Sometimes an assignment requires the artist to tap into the world of make believe. This project challenged me to create a narrative in my mind so I could convinsingly depict it.
I was asked to illustrate the cd cover “the Sparrow and the Rascal” for Arkiv records; pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi’s tribute to the music of Poulenc and Piaf.
Initially the client requested that I illustrate their concept of the two of them at a café in Paris. I was reluctant to pursue that direction because it’s been overdone. Art director John Oberlander was open to hearing other suggestions, but to keep in mind the likenesses of both musical artists was essential.
I can’t jump into assignments like this by just starting to draw; I need to become more familiar with the subject(s) whatever way I can. To help me with this project I watched, “ La Vie en Rose” the film about Edith Piaf’s tragic life (magnificently portrayed by Marion Cotillard), original footage of her performances, and listened to Piaf’s music while sketching. Previously, I had no idea Edith Piaf died so young (age 47) the film moved me to tears. In my research I discovered there are no documented accounts of Poulenc and Piaf ever having met. But Poulenc did write a solo piano piece "Hommage à Edith Piaf" and they had a mutual friend Jacques Cocteau. I found a great photo of Poulenc and Cocteau arm in arm; which became the seed of inspiration for this piece. I imagined Poulenc and Piaf walking arm in arm along the Seine, not as lovers but as good friends.
I find that sometimes it helps to create sketches to demonstrate to a client ( or just to myself) why a certain direction doesn't work or just isn't very interesting.
Here are a few sketches from that exercise.
Playing up the cd's aspect of duality: Piaf and Poulenc back to back. Photos of Piaf often capture her looking upwards.
These two compositions suggest Poulenc playing the piano with Piaf in the background without depicting it literally.
I felt this gesture of them arm in arm could be a good approach with Poulenc's impish grin and Piaf's melancholic gaze. The bird is clumsy, but it's just a rough to show direction. John wholly agreed with this direction. I added the bridge and background to give it the Parisian setting that Arkiv was looking for.
An iphone shot of the painting in progress
The final cd cover, design by John Oberlander.Than you John Oberland and Arkiv for the thoroughly fascinating assignment.