Time to step back in time...
I was playing Brain Salad Surgery by ELP the other day. I thought it would be fun to take a selfie with the cover over half my face. I posted it to social media and of course received many accolades, primarily in the form of "ELP ROCKS!". But, it was really a lot more to me than just a fun selfie.
The cover art* with its gatefold opening is very famous and I don't need to go into any great detail about the amazing artist H.R. Giger, best known for his concept designs for the original Alien movie, nor am I in anyway comparing myself to him. He was and always will be in a class all his own.
Four months before starting college as a freshman, I had undergone major facial reconstructive surgery. My jaw was broken, my chin pretty much removed and reshaped. To this day, I am quite conscious of this experience and have some regrets about it. It all came out well, but it was not without issues that persist to this day. I used to cover my face with my hand a lot when I was young. Here's a photo of me at my college drafting table. Ahh... the days of hand inking.
One of the first assignments for an Introductory Illustration class was to do a self portrait. It's a typical assignment, one I see a lot of. I think it may be a way for the teacher to get a fast glimpse into the mind of the student. I don't recall the exact details of the assignment, we may have had to incorporate some sort of personal element into the portrait. I went out and found an old lawn mower engine and lugged it back to my room. That's where most of the shapes in my self portrait came from. It's a small 8" x 10" acrylic painting. All monochrome. It was one of my first paintings and, despite its naïve approach, it has held up over time and I don't mind seeing it (unlike a lot of other earlier works of mine).
Throughout college I continued exploring mechanical and cubistic interpretations of faces and things for my fine art painting classes. Some of them quite large and typically of friends and other art students. Today, it's pretty obvious why I did this. But at the time I didn't really give it any more thought than "this would be an interesting thing to draw". I always thought I would continue this type of art, but the next thing you know, I'm illustrating for kids! That's another story.
Most of these paintings and drawings are gone now, a few sold, a couple commissioned, and most given away (if anyone reading this has one of my paintings, send me a photo, I'd love to see it! — and no, I don't want it back.), but most of them were destroyed. A couple that survived are more commercial illustrations — a pencil drawing of "Madona and Lizards" and "Good News" (an acrylic painting of George Harrison). I would have benefited from doing more research into mechanical parts, looking at Giger paintings, etc. — but, I tend to put my reference away and make things my own for good or for bad.
So, here they are. A few very old paintings from college days. I'm considering doing a new updated version of this self portrait. My painting has gotten a lot better since college. Maybe even the George Harrison painting? Quite a few of the ideas I had in college were good, I just had trouble pulling them off. I've always said and firmly believe that it's the idea that matters, not how slick something is rendered. Time to get painting. Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!
* The ELP cover art by H.R. Giger was stolen at an exhibit in 2005 and is still missing.
It's not just a coloring book, it's a full experience! The Crayola Signature Coloring Songbook: Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney includes a "4-panel wall art piece". Each page is perforated and can be pulled out and taped together to measure 32" wide, or 40" tall (if you stack it top to bottom) when assembled!
My first idea for the pull-out poster sections was to create a globe image in four sections with All You Need Is Love circling the earth. The border was to be the word "love" repeated in twenty different languages. I took this idea directly from the "Our World" press event in which the Beatles wore sandwich boards hand painted with All You Need Is Love in multiple languages to promote the event. The following day, on June 25th, 1967 the Beatles performed All You Need Is Love as part of the "Our World" satellite broadcast. Unfortunately, the foreign languages were omitted from my designs due to too many translation issues. The globe looked good as a single image, but I just couldn't get it to break down nicely into the four segments and still have each page stand nicely on its own. So, I was back to the drawing board.
My second idea, and the one that you see here, was to make it look like a blacklight hippie poster from the '60s. The style is a bit different from the rest of the coloring book, but I felt that was the right way to approach it — make it something unique and special. Also, what if someone would like to put it above a door, or down the wall like a full length mirror? To do this, the poster needed to fit together in as many ways as possible — horizontally, vertically, square, or staggered. This was easy enough, given that each section was a single letter, but they needed to work as a unit as well, so with the addition of a decorative border, the mural can connect at the corners. Each letter also had its own color scheme and theme: "L" hearts — "O" musical notes — "V" flowers — "E" peace signs.
The added touch that I like the most is the inclusion of the incidental background lyrics — "It's Easy!", "All Together Now!", "Everybody!", and "She Loves You Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!". A fun way to get two more song references into the book and stick to the supplied list of approved songs.* In the end, this new design captured the feel from the "Our World" event better than my first idea. I hope kids are taping this poster on their walls!
You can read more about my work for The Crayola Coloring Songbook: Lyrics by Lennon and McCartney here.
The book is available for purchase at Amazon and Crayola.
*Neither All Together Now, nor She Loves You were included in the official licensing list of approved Lennon & McCartney songs, but since both these songs' lyrics were included in All You Need Is Love, I was able to put them on the poster.
Designing the Cover for the "Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney" Coloring Songbook by Crayola
Covers are very important. And in the long line of books about The Beatles, you really want to stand out. The first draft for the cover of the Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney Coloring Songbook was an internal mock-up by the Crayola Design Department using a rough sketch of my Good Day Sunshine illustration. Later, this sketch was taken to a full finish for the inside of the book. It's typical for publishers to get the general look of the books ready in order to present the proof of concept to potential resellers; that, being a coloring book of Beatles lyrics.
This cover was very much a collaborative effort between me and the designers at Crayola. Sometimes these first or second drafts make their way as sales samples or as online images prior to the completion of the book (that's why you often see discrepancies between online images and the final product you hold in your hand. This cover went through several revisions, ultimately becoming a collage of images from selected coloring pages.
The first cover I worked on prominently featured Prudence (from the song Dear Prudence). The first layout for the cover was started prior to completing all 40 interior pages and again, was used as a sales sample. You can see that much of the art on the first cover was rough sketches. Once all the interior pages were completed, I went back to work on the refining the cover. The designs became more and more complex — just to see how much I could fit in and still make it look nice. There was a lot of back and forth with the art director at Crayola and it finally got pulled together into design with a strong focal point.
I think I did about four or five cover variations before we landed on the one you see today. I sent the final artwork to Crayola with all the Photoshop layers intact, knowing they would need to adjust the art in case of any production changes... the biggest change being the hierarchy of logos and titles. The primary name of the book became The Crayola Signature Coloring Songbook in order to accommodate future books in the series, whether it be Lennon & McCartney or other musical acts.
The cover layout and the back of the book were completed in-house at Crayola. When I got my first copy, I was very happy to see what a great job they did adding hand coloring. I don't think I would have done it any better!
The First Beatles Coloring Book - 1964
1964 - The Beatles Official Coloring Book by The Saalfield Publishing Company
The first licensed Beatles coloring book came out in 1964 by Saalfield Publishing and was intended for an American audience. The coloring pages focus on the Beatles' first visit to America, the products kids could buy, and promoting the American versions of their albums. Some of the pages are actual photographs of the Fab Four. The book is very straightforward in its design, with simplistic but well done inkings meant for very young kids. I love the cover — the colors, the fonts... it really stands out. Printed before I was born, and I finally got my own copy a month ago. A few pages in the book were beautifully colored by some young Beatles fans back in 1964.
Illustrated Lyrics by Alan Aldridge
1969 - The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics by Alan Aldridge
This book was and is a major influence on me. Alan Aldridge was an amazing artist who illustrated and designed rock posters, magazines, books, and record album covers for or about The Beatles, Elton john, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan to name a few. The way he interprets the lyrics is a uniquely psychedelic approach that is his alone. I was about twelve years old when I got a copy of this book. If my mom had any idea how truly "adult" most of this book is, she would have probably taken it away from me. I'm glad she didn't. In high school, I tried to paint a copy of the cover. I failed miserably. Alan Aldridge is a tough act to follow.
And in the end...
Besides being influenced by Alan Aldridge, I had other images in mind for the Crayola book.
With everything that had come before and in addition to not being able to use any existing Beatles likenesses or imagery — I went out of my way to make my interpretations of The Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney as unique as possible.
You can read more about my work for The Crayola Coloring Songbook: Lyrics by Lennon and McCartney here.
The book is available for purchase at Amazon and Crayola.
Crayola Signature Coloring Songbook: Lyrics by Lennon & McCartney
36 premium 8” x 10” line art coloring sheets plus a full color, 4-panel wall art piece.
The book is available for purchase Amazon or Crayola.
When Crayola contacted me to ask if I'd interested in working on this book, I practically jumped out of my chair! Are you kidding?! I was on cloud nine. About a week later, I received all the specs from the licensing agency and I was ready to go.
The challenge creating the art for this book was the stipulation that I couldn’t use any preexisting Beatles imagery or likenesses. Everything had to be my original interpretations — something less common for officially licensed products, especially for a project of this size. I embraced this "restriction" as it allowed me to take the book in a direction that totally new. What I learned about the lyrics of Lennon & McCartney is that there are so many numerous ways to depict them. I could have done twelve different illustrations for each song!
I was given a list of 50 songs to pick from. The book is made up of 37 Lennon & McCartney songs — All You Need Is Love is a full-color, four page wall mural! I wish I could have illustrated the almost 180 songs they had written together because when I got to the last few pages, I was sad that this project was coming to an end. It was so much fun to work on, and all the people at Crayola could not have been more supportive and enthusiastic about this book. I wanted it to go on forever! There's also four pages — Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite, Yellow Submarine, and Revolution — that are color enhanced for even more coloring fun!
To say I'm a Beatles fan is putting it modestly. I bought my first Beatles record when I was in fifth grade, and for four more years that's all I bought. I listened to the Beatles, I drew pictures of the Beatles, I basically thought about the Beatles every day. I listened to some of those records so much, I had to buy new copies because they were getting worn out! I still have all of them. I think I'll go play some now. I hope Paul McCartney likes the book. I hope you like the book.
Here's the stories behind eight of the illustrated pages:
I AM THE WALRUS
There were so many ways to illustrate this song. I was quite nervous working on it, since it’s such an amazing musical achievement. In the end, I decided to go for a theatrical feel. This song was first released in 1967 as a double — A side single with HELLO GOODBYE by The Beatles.
WHEN I’M SIXTY-FOUR
This was the first page of the book I illustrated. It has a Victorian feel to it, which was very popular in the 1960s. One of the first songs Paul McCartney wrote, when he was only sixteen, it was reworked by John and Paul in 1967 for the album SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.
I wanted this page to have a real hippie, nature feel to it. This song is from The Beatles’ 1968 WHITE ALBUM and is based on Prudence Farrow, sister of actress Mia Farrow, who was with the Beatles in India while studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
This is definitely the one the of the strangest illustrations in the book and one that was a lot of fun to work on. Lennon started this as a campaign song for Timothy Leary's run for governor of California against Ronald Reagan in 1969.
“The thing was created in the studio. It's gobbledygook; Come Together was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn't come up with one. But I came up with this, Come Together, which would've been no good to him - you couldn't have a campaign song like that, right?” ~ John Lennon
DRIVE MY CAR
I wanted this page to be like one of those “WIN THIS BICYCLE!” sweepstakes that appeared so often in the back of comic books. The swirling hair that becomes part of the floor, the smile and eyelashes on the car, were all meant to imply the car and the girl are one in the same. Written in 1965, McCartney said this song was lyrically "one of the stickiest" writing sessions he and Lennon had worked on.
Most of this book stayed very close to my original vision. PENNY LANE started out as mostly text and a small scene of stores and street lamps. I gave it some serious thought and decided all the characters should be a part of the nurse’s “play” that is going on in her head — “she feels as if she's in a play / she is anyway”. I posed my wife for reference and I ended up with one of the coolest pages in this book. McCartney wrote this song based on scenes and characters from Penny Lane, an actual street in Liverpool. Originally intended for inclusion on the album SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, the song was released in 1967 as a double — A side with STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER.
This is possibly my favorite Beatles song (which is why I drew myself as the main character). It was fun to include as many references in the song as possible. The two-finger typing method depicted in the illustration is a nod to author Mickey Spillane, famous for his Mike Hammer crime novels. It’s a song that starts and just keeps going! McCartney wrote PAPERBACK WRITER in 1966 after he read an article in the Daily Mail about an aspiring book author.
TICKET TO RIDE
I saw this one visually more surrealistic than the song actually implies. I focused on the lines "living with me is bringing her down", "she would never be free" and "she's riding so high" to depict her as an uncaged bird. It has a nice comic book romance feel to it. Although the song is obviously about a relationship that has ended sadly, there are several conflicting interpretations of the song that you can research online for yourself. Released in 1965, TICKET TO RIDE became the Beatles' seventh consecutive number 1 hit single in the UK.
BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR. KITE
John Lennon wrote the song in 1967 based on an actual circus poster from 1843. I paid homage to this by including the same classic Greek styled border around the page. It was my first choice to be one of the four color enhanced pages from this book.
LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
I wanted to do a kind of Art Nouveau style on this illustration. It's another page in the book that does not have the title of the song in the picture and because of this, it's more about the scene and what is happening. I never planned on putting as many references into the picture as I did. Wish this page was a poster! i could have done all of them! John Lennon said his inspiration for the song came from a drawing his son Julian brought home from nursery school and that much of the imagery was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland books. The song was written in 1967 for the album SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND.
"Listen to the color of your dreams" ~ Tomorrow Never Knows / Lennon & McCartney
BASIC: Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code created in 1964.
BEATLES: English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960.
“You are wasting your time, my time and the class's time. I want you out of this class.”
And so, my career as a digital artist was over and it hadn’t even begun! Now I have to tell my mom I got kicked out of my high school computer class for drawing pictures of the Beatles using advanced BASIC computer code. She wasn’t too happy about this, but she stuck up for me and went to see the principal the next day. Funny, how when a parent visits your school, things change. Seems, a student who is averaging an “A” in computer programming can’t be kicked out for “wasting his time”. In the teacher’s infinite wisdom, he made it very clear to me that computers are very serious machines that will never be used on frivolous endeavors such as art. I got back in class the next day, did only what I was supposed to do and and never drew any more pictures in the computer until many years later.
Pictured here is a young and optimistic Joe Lacey serving his time in high school as his dreams and ambitions are repressed and conformed to adapt to society's standards of acceptability.
To be honest, I first designed them by hand using pencils and graph paper. After all, it was a covert operation! I printed out a list of every number, letter and symbol that could be generated using BASIC code. I broke them up into a series of details and grey scales. Then, I filled in the graph paper blocks to make portraits of John Lennon and Paul McCartney from the Beatles' White Album.
I’ve kept the original printouts all these years. I no longer have the graph paper designs. I had George ready to go and Ringo was in the works, but, sadly, they never came to be. I think I’ll get back to work now and waste more of my time making art in the computer.
I produce illustrations and creative idea solutions for toys, packaging, publishing and advertising. I'm also a painter and educator with an MFA from Syracuse university.