal so as to avoid people having to scroll down to see it.  I placed my nav bar directly below the header in order to draw the eye to it.


Lastly, we come to the concept of modular design.  See how, on my page, the content is divided up in to discreet “boxes?”  That’s modular design.  Those boxes compartmentalize relevant information and keep the page well-organized.  The boxes on my page are organized so as to flow from left to right, just as they are read.  This is an example of how a modular design streamlines your page and adds to both its aesthetic value and its functionality.

Categories: Web Design

Logo Design and You

February 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Logo design is vital to company’s image.  Just think of major corporations like Coca-Cola and Nike whose logos have left indelible marks in our pop culture.  These companies make logo design look easy, but believe me, it’s not.  What is their secret?  What are the things that make a logo stand out?  Let’s take a look.


First and foremost is simplicity.  Remember the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep it simple, stupid.  Logos are easier to remember the simpler they are, and memorability is exactly what you are aiming for when designing a logo.  The classic Nike “swoosh” logo is a perfect example of this minimalist approach.  It’s just a basic swooshing curved design, but that simple design exemplifies motion, activity, and energy, all perfect for a brand of sportswear.


Nike Logo

The Nike logo is the height of memorable simplicity


Speaking of matching your brand, also remember that your logo must be designed to communicate effectively toward your target audience.  The Coca-Cola logo is typeface logo that uses an elaborate hand-written font to convey elegance and high quality.  Toy store Toys ‘R’ Us also uses a typeface logo, but theirs uses a more playful font, a colorful design, and stars and other whimsical decorations.  As a toy store chain, they would not use the same design as Coke.  Instead, they created a colorful, childish logo to appeal to their younger audience.


Toys R Us logo

Certainly not a logo for adults, nor was it meant to be


Lastly, versatility is very important.  This is closely tied to the idea of simplicity.  Your logo must be shrinkable and expandable; after all, it’s not going to be displayed at the same size at all times.  Will it look good shrunken down to 2″ by 2″ in a magazine?  What about when it’s blown up on a billboard?  If it includes type, can that type be rearranged to fit different situations without compromising the logo as a whole?  All of these things should be considered.  Color is another thing that won’t always be consistent, so while color may be important to your logo’s design, it will work better in a wider variety of situations if you design it to function in black-and-white.

Categories: Graphic Design Tags: ,

A Photo I Love

February 2, 2011 Leave a comment

A pair of sneakers overlooking the street

Here’s an old photo of mine that I would like to share.  It was taken about a year ago, from my old bedroom on the fourth floor of West Quad’s building C.  I wanted to give the impression that the shoes were “looking” down on the road and everything in it, so I used a fairly shallow depth of field to keep the focus on the shoes while maintaining a little bit on the road.  I was very pleased with the content and the composition, and I turned in this picture as part of an assignment for another photography class I was taking at the time.

Content aside, this photo in particular has become one that I have a great emotional attachment to.  It evokes memories of my dorm room at at West Quad, a place that I have strong nostalgic feelings for, and reminds me of how I could relax back then just by watching the people and cars go by on the street below.  Looking at it now, this photo has a certain wistful quality to me, with the low-key lighting and the impression that the shoes are “gazing” silently out onto the road.  Of all the photos I took while living at West Quad, this is the most memorable and the most nostalgic.

Categories: Photography Tags: ,