Quicksand is one of my favorite bands from the 90′s, as anyone who was familiar with them at the time would probably say. They came out of the NY hardcore scene and were one of those word-of-mouth bands that got passed around on mix tapes and got played on the local record store stereo where no accompanying CD was actually available to purchase. I saw them live a few times, always opening for a bigger act that was neither as cool nor present in my current record collection. (Unrelated: I coveted my radio-dubbed version of Slint’s Spiderland on cassette for three years without even knowing who the band was. I miss the mystery of finding new music.)
Fast forward to now, where we find Walter Schreifels and company hitting stages again for a romp down memory lane. Their music has aged incredibly well, and I can’t wait to see it live again. And to top it off, they have called upon illustrator Melinda Beck to create a tour poster (pictured above) to mark the occasion.
Melinda is a seasoned illustrator, also from New York, who did the cover for Quicksand’s last record Manic Compression in 1995. I’ve always thought it one of the coolest album covers from that time, and now that I work in this field I have an even deeper appreciation for the piece, and for Melinda’s work as a whole. She’s done a bit of everything, including traditional illustration, animation, lettering and more, which you can and must see at her portfolio site.
I rang Melinda to see how she was making out with the tour poster, and she was happy to chat about her working process.
Kevin: So how did you first start working with Quicksand?
Melinda: My husband (illustrator Jordin Isip) and I met at RISD, and he is from Queens. He knew them from the hardcore scene in New York. I actually first did something for this hardcore compilation that this guy Sam put out around 1990, and Walter saw it. I did stuff for (Walter’s pre-Quicksand band) Moondog, and I’ve been doing stuff for Walter ever since.
I always loved your album art for Manic Compression. It’s nice to see them resurface with you along for the ride again. Did they give you any direction for this new tour poster?
No, Walter is always like “Do something cool,” which is fine with me!
Did you have an idea up front or did you work through the idea in sketches?
I always work my ideas through, I spend hours sketching. I’ve got my sketchbook out, I’m searching the web for anything to influence me, looking through art books. I kind of had a set idea with this one, but I tried the head on a bug, on different things, tried variations of things.
Even if i think it’s a good idea, it could be so much better with just a slight change or two. So it’s worth sitting down spending hours sketching. I teach, and I always have students going “Here’s my (one) sketch…,” and I say “don’t do that!”
I like how the poster relates to the previous record cover, with the scratchboard style and odd figure.
I haven’t done scratchboard in a long time, I gave it up about 10-15 years ago to move into other media. The company in England that made the scratchboards stopped making them for a long time so that’s part of the reason I quit too.
Wow, that must have been interesting to go back to after such a long time.
Yeah, all of my tools were completely dull, so I’m really glad that I went and ordered new ones! I gave it up because I was so particular about this one brand of scratchboard – I was so nitpicky about it, like I would never use any other brand. And the company was bought out and started making this really cheap version. I was like “That’s it I’m done with that.” Fortunately they make the thick clayboard again but I won’t do it unless I can get the kind of line quality that I want.
Does it take longer to execute in this style than some of the others that you do?
Yeah. Actually my silhouette style is even more time-consuming but this is a close second.
Well, I guess if you want to make good work you have to spend the time, right?
Heh, yeah it does seem to work that way.
The lettering has a great handmade feel and really works well with the image.
I actually went to school for graphic design, so I’m really into type. But I also love to draw, which is how I ended up in illustration after doing graphic design for a while. I like when the image and the type feed off each other, working together as a unit.
I think the handmade aesthetic adds something to the whole.
Yeah, with something like Quicksand I can be a little more abstract with the type. It doesn’t have to be super legible like something for, say, a corporation. So I’m free to do whatever I want with it, even make it more image than type.
The other thing I was noticing was in your sketches you roughed out the fork and the spoon, and though stuff like that can be easily made digitally now you cut it out of paper anyway.
You don’t get the same look. There’s a certain way the curve has little points in it and it’s got this roughness. If I did it in Illustrator it would never look like that. I like the convenience of using a computer but don’t want it to look like a mish-mosh of computer and handmade. I cut it out in paper so I can get a certain immediacy to the look, it’s worth the extra effort.
Right. The extra ten minutes may really make the piece.
Yeah, It’s very much about the details. I may do something five different ways and pick the one that looks the best. I obsess over every detail. Especially on an image this simple and bold, every detail counts. Even the little strings that attach the type.
You have a few different styles that you work in. How did that develop over time?
Yeah, what happens is I take a style and I change a little and change a little, and before I know it, it’s become a completely different style. So what you may see on my site are the highlights and not the stuff in the middle that changed in between. They tend to look like totally different styles but each of them grew out of each other. I’ve been doing this since 1990 so I’ve had 23 years to abuse myself, and if I did the same thing for that long I’d probably be really bored!
Heh, I’d imagine so. So then do art directors hire you based on a specific look?
Well, when you’re communicating an idea you have composition, you have subject matter, color, and each style is another one of those tools I can use. So when I can pick the style I use one that’s related to what the idea is. Like Quicksand, it’s kind of rough, very aggressive; that’s why I did this style for this piece.
Some art directors have things in mind before they call me and usually they do the same thing, picking a style that matches the article. It allows me to do more of a range of illustrations and I don’t feel like I’m ever torturing a style into something it doesn’t fit in, like I’m not trying to make the aggressive thing look happy and relaxed. I’d just use a different style for that.
It looks like you really have fun doing this, it shows in the work.
Yeah, when I’m not having fun doing a project I feel like it totally shows. Of course there are some times when I work really hard on a project and get frustrated, but if it’s a project and I’m not having fun, I guarantee it will not be as good an outcome.
It seems like such an obvious thing, that we should enjoy the work, but it’s always there.
I know, and sometimes when there is a tight deadline or a really big client I have to kind of put that out of my mind and just focus on making it look good and not freak out. Because when you freak out and panic it’ll turn out stiff.
Well, your work is great, always interesting and quite inspiring. I’m looking forward to getting a Quicksand print at the show. Thanks for taking the time to chat, I really appreciate it!