If you are an indie music fan like myself, no doubt you already own Red Hot‘s latest compilation, “Dark Was The Night.” As a visual artist it is highly likely that you also fell in love with this brilliant double CD’s packaging as I did. Not only is it gorgeously-designed, but it features classic illustrations from 19th century french engraver Gustave DorÃ©‘s “Paradise Lost.”
Upon scanning the liner notes I found the cover packaging was designed by NYC illustrator/designer Ryan Feerer, and the inner booklet by John Giordani. The common thread between Ryan, John, Red Hot and “Dark Was The Night” is interactive agency Funny Garbage, which was started by Red Hot’s founder John Carlin, and designer Peter Girardi. In following this chain of hot creative links I landed on Ryan’s website and poked around his portfolio. Inspired, I contacted Ryan and picked his brain, and was rewarded with bits of news and interesting facts about his solo and agency work.
First off, Ryan shared that he is currently churning out a series of illustrations that will grace the walls of NYC’s Ace Hotel. This musician-friendly location not only features original illustration in all its rooms, but it also provides guests with unusual sonic bonuses such as turntables, guitars and amps. How cool is that?
Ryan’s design work is very illustrative, and his illustration work well-composed and designedâ??something I admire and have been trying to achieve in my own work. I asked for his thoughts on the marriage of the two:
“I often have difficulty separating illustration from design. They work together in most of my work so combining them becomes second nature to me. For example, while creating the design for Red Hot’s Dark Was The Night compilation I was given Gustave DorÃ©’s image of the fallen angel from Milton’s Paradise Lost. This was the one image the packaging had to revolve around. If you’re familiar with this image you know how beautiful and powerful it is. The mysterious winged figure floating down past stars and clouds through space towards what seems to be earth. When you have to design around such a magnificent piece of art, you have to take precautions. You can’t just slap some type onto the illustration because the original piece of art is so much more beautiful than anything you could possibly do, most likely. Keeping this in mind, I created the cover image and typography using DorÃ©’s illustration as texture and detail. This was an introduction to the rest of the packaging. As you open the packaging the (almost) full DorÃ© illustration is revealed. I think that is where the whole wow factor comes in. You’re able to make the visual connection with the cover without compromising the powerful and original artwork from the interior. Taking details from the existing artwork and using them as accents throughout the design created a strong consistency throughout the packaging. I think its a good example of how to create designs and illustrations using existing illustrations.”
On his illustration background:
“I’ve been drawing as far back as I can remember. My father is a preacher so I grew up going to church several times a week. I was stuck on a church pew for hours at a time with nothing but blank membership cards and pencils attached to the back of the pew in front of me. So, I did what most children do, I picked up the pencil and cards and started doodling. I would draw Biblical characters or other religious imagery pertaining to my father’s sermons. There are only so many Biblical figures a kid can draw, so when I was tired of drawing religious imagery I would start to pull things from my own imagination and draw, and draw, and draw. Although my passion for illustration started long ago, still to this day, when I sit down at church on Sunday morning I have to have my sketchbook and pen in hand. “
On his work space:
“I’m sure there are a thousand people that have a more interesting or quirky work-style, but I guess everyone is unique in their own way. In an ideal world I’d do all my work in a small wooden shack of a studio floating in the middle of a foggy lake surrounded by a thick forest. Unfortunately I don’t have that option. Most of my work is done in a small office space in my New York City apartment with a tiny window behind me facing a brick wall which voids my desk of any natural light. It’s definitely not an ideal situation, but its nothing a little Will Oldham and a cold beverage can’t fix.
On his process:
Although my designs and illustrations work together in most of my work, the process of starting a design is quite different than starting an illustration. Design is a lot more structured for me. There are a lot more restrictions and particular problems to solve. I love everything design encompasses but its nice to be able to escape and do what makes me happy. When it comes to illustration, I like to let my mood and music guide my hands. I tend to draw places where wish I could be, a situation I wish I could be in, or a person or thing I wish I could be. Iâ??m obsessed with some of the things that linger in my mind. The stories within it and the things I see have always kept me entertained.
When I was a kid I used to imagine this fantasy world that I could only get to through a small door hidden in my bathroom closet. The world inside was dark and strange. Humid and cold. It resembled what seemed to be a rainforest and inside that forest was a village where strange creatures lurked. That little world that lay within the depths of my bathroom closet has become an ongoing project I started back in grad school called Thy Old Murkville Forest. Murkville encompasses pictures, stories, music, as well as it’s own language. It is my dream world. Throughout the process of creating that imaginary world [I have been able to] view things from a different perspective. It’s like seeing my work from the inside which helps me create something thats more appropriate for what I’m doing. There is so much freedom in illustration. I can delve into my own world and live there as I create my work. It’s a wonderful place to be.”