UTL v. Monterey


I spent the last weekend having a great time in Monterey, CA for my girlfriend’s 25th. Monterey is a great place to visit (tourist trap) with plenty of period typography and hand painted signs. Take a peek:



{vintage seafood packaging greets you as you enter the aquarium}


{I noticed this driving through downtown Monterey}


{showin’ ya the finger}

Death in Le Style Mucha

Many people would argue that Alphonse Mucha is one of the most definitive artists of the art nouveau movement. Mucha was a Czech artist whose work for the Paris theatre gained him world wide notoriety. His bold yet beautiful illustration style held great influence over much of the art created in the early 1900s. His stylized floral patterns and intricate border elements are imitated by illustrators, printmakers & designers to this day. Although I didn’t know much of the artist until recently I have been a fan of his heavy outlined figures, bold color fills and ornate organic imagery. Take a peek at these images I found online:

Being a admirer of Mucha’s and modern day metal head I could not help but take great notice in the work of John Dyer Baizley. Baizley is an artist who’s work can be found on many of today’s prominent hardcore, grindcore and heavy metal albums including those of his own band Baroness. I bought a Pig Destroyer album on sight alone because of his work. To view his work is to gaze into beautiful death. It is as though Baizley has taken the essence of Mucha’s illustrations and threw them in a blender with the decaying corpses of prom queens. The similarities are obvious, but the differences are startling. Baizley does a fantastic job a nodding to Mucha while creating his own dark path to travel down. If you can’t quite imagine it take a look at these:

Brandlessbrand Barcodes

This guy Ben commented on my barcode design post a while back. It seems that he has been experimenting with barcode design for a while now and has an interesting proposal for us all. Read below, check out his site and start participating.


Brandlessbrand is telling you that – contrary to popular belief – all water IS the same. It’s water. That said let’s do something interesting with it…make it our national canvas. We’re letting designers test their chops by redesigning the barcode and creating a community brand around it. Nothing more. A barcode. A bottle of water. Your brand.

I started this project for a variety of reasons:

  1. I love the idea of using the barcode as a creative medium and re-defining the iconic symbol of consumption
  2. I think the limit has been pushed on how exaggerated a product’s claims can be and I wanted to push the limit in the opposite direction
  3. I’m completely taken with the power of the crowd/community and wanted to test crowd sourcing’s merits in the consumer products world and
  4. to send a small personal message to the beverage industry…which I have been working in the past couple of years (see logo:)


Mostly though I’m just a designer at heart who has a passion for good, simple, honest design. In essence, this brand is all about the designers behind it, where the store shelves will become your gallery.  once we take over water…there’s no telling how many more shelves we can conquer! Overly ambitious? Probably. Corny? Kinda. Possible? That’s what I’m dying to find out!

Come join the brand and shout our praises to the world!

If you have any questions, or you want to get in touch with me personally, you can: ben[at]brandlessbrand.com – talk to me.

What’s Your Destiny?

Here are some photographs of the finished CD packaging for David Shapireau & West of Next. It is a great album and I am glad I was a part of it. I designed the outside, inside and disc image with a strong western influence to match the name of the band, but don’t let the look fool you. The album has “American and Celtic roots influences with twin guitars and arrangements with a different spin due to Shapireau’s background as a jazz composer and arranger. Humor and history are emphasized in the songs and presentation. Boundaries are pushed while the past is honored.” The band on this recording includes:

  • Drums – Tony Dey of Van Morrison, Mike Bloomfield, Linda Ronstadt.
  • Telecaster – Steve Randall of Richard March, Antoine Barbeaux, Kate Gaffney. Awarded best guitarist in Sacramento according to the 2007 Sacramento News & Review fan voting poll.
  • Bass – Gabe Nelson of Cake (After this recording and a short tour Nelson disembarked to continued his work with Cake. They now have a new bassist, Paul Knutsen).
  • Composer, Stratocaster, mandolin, acoustic guitar – David Shapireau of Taj Mahal, Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks, Tower of Power, Don Reno, Tony Rice, Byron Berline, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Bela Fleck, Norton Buffalo, Steve Miller, Peter Rowan and more.



(I photographed them on a cow hide with my dad’s old Bowie knife to reflect the cover illustration)


There are many troublesome elements in packaging design, but without restriction us designers wouldn’t be necessary. In today’s music industry there are all sorts of parental warnings, codes, logos, icons and legal jibber jabber that we must organize to work with our designs. Over the years I have found that photographer, illustrator & designer Paul Romano does this exceedingly well. He has designed the packaging for several prominent heavy metal bands (as well as others) including my favorite band Mastodon. I contacted Mr. Romano a couple of years ago about the exceptional barcode design he did for Mastodon’s Leviathan, a concept album about Moby Dick. To my surprise he responded the very next day.

(Mastodon, Leviathan back cover by Paul Romano that inspired me)

This is the email to Paul Romano from Feb 28, 2006:

I would just like to say that the work that you do for Mastodon has been very inspiring for me. I am a pre-graphic design student at CSU Long Beach and I just can’t get enough of the work you do. I love Mastodon’s music and the look you have created for them is fantastic. Your graphic shapes are sick and the photos and illustrations you use are terrific. Your integration of the barcode into the packaging design gave me a whole new way to look at once burdensome elements of packaging. Anyways…keep up the good work.

Zac Calbert

<——————————{RAMONO’S RESPONSE}——————————>

Hey Zac,

Thank you very much. I am currently working on the upcoming Mastodon record (and a bunch more). The photos and illustrations are actually all taken and painted by me as well. It is very rare that I use stock photography. I mostly concentrated on fine art through out my life. The principals are the same, shape, composition, color, texture.

Yeah, those barcodes. I hate them so I try to find a way to incorporate them. It was really important where the white was placed on Leviathan. So it had to be the whale. I think my favorite barcode is still the one I did for Nasum; stretched with a devil’s face amongst the bars. I am not looking forward to that very burdensome FBI warning that is on so many releases now. I am sure it will have to be on this next Mastodon.

What is pre-graphic design? Do they make you take courses in many disciplines, drawing, 3 dimensional design etc.? Thanks again, feel free to write anytime. My responses are a bit slow, I keep myself a little too busy.


(Nasum, Helvete back tray by Paul Romano that he mentioned)

Here are some other interesting barcode treatments Romano did:

(A Life Once Lost, Hunter back tray by Paul Romano)

(Turmoil, Staring Back back tray by Paul Romano)

The whole reason this exchange popped into my head was because I noticed the unusual barcode for Kaboom energy juice. It was a person climbing up the barcode like a mountain. It is a great element to express “this is an all natural energy juice, it’s healthy, not a sugary soda! Drink me and go do active, outdoorsy, hippie stuff!” Take a look:

This caused me to search the web a bit and upon further browsing I found Barcode Revolution which I believe is a joint venture with a Japanese packaging company. They have all sorts of interesting barcode solutions. Many of them are kind of static, but there are a terrific step in designing burdensome, necessary elements. Here is some of their work:

This just goes to show that there is almost always a way to make things just a little more interesting and fit with your design. Good luck.

Here are some barcode art sites you should check out:

Artist Survey #1: Todd Russell

Todd Russell and I met at CSU Long Beach. We had some design classes together where we critiqued each other’s work and became good friends. He has since moved to New York and became a big shot Art Director for Island Def Jam Music Group. Jon McLaughlin – Ok Now, Kerli – Love is Dead, and Rise Against – Appeal To Reason are Russell’s most recent offerings. Rise Against & Jon McLaughlin were just released Oct. 7th. He is currently working on the upcoming release for Hoobastank.

(Rise Against – Album Illustrations: Tim Marrs)

(Sound the Alarm)

(Kerli – Front/Back Illustrations: Natalie Shau)

(The Roots – Co Art Directed with Kenny Gravillis, Illustration: Mel Marcelo)

Name: Todd Russell

Location: New York

Medium(s): Mainly digital

What do you consider yourself (artist/designer/other)? Art Director/Designer

Where can we see your work (place/publications/url)? iTunes, Best Buy, Amazon, Virgin Megastore etc.

When did you start gaining interest in artistic forms of expression? When I first started interning at Interscope Records

Who/What inspired your interest? JP Robinson and other designers in the music industry that was I exposed to. Just looking at random cd packaging, good and bad, from artists I knew and ones I didn’t.

Where do you first remember being exposed to art? My family has a history of having backgrounds in fine art so I guess at home as a child growing up.

What is your day job? Creative Director for Island Def Jam Music Group (I oversee all the creative aspects for a given project – photo shoot, packaging, design, video, viral/online content etc.)

Why do you create? Because I enjoy making art that can be viewed in the public eye

Is there any recurring theme in your work? No not really, sometimes I use the same elements, but because of the wide range of genres I am given I have to go in different directions all the time

What do you want from your work? To guide projects so that visually and aesthetically it can be the best it can possibly be

What do you want viewers to take from your work? That is hard to answer because most if not all my work is based off of commission so usually I am working for specific artists and trying to put on paper what their vision is and what is going on in their minds. Most of the time they hardly care what the public will think, as long as they are happy then I consider it a job well done.

How often do you work on personal projects? Who has time for that?

How often do you work on commissions or commercial work? All day

Does your art support you financially? Fortunately, yes

Do you feel preoccupied with your art, do you think about it often during the day and night and do you anticipate your next session? All the time, I have to

What do you do in your spare time besides your art? Read, watch TV, browse the internet and see what other artists/designers are doing and try to get inspired.

Which musicians are you currently interested in? Usually I listen to a lot of artists who I am working with to help get in that mindset. But right now…TV on the Radio, Beck, Death Cab for Cutie, CSS, Cut/Copy, Innerpartysystem, MGMT, Justice, Kenna, Portishead, Ra Ra Ra Riot, Lil Wayne, The Roots, The Game, Nas, Young Jeezy, Jack’s Mannequin, Rise Against, Alphabeat, Cold War Kids, Kanye West, N.E.R.D…

Are there any events you are looking forward to attending? Not that I am aware of now, usually I just scour the museums to see if there are any good exhibits, the last one I went to was at the Brooklyn Museum to see the work of Takashi Murakami

How long do you generally take on a piece? Varies, depending on the timeline of a project, Two weeks, One month, 24 hours…

Do you work on multiple projects at once? All the time

Do you have trouble parting with your finished work? No, but the question should be do you have problems making changes to something you have finished and spent a long time working on? Yes, making changes that compromise my work for the worse is possibly one of the hardest things to do.

West of Next

This is the cover from CD packaging I recently finish for David Shapireau & West of Next. They will be playing this Saturday, October 4th, at the Oktoberfest in Twain Harte, CA. The music is beautifully composed and awesomely executed. The central image was manipulated from an old Harper’s Weekly newspaper cover. I felt that the image fit the band’s name, West of Next. The man in the image has just killed the last buffalo and will be traveling west, as is the way of Manifest Destiny, to find the next creature to slaughter. I will post photos of the packaging when I get it.