The Epoch is a hinge. We tend to follow a linear trajectory until a point at which we realize that through free will the path can be bent and redirected.
I’ve been very busy for the past year or so working on a new album so it’s been a while since I’ve posted. Now that the new Tycho album — Epoch — is out I wanted to write a little about the meaning and origin of the artwork. I worked as a graphic designer for 14 years until I decided to pursue music full time so the visual element of Tycho has always been at the core of the project for me. I think the imagery tells a story that the music can’t fully articulate, and vice versa.
Past is Prologue (2006), Daydream (2007), Dive (2011), Awake (2014)
The sun disc, both literally and as an icon, has always been at the center of the artwork. From Sunrise Projector and on I’ve used the sun and circle as a metaphor for life; the sun being the life giver and the circle symbolizing the closed loop, the interconnectedness of the human experience with the physical world.
· The Trilogy Begins
While I had explored a lot of these themes previously, I feel that Dive was the beginning of a trilogy of albums and so was the starting point for a narrative and symbology which have become central to the Tycho identity.
The cover for Dive was a foray into maximalism combining photography and design. I wanted to evoke the sense of being on an unavoidable path, one from which deviation was impossible. I wanted the viewer to be pulled into the image and be drawn toward the sun. I think this design speaks to the music in that it felt like the beginning of a journey and the multi-layered composition echoed the sonic aesthetic of the music. I spent quite a bit of the next couple years refining this style and creating various collage type images.
Dive Single (2012) – Another cover in the style of the Dive full length cover
· Enter Minimalism and The Trapezoid
Concert Poster (2012)
As a graphic designer I have always had a deep appreciation for minimalism and the simplified, efficient expression of ideas through form and color. But as a visual artist working within the context of Tycho my output had typically trended toward almost painterly styles, multilayered collages which were anything but minimal. But at some point after the release of Dive I decided that I wanted to get back to my design roots and bring a more simplified, refined style to the project. The beginning of this shift was around 2012 when we played The Independent in San Francisco. This was meant to be a simplification of the same path seen on the cover of Dive, the colors a reflection of the sun into that path. This was also one of my first uses of the trapezoid shape which would become core to the symbology of Tycho.
· The Awake Era
Dive was in many ways a breakthrough record for Tycho: it was when I first formed the live band and we began touring extensively. It also marked the period when I was finally able to quit doing freelance design and focus solely on the music and the imagery surrounding Tycho. After a couple years of touring it came time to make a new album and I knew this would be a pivotal release, quite literally a make-or-break record. I wrestled with the art direction for months before finally deciding to go in an entirely new direction from Dive and earlier works and create a minimalist direction for the release. I had always felt strongly about the spectrum and trapezoid from the 2012 poster and so I revisited the concept and incorporated the sun imagery to bring it into storyline.
Both the circle and the trapezoid symbols featured heavily in the videos and visuals for Tycho during the Awake tours (2014-2015)
Montana Visuals (2014)
Montana Video (2014)
During the Awake album cycle I continued down this path and lots of imagery followed for show posters and releases.
Concert Poster (2014)
Montana Single (2014) – the trapezoid combined with the triangle
· The Darkness
The overall direction for Awake was very light and halfway through the cycle I started shifting things into a darker space for contrast and to foreshadow the next album.
Awake Deluxe Edition (2014)
Concert Poster (2014)
Awake Remixes (2015)
Concert Poster (2016)
To compliment the darker themes for the Spectre and See singles I introduced the moon as the central element in place of the sun.
Spectre Single (2014)
Spectre – Bibio Remix (2014)
Tycho – See (2014)
· The Epoch
Awake had been out for over two years and it was time to start thinking about the next release. Up until this point, when doing minimal compositions I had been using textures and distressing to give some depth to the images and break up solid fields of color. For the next phase I wanted to further simplify and remove any extraneous elements. I wanted to cut to the core of the message and try to distill things into a language of basic symbols.
Artwork for the first single from Epoch: Division (2016). This was designed after the album artwork and was meant as a transition which would introduce the elements and colors that would follow in the full length release.
Musically, this album was about circling back while maintaining forward motion; revisiting and refining the concepts of earlier albums with a view to the future. My primary goal was to incorporate the color scheme of the very first Tycho release: The Science of Patterns EP (2002). I also wanted to revisit the simplicity of that artwork as Epoch was all about focus and efficiency, chiseling away anything which was not absolutely necessary.
The Science of Patterns EP (2002)
I also wanted to draw upon the two core symbols of the project: the circle and the trapezoid. But this time I wanted the circle to represent the moon, a body reflecting the light of the sun. In this way it was a metaphor for this album, a reflection of the previous works presented in a new form.
The following are selected iterations of the Epoch cover design which led to the final version.
The initial concept (2015)
An early concept incorporating a more three dimensional look. I ended up leaving this in favor of a more simplified form
The first simplification, the horizon line is still subtly implied
A tangental concept exploring the incorporation of more color. This ended up being the impetus for creating the alternate cover series for the countdown (discussed later)
Another alternate with more color and a defined horizon line
The final form: Tycho – Epoch (2016)
In the end I decided to keep the image ambiguous, the viewer should decide exactly what it was they were looking at and ascribe their own meaning to it. This meant stripping the image down to the essential elements, leaving a simple icon.
I felt that the power of this image would be in its simplicity and also in its portability. It could adapt to many form factors with ease and felt more like a modular system than a singular image. At this point you have to take into account that the vast majority of people will experience album artwork at a tiny square on a smartphone. At this scale a lot of nuance and detail will be lost. This is not to say that I intended to oversimplify purely for this reason, but it is a consideration.
Epoch Vinyl Packaging
Epoch was released 30 days after completion as a surprise, as such there wasn’t enough time to have vinyl and CDs produced; only digital versions were available on release day. As a stopgap until the vinyl arrived, we decided to offer a custom slipmat with pre-order purchase at retail outlets. More about the release strategy in The New York Times piece With Vinyl, the Musician Tycho Establishes a Physical Presence
For the Awake release I cut up a print of the cover art into squares and released it as nine panels as a way to count down to the release. For Epoch I wanted to create several alternate versions of the cover art to use for build up. This release was not announced ahead of time so it was fun to slowly release elements of the design without people fully understanding what was coming. Here are a few examples of the alternate versions.
Tycho Descent Burning Man Sunrise Set Cover
All in all this was an enjoyable and fulfilling process for me as a designer. I’m looking forward to the next couple years, creating future permutations and working with this design/color system. The first example of this is below, the poster for the show at The Fonda in LA.
Tycho Fonda LA Concert Poster
Thanks for reading, if you have any questions leave a comment and I’ll do my best to reply.
Explorers of Tomorrow is the title of the first book project I completed at the Academy of Art University in Spring 2009. Up to this point our projects consisted of posters and small printed materials, so this was the first time we were pushed to develop a consistent visual language and extend it across multiple pages. The assignment was to take a subject of interest, research its future 10 years from the present, and display our findings in a book.
Growing up, one of my favorite books was Automobiles of the Future by Irwin Stambler. Written in the 60s, it imagined the automobile in the 80s, 90s, and even the new millenium. The book was a window to a strange parallel dimension, where everything inside was a streamlined, pastel version of reality. Its pages held promise, for the future of automobiles was about more than spark plugs and oil filters, it was the story of man’s struggle to better himself. At the same time, it was very naive and simplified the world of tomorrow to a utopia that answered all of the problems facing their society. It never considered the possibility that the future would have its own set of obstacles to overcome. But that was its biggest appeal to me, to see the ways our society had advanced so far from their wildest dreams, yet fallen short on its fundamental ideals.
Space exploration has always been a fascination of mine. With that in mind I began to think about our future. 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 flight, and I thought it would be interesting to look at the future of space exploration 10 years from the present, but from the perspective of writers in the past. Specifically, I wanted to look at how a society that had just landed on the moon would view space travel in the future: how would our idea of 2019 compare to a society’s that looked to the stars for answers?
Space Dog Books is an interactive book publishing company that aims to introduce readers to new worlds through the use of touch-sensitive devices. Last month they released their first book app, Treasure Island – A Space Dog Book, and I was blown away by the experience.
I had the opportunity to speak with Tymn Armstrong, Art Director at Space Dog Books, and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the project and give a behind the scenes look at the process of “creating universes in a digital world.”
Jon: Thanks for sharing with us. Congratulations on the launch of Treasure Island. When you set out to create content for these devices what led you to children’s books?
Tymn: First off, thanks! It was a lot of work. Over a year of production went into making it and it feels so great to see it completed.
I think we’re starting with children’s books because they present more challenges than adult books. There is this misconception that children’s publishing is easy because it’s for kids but it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s an extremely competitive industry with some of the most talented people in the world of books. That said, we do have plans for books that are not necessarily children’s books. We don’t ever want to limit ourselves.
I’ve written about a few of my recent projects (404 Film, Nosh Promo, Firespotter Logo). These were all completed for Firespotter Labs, which is the startup I cofounded earlier this year. We started out with four of us and we are now thirteen, primarily engineers. Up until now, I’ve been the only designer. We are growing fast and the design needs of our company are such that one visually-minded pixel crusher is no longer enough. We are looking for another full-time interface designer.
Firespotter Labs is a startup. We are looking for someone that enjoys this kind of atmosphere. I’ve written a little bit about what it’s like and I couldn’t endorse it any more positively. Our first app launched about one month ago, so we are primarily working on it, but we have a couple other products in development that will need a lot of love.
If you’re interested, please email me at jobs[at]firespotter.com and use the subject line “Design Position”. We are looking for someone with a strong skillset in user interface design. Usability is key. If you can make things that look awesome as well, rock and roll. Please include a link to your portfolio and/or Dribbble. If you’ve worked on sites or apps in the past, it would be very helpful if you could link these as well.
We are hoping to fill this position as soon as possible.
Last week I wrote a quick post about the Nosh Promo video I made. Today I wanted to go into the production and describe all that went into its creation. Basically it was insane 25 hours from when we started, until the next morning when I exported the final video and the power went out in my apartment building (literally AS I hit export). Above you’ll see the composite I put together to show how each step of the post-process contributed to the final video. View the final video here or at the bottom of this post. I’ll describe each step in detail after the jump.
While it’s fresh I thought I’d write up the process behind the Firespotter Labs logo I designed. This was an incredibly fun logo to design and probably one of the quickest, at least when contrast to some of the luxurious multiple month (!) design explorations I’ve done in the past for school or other companies. That said, it was exceptionally challenging; it’s hard to take a step back and think objectively about the company you’re a part of.
Before this, I had already designed a couple logos for some of the products we’re working on now. I had to break out of the “consumer application” design mindset I had been entrenched in for a few months. For the mothership, we needed something that conveyed that we were a lab full of crazy people brewing up cool things, while simultaneously appearing to be trustworthy gentlefolk worthy of venture support.
Nearly ten months ago, I (Shelby) had an idea that was inspired by the design community, one that I became very passionate about. The idea was to create some sort of platform to share what inspires you. We’ve seen it done before, but what I have for you is something I hope and believe you’ll really enjoy.
Designspiration is the outcome of my efforts to realize my idea, evolving into a site occupied by a diverse range of inspiration curated by its users. Designspiration or DSPN for short, focuses on the core principles of sharing inspiration and utilizes some great features; like a search function that works like a Swiss army knife, which I will discuss more in the post. Little did I know when starting this project that I would be clocking in more than 1,000 hours over the past ten months.
If you’re eager to check out the site, you can hit Designspiration.net or Ds.pn. With that said, I’m really excited to share this project and process with you…
Before jumping into this process post I want to define my terms: This project revolves around the concept of ‘FOMO’, which if you haven’t come across, stands for “Fear of Missing Out”. Fomo is a very real and worrysome condition that can affect anyone at anytime. It describes that feeling of jealousy and helplessness when you miss out on something great. Typically the condition becomes more prevalent during the weekends, summer, and nighttime. For example, “When I was looking at John’s pictures from the submarine party last night, I had a really bad case of fomo.” If you are stuck at work right now and your friends just went skydiving, you have fomo.
Nofomo by contrast refers to the state of being in which you have cured your fomo. You do not have a fear of missing out because you are always the one doing something awesome. You actually cause fomo, rather than experience it yourself. If you are living your life to the fullest and saying yes to everything, you have probably achieved such a state.
This is a project about NOFOMO. (And while it may not seem like it, yes this was for school.)