I remember driving late night from Toronto to Nova Scotia. I think I was co-pilot, and my friend Tim D’eon was behind the wheel. Tim and I were driving the Wintersleep van back home. I can’t remember if it was summer or winter, or what show we were either headed towards or away from. What I do remember is that a Blue Rodeo CD was spinning and Tim and I were belting out the tunes at full volume. It was one of those tour van moments that seemed special at the time, and I’ve never forgotten. I always knew the chances of Wintersleep playing a show with Blue Rodeo were pretty slim, and while I had seen them live a bunch of times, I never figured our paths would cross beyond that.
Fast forward to spring 2013, I’ve now seen Blue Rodeo a couple more times, but no longer play in Wintersleep. I’m living back in St. John’s and have been slowly building a name as a poster artist. I get an email from Blue Rodeo’s management wondering if I’d be interested in making a poster for the band’s upcoming Molson Amphitheatre show. I’m ecstatic, of course I am, its Blue Rodeo.
LOST TOGETHER (RESEARCH):
I have never been to the Molson Amphitheatre, so I did what I always do when I’m hit with a band or venue I’m not familiar with, I went to Google for research. Turns out the Molson Amphitheatre is located right next to Exhibition Place, a 136 year old entertainment park. The park was home to many vintage rides, and there was one in particular that was the park’s oldest – a spinning carousel where you are sit in a seat, but your feet dangle as you spin round and round. The decorations, lights and design of this ride are beautiful and I knew I had found the subject for my poster. I whipped up a quick sketch and got the band’s approval.
I drew the entire poster in Adobe Illustrator – I wanted it to be very flat with minimal colours. In the end I stripped the design down to four colours, two shades of blue, a green and greenish-copper. I sent over my design to the band’s management and there was some discussion over the font I chose. In the end I made my own scrappy font as none of the ones in my collection were looking right. With some quick changes we were approved. The poster was hand screen-printed by our friends at Kid Icarus, a great little print shop in Kensington Market (Toronto). I was elated, I’d actually designed something for one of Canada’s biggest bands and couldn’t wait to show it off.
Close up of screen printed poster
IN OUR NATURE:
Not long after completing that first poster I was asked if I’d be interested in coming up with an album cover concept and layout of Blue Rodeo’s new record, In Our Nature. Pressure was on, making a poster was one thing, but being trusted with an album design is a whole other ball game.
I was sent the album to listen to and had a chat with their management to get the album’s story. The lyrics to title track, “In Our Nature”, speak of moving on, leaving things behind and carrying on with your life. I thought about Greg Keelor’s old farmhouse, it’s where the band recorded this album. That farmhouse has an incredible history with lots of stories to tell. Those walls have been the first to hear new music from dozens of bands as they recorded their new albums. But this farm had an entire history long before Greg was its owner – a history we’ll never know. That lead me to start thinking about how most of our homes outlive us, the buildings, roads, bridges and art we create will still be standing long after we’re gone – and hopefully someone will follow behind us and help maintain them, but what if no one does? What if there is no Greg to move in and care for the farmhouse?
I started sketching album cover ideas and landed on what would look like a huge old sign in a field. It stood many metres high, like a ten story building. I wanted it to look as tho it was once magnificent, an icon on the horizon, but it had long been abandoned and there was no one coming around anymore. Nature had reclaimed the space. The facing has long fallen away and the skeleton is exposed to the elements. Vines and shrubbery have scaled the signs heights and taken over. Its beautiful now, it always was, but now nature has ownership and can do what she wants with the old sign. Again, wanting to make sure it was obvious that this was a huge structure, I added Greg’s farm house at the foot of the sign to show scale. The farmhouse has also been abandoned, and while it was strong, it has suffered a little of nature’s wrath. I sent a quick sketch to the band with a description – they gave me the go-ahead to get started.
I sent a quick sketch to the band with my description of what the finished piece would look like – they gave me the go-ahead to get started.
I hadn’t made an illustration like this before and wasn’t sure the best way to approach it, so, as I often times do, I went the long way around. I started by drawing the wood frame. I drew the skeleton for our sign in its entirely, with no foliage or vines. I drew it as it if it were brand new with no falling boards or collapsed walls.
Then, using tracing paper, I drew all the vines and leaves on a layer over the skeleton. Then when that was done, I dropped in another sheet of tracing paper and drew the small flowers, broken boards, old metal signs, tree branches and shrubs. And lastly, on a fourth sheet of tracing paper, I drew Greg’s farmhouse. I should also mention that this drawing was about three feet by four feet. It was a monster – because I wanted there to be A LOT of tiny leaves (to help illustrate how huge this structure is suppose to be), I had to make the original drawing as large as possible. This drawing phase took me more than 50 hours, and I hadn’t even added any colour yet.
Folks have asked me why I drew the cover in layers on transparency like I did and the answer was pretty simple, I wanted the flexibility to remove any piece of the illustration if there was something the band didn’t like. For instance, if they liked my leaves, but didn’t want the flowers, I could just remove that sheet of tracing paper and try something else. I probably should have had more confidence in what I was doing, but in the back of my mind the whole time I was thinking, “what if they don’t like it”?
Once all the layers were drawn I scanned them in to the computer. My scanner can’t scan images large than 8.5 x 11, so this posed a problem. In the old days you’d scan each piece of your bigger illustration separately, then painstakingly put it all back together in photoshop. Nowadays you still have to scan in pieces, but there is a great new photoshop feature called “Photo Merge” that will put them together flawlessly for you. It takes a bit of practice, but its well worth learning how to use Photo Merge as it’ll do a better job than you ever could on your own, and will save you hours of your life.
I colourized the drawing on the computer. Choosing a somewhat limited colour palette. I wanted this to look more like a screen print than a painting, so I kept the colours down to a minimum. Green, brown, black, yellow, and a brown-ish red, all sitting on a creme background. This would be the colour palette for the entire album, posters, and merch.
After countless hours the cover was finally complete and I presented it to the band. Just like my first poster, they didn’t love the font and wanted me to try something hand rendered to match the drawing. A font was suggested that mimicked hand lettering… but one of my biggest pet peeves is fonts that look like they’re hand made, but clearly aren’t, so I drew the band’s name in pencil, in the same style as the font they had suggested.
The cover was now approved.
For the back cover I had the idea of an old abandoned drive-in movie theatre, to coincide with my thoughts of once loved spaces being left behind for nature to reclaim. There aren’t any functioning drive-ins in Newfoundland anymore, but those theatres make up some of my best memories as a kid growing up in Ontario (even tho I think I only ever went to a drive-in theatre a couple of times). Blue Rodeo’s drummer, Glenn Milchem, was excited when he saw the back cover as he had apparently taken his kids to a still in operation drive-in just a couple days before I had completed the drawing.
This illustration was done about half the size of the cover, over two sheets of white card stock I had taped together to make a large enough surface.
Glenn sent me a bunch of photos from the recording sessions at the farmhouse. They were only iPhone
photos, but what they lacked in HD quality, they more than made up for in charm. Glenn was the only band member I had known before starting to work with Blue Rodeo, he use to play in Holy Fuck, a band some friends had started, and Glenn had also starred in the Wintersleep music video for “Jaws of Life” back in 2005.
The interior layout of the In Our Nature LP was now done, with the help of Glenn’s photos. I had just completed my first album design for Blue Rodeo – I didn’t realize at this time it would be the first of many.
IN OUR NATURE TOUR
The album was announced along with a national tour.
I was asked to make a poster for the tour, and a cook book cover. It turns out that friend of the band, Kate Boothman, had been on site during all the days of the recording. She cooked, usually with the help of band members, incredible meals every day that they all sat and enjoyed at the end of their recording day. They thought it would be a fun idea to turn all the recipes they ate while recording in to a book that they would sell on tour and give all the proceeds to charity. A very fun and original idea.
I set out to come up with concepts for both the tour poster and cook book. The book was easy, it was called “Sing for your Supper”. I drew a beautiful old Martin guitar skewered by a fork, along with some vegetables and hand-drawn lettering. I kept the colours very close to the In Our Nature cover, and my job was done.
The poster wasn’t as easy. I pictured Blue Rodeo’s tour buses, and the old signs featured on the front and back covers of the album. What if we had come across an old scrap yard, or a field where the band’s old bus had been abandoned along with some signs. If you look closely you see that the signs loosely have the makings of what must have been a large “Blue Rodeo” marquee. The door of the bus is no longer attached, and the front window is smashed. Even the tires are long gone…
I drew this poster on one piece of paper – no more spreading out over multiple sheets like the album front and back covers.
It came together pretty quickly and within a couple days it was done.
I added one last element, a small deer walking in the grass by the bus. I was asked why the deer wasn’t looking forward, why we could only see the back of its head. I wanted it to look like this space had been abandoned by humans for so long that even the viewer isn’t actually there. The deer isn’t looking at us, its just doing its thing, because we’re not there.
The abandoned tour bus poster was used as the main advertising for the In Our Nature national tour. 18 x 24, screen printed posters were sold at the shows. I went to see the band play when the tour came to St. John’s and was excited when I picked up our tickets and found two backstage passes with them, my abandoned bus image was being used on the passes as well. Very cool.
As a mildly humorous side-note, and maybe only to myself, I had started drawing the album cover illustration with a fresh pencil. Sharpening it over and over. I had gotten it in my head that I wanted to make ALL the illustrations for the album, shirts and poster, with the one pencil, and I just barely made it. By the time I was finished the bus poster there was only the smallest half inch or so of the pencil left. I still have it and have not used it for any other projects.
Almost a year had come and gone since I first started working with the band and it was time to design another screen print poster for their annual Molson Amphitheatre show. I went with an owl this time around. I don’t entirely remember why, I think I thought a flying bird would be cool, but everyone draws birds, so I took a shot at an owl instead (even tho I had used an owl on an album layout a few years back, this would be different). The owl was insanely detailed, I spent 12 hours drawing one wing alone. In the owl’s chest I drew a small forrest, complete with a bear, hikers and camp fire. The forrest scene was subtle however and I have only encountered a couple people who noticed it. My friends at Kid Icarus hand printed the poster. It made for a nice t-shirt as well.
A MERRIE CHRISTMAS TO YOU
Then, one morning I received an email full of beautiful vintage Christmas postcards.
Greg Keelor’s great uncle, Arthur Keelor, was one of Canada’s first graphic designers. He was an incredible artist,
designer and painter back in the early 1900s. Most famous for his World War One posters encouraging folks to buy war stamps and get behind our troops. His art hangs in many of the most prestigious galleries across our country (and at Greg’s old farmhouse). Blue Rodeo were recording their first Christmas album. The band had acquired permission from the current owners of Arthur Keelor’s postcard works and copyrights, and we were going to be able to layout this Blue Rodeo Christmas album with Arthur Keelor’s incredible hundred year old paintings. It was very easy making a great looking album out of these paintings and in only a couple days this Christmas record was sent to press with lots of time before its pre-holidays release.
I spent hours researching Arthur Keelor’s career in art. His paintings and poster designs were made a century ago, with no help of Photoshop, scanners or spellcheck. He was one of the pioneers of the graphic design industry in this country. I feel that men and women who laboured at their craft all those years ago would shutter at how easy and convenient the processes of today have made things for graphic designers. Arthur Keelor’s work is incredible, and still sets a standard most designers of our age will never attain.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Christmas came and went. I saw copies of Blue Rodeo’s Christmas album under friend’s and family’s Christmas trees and was proud knowing my name was in there. Then, as the snow started to melt, it was time to start thinking about yet another poster for the annual Molson Amphitheatre concert. I was told by the band’s manager to think “the great outdoors” for this one, but in all honesty all I could think about was how lucky I was to be getting this opportunity to design this poster for a third year in a row.
I had recently watched a few youtube videos of digital painters showing their process. I had never been a painter, and the idea of painting on a computer seemed more far fetched to me than painting with a brush, but the videos had my curiosity perked and I knew I was going to give it a shot. I mapped out my idea on paper, a man and woman hike through the great outdoors on what appears to be a fishing trip. She’s holding the net and oars, he is lugging a canoe. Can’t get more great outdoors than that. Not 100% confident in how this new digital painting technique was going to work out, I didn’t even throw the idea past the band or management, I just dove in. I started by “painting” the background, the sky and mountains, and building it up from there. Just like painting on canvas, you start at the back and work your way up. I did have he luxury of layers in Photoshop, and was able to just delete any layers that weren’t going well. It did take me more than ten hours, and I had to go back and redo parts often in order to get them right, but in the end I was blown away with how my first digital painting attempt had gone. I dropped in some simple, clean, typography – adding in “Live under the stars” just to drive home the fact that this was an outdoor concert, and sent it off to see what the band thought.
I waited a couple days to hear back, which always makes me nervous. Maybe my email didn’t go through. Maybe they don’t like it. Maybe they’ve hired someone else and I’m done. When I did hear back from their management the email just said “This is approved, please send high res versions”. Amazing, no changes at all. I have tried the digital painting process a couple more times since and the results have always been interesting. If you draw, or are just curious, I recommend watching some digital painting process videos on youtube – its amazing what people can do with a little creativity.
ROSE COLOURED GLASSES
Often times weeks or months will go by between projects or hearing from a client. But I’ve been very fortunate that Blue Rodeo are one of the busiest bands in the country. They have played St. John’s five or six times in the two and half years I’ve been doing work for them. Their live show is a huge aspect of the band, and thankfully they treat fans with new tourdates constantly. This past spring, I was asked to start brewing ideas for a live Blue Rodeo album – more details to come. I started picturing all sorts of things I could draw, and artistic styles we could go. Then I get word the album is “Live at Massey Hall”! Well holy crap, thats THE premier venue in Canada. Arguably one of the top venues in the world. When folks hear the words Massey Hall they picture the heritage of that building and the history of greats that have taken to the stage. I knew illustrations were not the right direction and photography was the way to go for this live album.
The band had worked in the past with Heather Pollock, a Toronto based photographer whom I’d never met, but was definitely familiar with her work. I had a shot in mind that I thought would make a striking album cover – taken from across the street we were going to highlight the front doors, and entire front face of Massey Hall (with the band of course). Ideally we’d shoot at dusk to capture some moody lighting.
Lucky for me I got to art direct the cover photoshoot. We met a little after noon at Massey Hall, not dusk, so the lighting was very different than I had been picturing, but we had Heather so I knew we’d be fine. She was already setup across the street, ready to shoot. We spent a half hour trying different things until we were confident we had something we could work with. Then we moved inside to get some shots to use inside the album. I have never actually met all the members of Blue Rodeo. I knew Glenn, and I met Jim once at an after show thing years ago, but would never expect him to remember. And I’ve seen them live countless times, but we had not all met. Working with this band, in this theatre, for an amazing live album… this was a day I won’t forget any time soon.
Heather’s friendship with the band was evident, they listened to her ideas and were very comfortable in front of her camera. I knew what I wanted for the outside shots, the cover, but I hadn’t expected we’d get permission to shoot inside, so I didn’t have much pre-planned to shoot. Heather came up with an amazing photo idea that is featured prominently inside the album layout, I won’t say what it is as this will probably get posted before the album is out in stores, but lets just say its a gorgeous shot, you’re going to love it. I wandered in and out of every hall in the theatre taking photos of everything I saw, while Heather shot the band. This kind of access to Massey Hall would probably never happen for me again so I took the opportunity to shoot everything.
At one point I entered an upstairs lounge and was taken off guard when I saw a poster series I have been working on for Massey Hall the past couple of years. The posters were all plaque mounted and hung in a row on the wall. You see, while I’ve never had the opportunity to see a concert at Massey Hall, I have been doing design work for the theatre for a couple years – but since I live so far away, this was my first time seeing any of these posters printed.
I found some time to have short chats with the various band members between shoots. Greg and I talked about his great uncle’s amazing art, while I spoke with Colin about the acoustic show I had seen in St. John’s only a month before where Colin played with Greg and Jim at our local Arts & Culture Centre theatre.
We got all the shots we needed and went our separate ways. Heather works very quickly and within a day or two the first photos from the shoot started pouring in. Because I think colour is always important in design, I chose a deep red as the main highlight colour of the album design. Massey Hall is full of deep reds. It starts at the doors you enter from outside, and then from that moment on you’re treated to splashes of red at every turn. I felt that when folks think Massey Hall, they see red (in a good way), and I wanted this album to be the ultimate homage to the historic theatre, so red it is.
As a great little side note, In Our Nature went Gold in Canada quite quickly and the band was presented with their gold records backstage at the Massey Hall concert. A great piece of good luck which I’m hoping means the Live at Massey Hall will also be a massive success when it comes out on October 16th.
HASN’T HIT ME YET
At this point I’ve been working with Blue Rodeo and their management team for over two years. I’ve designed three albums, four screen printed posters, and some t-shirts, so far, and with any luck, many more in the future. They have trusted me to experiment in different creative styles, from pencil drawings, to screen print posters, to photography based design and working with Arthur Keelor’s brilliant art time capsules. They are a band I’ve always looked up to and respected, both for their consistently great music, but also for the fact that they have always represented this country well and have been cheerleaders and mentors for so many young musicians looking to catch a break. Blue Rodeo are a dream client. I may never work with another band like this, and I appreciate every moment I’m creating an illustration or design for these folks. Thanks Blue Rodeo, this has been a hell of a lot of fun.
Most of the screen printed posters I’ve designed for the band are available on their website in the store. They’ve put together a “Jud Haynes Poster Collection” where you can buy three of the poster prints together. Click this link to check that out. Thanks for reading, I know this was a long one.