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The most ambitious album cover I ever worked on.

On today’s walk with Roscoe, my dog, I noticed one of our neighbours has a beautiful display of paper snow flakes in their windows. Remember the kind we all learned to make when we were kids? You fold a square piece of paper a bunch of times, then cut some triangles and shapes, open up your sheet to find a gorgeous snowflake has appeared. Almost every one of us have tried this ancient form of Kirigami, the Chinese name given to the art of folding paper and then cutting it –– a not so distant cousin of origami: paper folding to make animals and shapes, but without cutting.

I’ve been experimenting with making art by cutting paper for a number of years and recently learned that the style I’ve been pursuing closely resembles ‘vytynanka’, a decorative paper cutting technique made popular in Ukraine and Poland in the mid-1800s. I’ve used paper cut art on a couple record cover designs in the past, but those were pretty simple, and I’ve been really wanting to dive into something more ambitious.

A few past projects I used paper cutting:

I pitched the idea of an entire album cover cut from multiple sheets of paper to create an intricately layered scene to a band a couple years ago and they weren’t into it – which was a bummer. I shelved the idea knowing the right band would come along someday, and then I heard from Ukranian group (based in Newfoundland) KUBASONICS. They were working on a new album and were looking for artwork. I told them all about my idea of intricately cut paper art to make a fun album cover — they were more than familiar with ‘vytynanka’ and even knew of people back in Ukraine that have become renowned for their paper cut artwork. They enthusiastically said yes, and we dove in. This kind of album art isn’t for every band and I knew that. It would take a really long time to create, you can’t just knock this out in photoshop one night and have it sent off to print the next day. And there would be costs – much more than your typical album design project. Thankfully the Kubasonics were willing to do whatever it takes to make something special.


And we’re off

To get us started, I sat down with Brian Cherwick, the band’s singer and defacto-leader to discuss the album’s lyrics and themes so we could come up with visual references to roll with. Traditional Ukranian folk music, but sped-up (they call it ‘speed folk’), the songs are filled with stories of farm life, growing vegetables, and living a happily off-the-land. We decided to have fun with farm themes and I set out to design a cover that featured rolling Ukranian hills, country-side forests, vegetables, animals, and of course, a ring of kubasa, the Ukranian word for sausage is ‘kovbasa’, which Brian has a fun story of the evolution of “kovbasa” to “kubasa”, the name of one of the songs on the new record. Kubasonics’ last two records featured a Ukranian symbol for the sun, so I did the same, using a similar sun to hold all our farm life elements together. I started out with sketches of a potential cover, trying to figure out what veggies and animals to add in to our scene.

Brian mentioned that in addition to kubasa, he’d like to include Kalyna -– a Highbrush Cranberry that grows in the wild throughout the country.


Knowing that the cover would be entirely cut out of paper, choosing how many sheets and what colours were decisions that needed to be made early. Green and Red would be needed in order to depict Kalyna, as well as tomatoes, Forrests, leaves, etc… so we locked in on those two colours and added a beautiful creme Kraft paper to the mix. I loved how organically these colours went together and could already get a vibe for the feeling the final piece of art could have.


Mapping out the cover took a very long time. I had to figure out how to layer 6 sheets of coloured paper to make a scene that would make sense, but also had fun finding ways to hide a huge pig, flowers, birds, a skull and more in sections of pages that would not be visible on the cover – only revealed when you flipped through the pages. This part of the process was a lot of fun. I was sending ideas and sketches back and forth with the band and with each new sketch popped up new ideas of where we could go next.

Finally, we had a plan and it was time to start cutting. I ordered a paper samples pack from French Paper Company in Michigan – a family owned business that first opened in 1871 and is widely regarded as the best of the best when it comes to North American paper makers. I’ve never used French Paper before, but have always been a fan –– most of my favourite screen print poster artists use French Paper exclusively and its been a club I’ve been really excited to join. When the samples came in I sat with the band and we picked out our favourites and placed an order for enough paper to complete the project. While waiting for the paper to arrive I refined those sketches and started making a plan for how to start the actual paper cutting.


Cutting time

The process for this style of paper cutting is the same for almost every artist the world over that attempts to take it on. You draw your design on the back of your paper in reverse to how you actually want it to appear. This way the side of the paper that is displayed outward doesn’t have any pencil or ink showing. Kubasonics wanted to release their first single, “Kalyna”, so I started by making a quick graphic for that single-cover. Which was a nice way to test the waters on these papers and colours.

Another way to get your artwork on the back of your paper is to draw your design the way you want it to appear, scan it, flip the artwork on the computer, and then print it out on your paper reversed. There are more steps to doing it this way, but I’m no fool, I knew trying to draw this album cover with text in reverse would have been a nightmare — using the computer to flip the artwork made way more sense.

I setup each of the 6 pages of my cover art on separate sheets of paper, and now with the artwork printed in reverse on the back of each sheet I was off to the races to started cutting. I use a traditional exacto-blade knife I picked up at a local art supply shop and went through a half dozen blades while cutting out all the elements on the six sheets. Once each were fully cut out I put them on my scanner and made very high res scans as I was going to need these later.

The 1st six sheets (all cut by hand)


Glueing

Next, I started glueing the cover sheets together to create the final artwork. This included a couple added colours – since this version would be printed on the cover of the regular release LP and the CD, I could go a little wilder with colour… why not have some fun with it. The addition of hints of blue, yellow, orange, pink and black brought the cover to life and I was increasingly more and more excited by how well this was coming together. Remember the entire cover is made up of nothing but paper and glue – I was a little kid making snowflakes again.

The final cover


With the main cover done, I set out to start the rest of the album artwork. I had come up with an idea to create a separate paper cut illustration for the back cover with all the song titles, as well as a scene on the inside that would depict the band as farm animals playing on a stage. The album features a song called “Pana” that tells the story of a young man that works all summer to save enough money to buy a chicken, and continues to work every summer to be able to buy a new animal yearly until finally having enough money to ask the girl of his dreams out –– their date however doesn’t go as well as hoped. I enjoyed this tune and story and depicted each band member as one of the animals from the story. Brian Cherwick who knows the band members best let me know which animal best represented each musician. I sent sketches of potential farm animal rockers over to the real Kubasonics to get their approval and then started cutting. Each animal was created as a separate little paper sculpture, and once they were completed I placed them together onto a little paper stage. I chuckled to myself while making the paper drum kit and wondered what my father and grand-father would think of a man in his 40s making farm animals out of paper and glue. They’d probably shake their head and wonder where they went wrong. :^)


I had to cut the band name and album titles out three times in order to fit the formats they’d be used. On the cover the band name and title sat on a slight arc, resembling an arch way over a gate; but I needed straight versions to go on the LP and CD spines; and then when it came time to design the LP labels (the round stickers that go on the record itself) and the CD face, I realized I needed versions of the name and title that fit in a circle.

By the time I finally had all the paper cutting and glueing completed, nearly two weeks had passed since my first slices, I’d gone through more than a dozen blades, and my eyes and back very much needed a rest. I had made four detailed paper cut illustration pieces at this point – the album cover; the band on stage; the back cover with song list and veggies, and a round version of the album cover which would be printed on the LP labels and CD face.

I scanned in all the pieces and started laying out the record on my computer. The band had sent along their credits and other content that needed to go in the design – logos, song descriptions, etc…

Hand-writing

I had decided early in the process that I wanted every aspect of the artwork to be created by hand, so once we had a layout that worked, I took out a classic old HB pencil and started rewriting every word that would appear in the design.

I drew the four logos on the back cover using that same trusty HB, and in the end the only thing in the final design that was created on a computer was the barcode as there was no way around it — but I did go so far as to hand-write the numbers that go below the barcode. Extra attention was spent making sure I got the Cyrillic letters of all the Ukranian words correct, I’m not able to read this text but I wanted to make sure that those who could wouldn’t be offended by anything I had written poorly.


I wanted to show some of the process so we included a bunch of photos on the LP inner sleeve – studio shots of the band recording the album on one side; and photos from my paper cutting journey on the other. And, because I’m kind of insane I paper cut and glued a layout on each side to showcase those photos…


We had a completed record and it was looking awesome
(if I do say so).

inside of gatefold jacket

inner sleeve (front and back)


Off to Press

Now the real work begins

We sent off the LP and CD to be manufactured and knowing it would be months before we’d have physical records in our hands, I set out to create the sheets for the Limited Edition LP. There are two versions of the record available: the first is printed on a gatefold jacket and features all the fun stuff I’ve mentioned above… hand drawn lettering, an image of the paper cut cover, band inside, etc. But, the plan all along was to create a limited edition ‘Deluxe LP’ that would have a six page paper cut booklet attached to the cover. This LP jacket is also gatefold, revealing the band inside just like on the regular LP — BUT on the cover of this limited edition version is glued a 6 page booklet, made up of the artwork from those original paper cuts I made back at the start of the cutting process — the sheets I scanned to use later.

Remember these?

I went through hell and back trying to figure out the best way to create 100 of these paper cut booklets as there was no way I could hand cut each one. It would probably take me at 4-5 days to cut the sheets for each copy of the record, and there wasn’t anyone insane enough to do that.

For months I pursued the idea of having them laser cut. Three different companies were in the conversation and each seemed game to give it a shot – but it wasn’t going to be cheap, and it was estimated that it would take at least 50 hours to cut the 300 sheets needed for 100 albums. Now that I’m further into the process I think 50 hours was a drastic under-estimation and had we gone the laser route I bet it would have taken much longer. A couple of the laser experts mentioned that there would be some browning around the edges of the paper caused by burning from the laser. I certainly didn’t want that, so I knew it would have to be a blade used to make our cuts.

I’ve seen lots of crafters and soccer-mom’s making things with Cricut machines. These odd little cutting machines that can be used to make stencils for t-shirts, window graphics, tags, stickers, and even cutting paper. I watched video after video on YouTube and found no one using one of these machines for anything even remotely close to as complex as what I wanted to do — but I really couldn’t think of any other way to make it happen (again, without hand cutting them all myself one at a time)… I bought the most expensive machine Cricut has on offer, and hoped it would somehow do the job.

The machine gettin’ it done

I’m not going to dig into every complication or hurdle that cropped up while cutting the sheets, but lets just say that Cricuts aren’t meant to do what I used it for –– I did manage to get the sheets cut, but it took weeks (maybe months) and it makes me really happy that its an actual blade that cut every sheet of paper, no different from my hand cutting the original sheets. The scans of my original cuts were used as the template to make all the Deluxe LP sheets, so every line width, jaggetty-corner, and mis-shapen leaf matched my handy work on the originals. It took about 3 hours to cut each set of sheets, per record.


300 hours of cutting later, I had completed sheets and went to my studio to hand-fold each one – a delicate process when you consider how fragile these sheets are now that more than half of the paper has been cut away not leaving much left to maintain the strength of the paper. My friend Hazel Eckert and I stapled each booklet at her awesome new downtown St. John’s print shop, ‘Nothing New’ (need any Risograph prints or want to make an incredible custom book? you need to talk to Hazel).


A fourth sheet of kraft paper, darker in tone from our cover sheet, was glued on to the back of each booklet to add a background and another level of contrast and depth to the artwork. The booklets were pressed for a day under some heavy books, and then the edges were trimmed to remove excess paper on the red and green sheets that might have been pushing out.


Completed booklets were passed to the band and they affixed each one to the gatefold LP covers to complete the Deluxe LPs.


I thought it would be fun to include a little card inside the Deluxe LPs. Also a custom paper cut, these cards were glued together by Kubasonics’ singer Brian Cherwick, then hand-signed and numbered by each member of the band. And, with the inclusion of a sticker the band had made we had a fully completed ‘Deluxe LP’ and were finally ready to show off all the hard work to the world.


400 Hours

All in, I’ve logged over 400 hours on the artwork for this album. By far the most I’ve ever spent on any one record design, and its all been 100% worth it. Every conversation, every drawing, every worn out blade, and fingers stuck together with glue has led to a finished piece of art that I couldn’t be any more proud of. To take the Ukranian artform of vytynanka as inspiration for the best (maybe only) Ukranian band in our province has been a true honour –– the fact that Kubasonics are also an incredible band and have recorded an totally kick-ass powerful album was a bonus.

We started this project long before Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine and its been terrifying and heart-breaking watching from afar as his forces enact such disgusting acts of war on a beautiful nation of people. To be involved in this album, at this time in history, has come with a lot of feelings –– big hugs to all folks from Ukraine, and to the Kubasonics. Releasing a new album is an exciting day, but doing it while your country is under siege must be nearly impossible to enjoy. You’ve made a great record, I’m very proud to have played a tiny role in it’s story.

Thank you Kubasonics!
Love you guys.

If you want to get a copy of Kubasongs, find it in St. John’s at Fred’s Records or on the band’s website www.kubasonics.com

more process photos for those that are curious

About the Author

Jud Haynes is an illustrator, graphic designer and musician living in St. John's, Newfoundland (Canada)