OUSS guest blog

We have an exciting new blog by Alison Hansen on her creation of the cover of Exits and Entrances featuring Dame Judi Dench and her brother Jeffery Dench amongst others. Scroll down for the full story and a picture of the beautiful cover she created.

The creation of the album art for spoken word Shakespeare album Exits and Entrances

We spoke to British illustrator Alison Hansen about her experience illustrating the Shakespeare written word album Exits and Entrances featuring Dame Judi Dench and David Suchet CBE. Alison explained to us in detail the illustrative process and interesting story behind the creation of this eye-catching album cover. To celebrate the five year anniversary of the album we show how Alison created the colourful and original cover art.

I work as a freelance illustrator mainly in the areas of fashion and beauty. In 2012 I got a phone call out of the blue from record producer Michael Ritson asking if I could create the cover art for a Shakespeare spoken word album called Exits and Entrances. The album featured Dame Judi Dench along with her brother Jeffery Dench. Actors David Suchet , (well-known in the role of Poirot) and Emilia Fox also featured on the album. All of the music on the album had been created especially by composer Jackie Williams. I was extremely excited to get involved with the creation of the album cover as I have always been a long-time fan of Dame Judi, first watching her as a child in TV sitcoms such as A Fine Romance and later seeing her in such films as Shakespeare in Love, Pride and Prejudice and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Michael and I talked on the phone about his ideas for the album cover, and he essentially was interested in the idea of having an artwork that was part photographic and part illustration. We talked about the artist Peter Blake and his album cover for The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The artwork of Terry Gilliam for Monty Python also inspired us a lot. Michael was keen to have the two main actors, Dame Judi and David Suchet sitting on a stage wearing Shakespearean costumes. I drafted up a very rough pencil sketch for Michael and sent that off to him. He liked the sketch immediately and it was full steam ahead to create the finished artwork.

Monty Pythons Flying Circus covers

The Beatles Sgt Pepper album cover

Original sketch for Exits and Entrances by Alison Hansen

Illustrating the final album cover

Once Michael had agreed to the initial sketch, I set about completing the final artwork. For the background stage and curtains, we talked a lot about what colour curtains to have as this would set the tone for the whole album cover. We settled on a deep purple, but after the first peek at what the cover looked like with purple curtains, we decided to tweak the curtains to be a much more traditional dark red. In hindsight the red colour choice worked much better and evokes a much more traditional theatrical image. Thank goodness for the editorial powers of Photoshop! We decided to include such iconic Shakespearean items as the skull from Hamlet, a scroll and a dagger. Of course we wanted a lovely bouquet of roses for Dame Judi and we thought it would be a nice touch to scatter some of the rose petals onto the floor. All of the stage setting was created digitally in Photoshop. For the title of the album, I came up with the idea of having an actual exit sign and an actual entrance sign. Michael really liked this idea and so I set about creating those, again in Photoshop. I think it’s a really clever touch using actual signage instead of just using traditional fonts. It also adds to the collage effect that we had been striving to achieve from our original inspiration. Of course we had to include a quill and ink splats with Shakespeare’s name featured on an old fashioned scroll.

Drawing Dame Judi and David Suchet

For the two central characters, we recalled our inspiration from artist Peter Blake and decided to stick with the original photographic heads. So we cropped around the heads and manipulated them to have the right grainy, vintage collage effect. Now it was time to add the bodies. Michael really wanted hand drawn bodies and we talked about the best Shakespearean costumes to use. We loved the idea of Dame Judi wearing the costume of Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was delightful in the research to come across old photos of Dame Judi actually dressed in the costume for this role. Michael liked the idea of dressing David Suchet in the costume from Richard III. I set about drawing up the costumes, but I had to completely re-draw them as I was not pleased with how they first turned out. The second time around I was pleased with how they looked, and I really liked the way the illustrated bodies looked with the photographic heads.

Finding out what Dame Judi thought of the album cover

Once the album artwork was finalised, it quickly went into production. Everyone was very pleased with how the final illustration had turned out. We had a small launch party at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford Upon Avon in June of 2012. Dame Judi and her brother Jeffery came to the launch party and I enjoyed talking to them about the album and the creation of the cover. They very kindly signed my copy of the album which I now treasure. Dame Judi even apologised for writing all over the creation! This year is the fifth anniversary of the release of the album and I have such fond memories of collaborating with Michael Ritson to create the original and iconic cover for Exits and Entrances. The album is on sale on i Tunes, Amazon and at the RSC’s online shop.

Album cover for Exits and Entrances by Alison Hansen

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