How to design album covers

The thing about Information Professionals/Librarians/Whatever is they need to have a diverse skill set. One minute you can be cataloguing books by emotion and the next you can be splitting up a knitter’s circle that has gotten dangerously loud and is frightening the children in the soft book section. You have to be able to adapt.

One of the most lucrative areas that I have found myself working in is designing album covers for bands. Like a lot of things in my life, I got into this by chance.  It started with my capstone project on classifying 1980s cassette covers using the British Catalogue of Music Classification system which I did purely to impress a hot looking library student. I put a lot of work into that.

mixtape-spine-art-00

More importantly, I get insane amounts of money for designing album covers and this helps me to be of benefit to mankind. It is still not enough to keep a book shop open so I have to work like everyone else. I get offered edgey guitar bands which suits me down to the ground. Film scores and experimental jazz I farm out to my friends.

My favourite tool for designing album covers is a Random Flickr Blendr created by John Johnston that he uses for self help book covers. This was originally used for gonzo digital media bootcamp DS106, but like a lot of things on the internet it is only limited by imagination.I give it bonus points for using Flickr cos I love creative commons.

Below are a few of my album covers.

luminosity

Luminosity

multiply

Multiply

hardlight

Hard Light

colorburn

Color burn

colordodge

Color Dodge

 

Blog Audit

It has been three years since I started this blog as part of the Creating Digimedia module in UCD Information & Library course. It was not expecting it to last. This was purely an experiment. I had other blogs before it and other blogs after it for different projects.   At the start it was just a platform where I could put images to see how they changed with different camera settings. It was never meant to be serious and I a definitely had no real interest in taking photographs but somehow it kept going. It allowed me to throw stuff into a draft that I have an interest in and explore it a bit more without any sort of pressure. Looking back over the years I realise that blogs work in a very strange way for me. I dump text in the editor. While I wonder what direction I am going to take with it, I wander off to look for images. Often the images will take the text and give it a direction. Sometimes I might be looking for an image for something else but I will just know that It belongs to one of these posts. It is odd. Somehow this mix of text and images does something for me. I don’t work like this in any other area.

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Recently I signed up for Blogging 201, the WordPress Blogging University which is designed to focus and grow blogs. I had a few years of content and I was able to look back over it and see what it could tell me. The first thing I discovered was that I use this blog to explore information and to clarify my own thoughts. From this I began to have a look at my blogging goals. This is something I was wary of because it has operated very organically (which means that I have just done whatever I felt like doing). It turns out that my goal is to just explore whatever I fancy and have fun doing it. Identifying that allowed me to have a think about what sort of stuff (technical term for information) I wanted to look at. This gave me the bones of an editorial calendar for the future.

Looking at the sort of content that I had covered and the sort of issues that interested me in the future gave me a lens through which to look at the design of the blog. I had never given this any kind of real thought before. So I had a think about the intent of the blog and how the design matched it, or did not match it. Although the title of the blog had been Information Agent as long as I could remember, the original impetus for it was actually an information explorer. The theme I had originally on this blog did not reflect that at all though so I played around with the look until I got something I liked.

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I changed themes, had a look at more appropriate fonts and changed the background images. I  had not given any thought to categorising my blog posts and once I did this I decided to create widgets for them so they would match the overall look. As usual, I took images from Creative Commons in Flickr, transformed them with Gimp and gave them titles. I updated my about page. I even considered deleting my purpose page but after checking the stats for 2014, I realised that some people clicked on it. Digging around in the stats showed me other areas that I had never given any thought to such as the comments prompts, email and rss subscriptions. These had been set at default but there was no reason why they could not be adapted to suit the concept behind the blog. Basically, I tried to be more consistent with the visual consistency as this helps create trust for a reader. Along with enabling the related posts feature I also decided to create a new page where I could put my favourite old posts posts. This is my blog after all.

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The stats also showed me an interesting story.  In 2013 it was all about digital storytelling. In 2014 it was all about digital marketing. I wonder what 2015 will be about?

 

Journey of Boann

This is a location based story that I have designed as part of storymooc. It is aimed at kayakers and water tourists on the river Boyne, who will use the route once it becomes part of the National Trails. The trail will allow kayakers to float through the Boyne Valley, past castles and ruins. You download an app with the game on it and each scene is triggered by GPS and will have augmented reality characters moving the story along. The distance involved is about 15 miles and will take about 2.5 hours to complete. The first GPS point introduces us to Boanne before we embark on the water.

Boann

Boann

1. My name is Boann. I am the goddess of the valley. A long time ago I lived here with the king. The king had a magic well which contained the salmon of knowledge that fed on the acorns of wisdom. No women were allowed to go near the well, but I was curious, so I disobeyed the order. As soon as the salmon felt my presence they attacked me, chasing me to the sea, and that is how the Boyne came to flow through the valley. They think that I am gone, but I am just hiding, waiting for someone with the knowledge to release me. If you follow the river, you will find plenty of knowledge, but be careful as there will be red herrings along the way to slow us down. You need to find three magical objects. They represent those who work, those who fight and those who pray. You will need all three to release me. Good luck.
By the way, the first clue will be at a warrior on a horse.

Mael Seachnaill

Mael Seachnaill

2. My name is Meal Seachnaill. I was the King of Meath. I defeated the Vikings and became the King of Ireland after Brian Ború. But I am not here to talk about myself. You want to find Boann don’t you? First, let me tell you about a legendary queen associated with this spot. Her name was Maeve. It was said that she was a fierce warrior. In front of us here, you can see that the river is low. When Maeve crossed the river on her way to fight the King of Ulster, it was here where she crossed. The town was named after the fording point and her crossing was the first record of the town which grew up around here. I have her sword here. You should take it with you. Follow the river to the wooden bridge and disembark for a while there. You may find someone who can give you some information which will help you more.

1532 - celtic sword-8

War Object

3. My name is William Rowan Hamilton. I suppose you have never heard of me? Nobody knows about me. I lived just there in Talbot Castle. No, not that ruin, the one beside it. There are so many ruins here. It was here that I studied as a child. I was a bit of child genius I will have you know. Chess champion, fluent in twelve languages by the age of ten, Professor of astronomy by the age of 19. Nobody remembers though. I invented quarternions. Quarternions! Oh for heavans sake! It is like talking to one of those medieval serfs from Fraunces Weir. Mathematical formula that are used by NASA to turn spaceships in orbit! Anyway, I am wasting my time. You want to know about Boann? Well, you have come to the right place. Did you know that Boann comes from the Gaelic mBó Ann, meaning the white cow. No, of course you didn’t know that. How would you know the significance of the White Cow, with your smart phones and and your google? The White Cow is the Milky Way, the stars that float above your head at night. The ancient Irish believed that the Boyne was a mirror image of the stars. Quite clever of them actually. At least they paid some attention to the sky. Now, I must go. I have experiments to carry out. I am sorry, I cannot be of anymore assistance. You are obviously too simple too see the significance of what I have just told you. Try the workers down at Fraunces Weir. Good day to you!

William Rowan Hamilton

Sheldon Cooper? Never heard of him

4. Ah, how is it going? You must be here because you figured out that old Hamilton is not much use to you. Head in the clouds that man. Too clever for his own good. This here is Fraunces Weir. The river used to come in here, channeled in a mill race to power mills. From here down to the ruins of Newtown was all mills. Tuck mills, flour mills, pottery kilns, you name it, we had it here. This was the industrial part of the town and it was all powered by the river. We had big wheels turning, stones grinding seeds, paddles beating cloths and not a bit of that old electricity you have today. This was original, whatyamacallit, hydro power. Anyways, you will be needing this on your travels. It is a quern-stone. Let me give you some advice. You see that big old ruin further down on the left? It is called Newtown Cathedral. If you are looking for a place of prayer connected with a woman you would be wise to check that ruin out. There is a little old church in there, all deserted like, and in the middle is a big old tomb, the likes of which you never saw, with a statue of a woman on it. Check it out.

Fraunces Weir

Fraunces Weir

Medieval Serfs

Whatyamacallit

vk_quern_stone

Work Object

5. Greetings kind travellers, I see that you are curious about my wonderful tomb. Isn’t it exquisite? My name is Lady Jane Bathe and I was married to Lucas Dillon, the attorney general of Ireland to Queen Elizabeth the first. You can see that relief carved on the base of the tomb which shows our wedding day. You see both of our hands on the bible, making our vows, and our families standing behind us. That was such a memorable day, apart from the rain. Can you see the sculptures on the lid of the tomb? Have you ever seen anything like them? Lucas spared no expense. He was like that. Don’t I look fine in my Elizabethan gown? I have to say, Lucas does looks dashing in his armour. Not that he ever wore armour. Lucas was more into politics and money than battle. I do wish that he didn’t put that sword between us though. That was uncalled for. He could have had us holding hands as was the custom. A sword is so cold and harsh to have between man and wife, isn’t it? I do think he would have forgiven me for my affair though. At least in death. Lucas could be spiteful at times. It is like he wants to make me suffer for eternity. I am sorry that I do not have a more spiritual story, but there was no love here. If you are looking for a real place of prayer, I would suggest Bective Abbey further downriver. If you find it, make sure that you look for a carving on one of cloister columns. It is very interesting. Much better than a sword.

Jealous Man and Woman

Jealous Man and Woman Tomb

Bective Abbey

Bective Abbey

6. You made it. Thank you. Welcome to my abbey. It was dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the 13th century but it is where I have hidden for all these years. As you can see from the carving on the wall, I have hidden in the fleur-de-lis to represent those that work, those that fight and those that pray. Now, time for a spot of salmon dinner.

Irish Aesthete

Prayer Object

Story Craft

Like a lot of other information professionals I am involved in a MOOC, one about storytelling. While it will explore mostly digital storytelling, we did start off at the beginning, with our own experiences of stories. One of the highpoints of this for me was the sharing of stories from different cultures. Everything from their favourite movies to stories told to them around the campfire.

Storyteller Under Sunny Skies - Rose Pecos-Sun Rhodes

Storyteller Under Sunny Skies – Rose Pecos-Sun Rhodes

One of our first tasks was to think of a story. Any story. No, not just any story. You have to be able to remember it fully without using wikipedia. That complicated one which was amazing but which you just cannot remember fully, that doesn’t count. Now tell it.

In ancient Ireland there was a man called Finnegas. He was looking for a magical fish in the rivers. A salmon. This salmon contained all the knowledge in the world. Finnegas had a young boy as a helper. No more than twelve or thirteen. Eventually Finnegas caught the salmon of knowledge and he built a fire to cook it. He left the salmon on a spit and went off to get some herbs to eat with it. He warned the boy not to touch the fish, that it was very important. The boy was a good lad. He took care of the fish while his master was away. After a while, the salmon began to cook on one side and to burn. The boy went to turn it on the spit but the hot flesh burnt his thumb where he grabbed it. Without thinking, he stuck his thumb in his mouth to cool it down. Immediately, the knowledge was transmitted from the salmon to the boy. When Finnegas returned he saw that the boy was changed and that the salmon was now like any other. The boy’s name was Fionn MacCumhaill and he grew up to be the leader of the legendary Irish warriors, Na Fianna. In the future, whenever he need to know the answer to something he would just suck his thumb and the answer would come.
stamp salmon of knowledge
What fascinated me most about this story was that Fionn became a hero by accident. He did not want the knowledge and it was his efforts to save the fish for his master which changed the course of the story. I like that sort of twist. I also liked the fact that his superpower (Sorry, I read too many comics when I was young) involved him engaging in very un-macho behaviour. The other aspect of this story which made an impression on me was the fact that there was not much background to it. Like a lot of Irish stories, back story is neither here nor there. Finnegas and Fionn always appear in an Ireland that is empty of other characters. It is like history is waiting for them to appear and then all the fun starts. This could be just that this story is from the oral tradition. They tend to neglect the interesting details that we take for granted in written histories, such as who was king at the time, what sort of trade model they had and all that complicated stuff that makes up life. The location of the story is usually a generic ideal Ireland full of rivers and campfires and mystical druids fishing all day. Sounds very relaxing. Of course, this is based on the story that I learned in primary school. The original texts may have been very much more detailed and were probably changed to engage under 12s. My recollection of the story of the Salmon of Knowledge is probably reflected through years of looking at primary school drawings.
As an added bonus here is my updated version.
It was an interesting exercise to do, to recall a story fully like that. With the amount of media growing all the time, it can be hard to do without the aid of an external memory device. What would your story be?

Remake the Internet

One of my favourite digital storytelling platforms at the moment is Zeega. The first thing that drew me to it was that it was so simple to use. It has a simple drag and drop interface which allows you to throw something together within a couple of minutes. The hardest thing about it is deciding what use to put it to. Artists use it, storytellers use it and now even newsrooms are using it. My 12 year old son created this in ten minutes. He really enjoyed it.

zeega

Designed by collaborative documentary makers, it draws on a few features of internet experience that are familiar to us already. Zeega relies heavily on meme culture and in particular, the gif. These constantly looping images are the language of this experience. Zeega founder Jesse Shapins calls them “the emotional currency of the internet”. There is also a large audio component and this makes it very immersive. Amongst the platforms which make their content available is SoundCloud. While most users tend to just use music as a backing track for their pages, the use of SoundCloud means that a user can record their own voice and create a narrative if they choose. At the moment, there is also the facility for using content from Flickr, Tumblr, Zeegas own library and Giphy which is a search engine for gifs. You can also upload your own content.

One of the more interesting features of Zeega is the use of scrollable media. Scrollable media are not new. It is the main navigation system for blogs. Although this is still linear storytelling, when it is combined with audio, Zeega creates an element of interactivity.  There is also the option to create “hotspots” or links on a page which open up to deliver more content. If I could find out how to do this I would have even more fun with this platform. Add pacing into this, and Zeega is a platform that is making a new internet experience. Not bad for a start-up.

The reason why it is so simple to use is because it does away with all the issues of copyright that make digital media manipulation such a headache for users. None of the content from the other platforms is ever downloaded or copied. It stays in the cloud and is always cited when it is embedded in a Zeega. The end result is actually a website based on HTML5 although it is made with no programming or coding from the creator at all. My only gripe is that you cannot embed a zeega in a blog yet and it seems to have issues with Firefox.

Twitter is given a nod to in the way a Zeega limits the use of text on each page to 160 characters. This results in a finished product that relies on a combination of heavy visual stimulation and short powerful text. A perfect storytelling tool. To illustrate I have remade this blogpost as a Zeega here.

What will you use it for?

The Zeega Revolution

Story-making Machines

Mashable

Alpha, Beta, Zeega

Bringing the past to life

When Irish Archaeological Field School rang me up the other day to see if I could come up with something for the international Day of Archaeology, I thought I might do a blog about the vox pop interviews I do with members of the community who visit Blackfriary site. Or I might create a podcast with a few of the international students to get their thoughts on Irish archaeology. Or maybe even talk about the fun I have photoshopping medieval manuscripts into graphics for their facebook page. I did not think that I would end up creating a reverse video. I don’t even like forward video! There are too many angles to take into consideration. I prefer audio and if I had a choice I would edit instead of record.

I began to think of Geoffrey de Gennevilles’ career, how he went on the crusades and was buried in Trim in the Dominican monastery that he founded. The strange things he would have seen. The strange times he lived in and what he would think of his beloved friary if he returned now. I began to think about how people engage with heritage, how they try to recreate the past with material objects found in the present. I remembered a Jean Cocteau film from my DS106 course that was done in reverse. I remembered a more recent video which used the same technique. From what I could make out, they needed to be shot in one continuous sequence. So it would be quick. It had to be quick. Minutely planned, but quick. My cup of tea.


It was not as quick as I planned. It took three takes which is still pretty amazing considering we had torrential downpours and excited children descending on a site that is more used to the slow and steady scrape of trowels. The archeologists were very tolerant considering that it was their day. My real stroke of genius was bringing a director with me. I could manage the material and the digital aspects of the project but I would not have had the time or capacity to work with individuals in the way that Delphine from Oulala Productions was able to. That made a huge difference to the finished product.
Did it work? Only time will tell.

Digital Media Workshop

I am looking into creating digital media workshops for kids and have put together a few examples of the sort of finished products that I think would interest them. These examples were created with my own kids so I know they would work for 8-12 year olds. In the first one, myself and Zoe worked with a poem that she brought home from school. She searched through the images on Storybird until she found the ones that matched the poem. This was in our pre-audio era so it was just done as an exercise in matching images with text. She placed the images onto the storyboard and then added the text herself. As far as digital literacy goes she had a number of different layout options to play with e.g. full-page images, right/left and top/bottom alignments.

With the next one, I added audio into the project. At the time, I recorded Zoe on a camera, ripped the audio off it, edited it on Audacity and then added it to the Storybird images in Windows Movie Maker. It was still a roundabout way of doing things but it was a learning process. I was learning how to use Audacity and also getting used to organising, moving and converting different files. I think these are the sort of digital skills that would help kids as they move into post-primary school.

The next time we used Zoes’ own pictures. This is called Narrated Art and it is a good way to get younger kids thinking about creating their own content and amplifying it. Again, it is about learning how to edit images on a timeline to match audio.

This radio show was recorded on a smart phone. It was created just as an example to show what could be done by an eight year old and a twelve year old. I didn’t even clean up the audio. With a project like this, you could have a group of kids brainstorm different sections for a radio show or class podcast, research their topics, write up a script, rehearse, select background audio, record the sections and add in bumpers just as if it was their own radio show. When this sort of digital project is combined with curriculum topics, I imagine it would be a good way of deepening the level of learning.
I did the editing and production myself, but I see no reason why it could not be taken onboard by young people who were enthusiastic about it.

It would be really helpful for me if I could get some feedback from any other information professionals/teachers out there about this sort of work.