My CD Cover Art: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Hours of Preparation.

As most of you have probably seen and heard, I have a new album out – as of today actually. Monday, July 16th, 2012 *insert happy dance*.

This album took me roughly four years to complete.  I’d like to think it’s sort of like being pregnant for 4 years and finally giving birth to this amazing baby that I can’t wait to share with the world and shout “Look what I made!! See, look – isn’t it just so grand?? You know you think so.”

Of course every mother thinks their children are the most beautiful and amazing children – and so naturally that is how I feel about this baby.

And I can make that analogy because I am a mother of two and that is a big reason why it has taken me four years to complete this album.  Things. Just. Take. Longer.  And I’m okay with that.

Let’s talk about the cover photo

If you haven’t already seen the cover for my new album Illumination, here it is…

Yes that is me standing next to a 100 year old antique player grand at the historic Paramount Theater in downtown Seattle, but I must say the real credit to this photo goes to the two guys who made it what it is:  My dad, Ron Southworth, was the photographer, and Ryan K. McNeal was the graphic artist that designed the cover.

If you’re thinking Ryan’s name sounds familiar, then no you’re not dreaming.  Ryan K McNeal wrote and directed the short film Minuet for which I composed the original score for (which won the Park City Film Music Festival Gold Medal of Excellence for Original Music in a Short Film).  He is also a talented artist, graphic artist, photographer, playwright, the list goes on and on…

And Ryan also happened to win my Cover Art Design Contest.  But before I tell you more about Ryan, let’s talk about the cover and how it was achieved.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Hours…

With all of the people involved, I don’t think the culmination of 1,000 hours is too far-fetched.

First, the location:  How did we get so lucky to be able to shoot inside the historic Paramount Theater?

Last fall, as I was dreaming up album design concepts, I came across this Dior perfume ad:

Being the girly girl that I am, I just loved this whole concept – with the lighting, the gaudy chandeliers, Charleze’s amazing sparkly dress and the way it moved, and then the light coming in from behind her.

I wanted this. All of it. But my own version of it – of course.

But being that Dior shot this ad at Versailles, France on probably a pretty nice budget – obviously I was going to have to get a little more creative.

So I started brainstorming and looking into venues within my home town of Seattle that had rooms similar to the Dior ad. I was thinking ballrooms, big reception centers, antique homes, etc. And on top of this – it had to be somewhere that also had a grand piano (not having a piano in the picture on my first album has brought up WAY too many “So you’re a singer” comments over the years).

My first idea was the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle. I spent weeks communicating with the events coordinator – explaining what I wanted to do, what would be involved, making sure they had a piano, and getting them to be on board with cooperating with me.  It seemed like a rather perfect venue…as you can see from the photos below.

Perfect, that is until they gave me their price tag, which I could probably by myself a used car for.

Obviously my budget was much, much smaller than that.

So weeks of research and brown-nosing went to waste, and I had to start over.  I did find a few other venues, but again, the rental fees were beyond what I was able to pay for this.

And then I stumbled across the Paramount Theater.  I’d been there for a couple of different plays I’ve attended, but had forgotten how beautiful and ornate the lobby and theater were.

This last photo (above) really captured my interest because of the 9 foot grand piano to the right of the bottom of the stairs.

I contacted the Paramount, and it seemed to take a couple of months before I actually got a reply back from someone there (which is why I am always trying to think way way ahead of schedule for things).  But I was persistent, and once I finally made contact – I found their events coordinator, Debra, to be kind and easy to work with.

Eventually, I made an appointment to come down to the theater to check it out and talk with them.  So my dad and I went down and met with the Debra, and spent about an hour walking around the theater taking test shots and checking out the place.

 I thought it was simply beautiful – and so incredibly perfect for the vision I had in my mind of what I wanted my photos to look like.

I got VERY excited.

And then I got very nervous.

I already knew it would probably not be within my budget given all the research I’d done on other venues.  But it didn’t hurt to ask.

After our tour of the theater, we met up with the events coordinator to talk and the big question was asked “How much would you charge us?”.  I’m not sure if God was smiling down at me that day or if this woman was in an incredibly generous mood, but I got lucky.  Her answer was, “Well, since you are an independent artist and not some big corporation or media event, I think we could probably do this on trade. You can take your photos here, and you come perform at one of our events sometime to even it out.”

*jaw drops*

You need not ask me twice.  It was a double opportunity!

So I left the theater that day on cloud nine.  I could not stop smiling for the next few hours, or stop bouncing off of the walls.  To get an incredible venue like this on trade was just simply a miracle in my book.

So it never hurts to ask, people.  Never hurts to ask.

The Dress

My next big hurdle was figuring out what to wear for my photo shoot.  If you are anything like my husband, then you pick something out of your closet that you already own and you wear it.

But if you know me, you know I am a bit more detail-oriented than that and usually have very specific ideas in my mind of what I want. And it always involves some sort of shopping 🙂

I had originally ordered a white gown with beautiful jewels on the sleeve, but it just wasn’t fitting right on me and I wasn’t feeling comfortable in it.  So I looked around and stumbled across this photo of actress Blake Lively:

This dress was pretty far from the style I normally like, but it really struck me.  I just loved it.  So I started Googling this dress trying to find out who made it and where I could find it, or one similar to it.

I did find it from a dressmaker, but when it arrived it was unfortunately completely different than what I expected.  I was really really disappointed.

So then I did what I just should have done in the first place – which was to ask my mother-in-law to make me the dress.  She is an amazing seamstress who has sewn wedding dresses for over 20 years and I knew she was more than capable.

Lots more hours went into finding the material, the right color, and alas – the lace!  It’s embarrassing how much time I spent online searching for the right lace.  I can now say though, that I have a vast knowledge of lace and it’s different styles, types, and qualities.

The lace on the bodice of the dress I found in a teeny-tiny little sewing shop on Queen Anne Hill in downtown Seattle. It was vintage French lace ($180 per yard!) and I snatched up the very last piece of  it. The lady there warned me that I might not be able to find more lace to match since the ivory color of this vintage lace was a bit darker than typical ivory.  However, after more hours of searching, I found a seller on Etsy selling an exact match of the lace – which took almost 5 yards of it to complete all of the lace around the trim of the dress.

I was very happy with out it turned out…


Another person who spent hours and hours helping me with this Cd cover was my dear friend, Noelle Jensen.  She is an amazing makeup artist, and also does styling.  She drove 4 hours to come help me out with my shoot – and coordinated all of my jewelry, hair, makeup, and even the poses for the photos. I honestly couldn’t have done this without her!

The Photo Shoot

Once all of these things were in place, we were ready to shoot. The entire Paramount Theater shoot took about 5 hours, and again we were just so grateful to have the time at the theater to do this. The staff was more than accomodating.

The antique player piano that we ended up choosing to use for the shoot (instead of the black 9 foot grand), was HEAVY. It took 3 to 4 people to lift it and move it just 3 inches.  I felt very fortunate to have such a beautiful piano in the photos. Apparently it is owned by a Seattle resident who has allowed it to be featured at the theater for years, but no one is ever allowed to touch it.  Except me….ha ha.

Last but not least…

The Cover Design by Ryan McNeal

This is really the amazing part about this whole process.  I don’t know that people really know what all goes into the editing of photos to create that “magic” in the final version.

Here is the original cover photo from the camera, original coloring and all.

You should know that the lighting in this photo is coming from the wall sconces, the chandeliers behind me, two soft box lights in front of me, and a spotlight behind me on the floor (my mom is actually under the piano holding it and shining it up at me).  That is why you get a faint “glow” effect around my hair, and along the piano lid, and also through the sheer sleeve of my dress.

When I gave the photo to Ryan to work on, we went through several drafts and options.

Draft 1.0 – the lighting was coming from above my head with a little lense flare.  Nice, but not a realistic approach, because it makes one wonder then where is the light behind my sleeve coming from?

Draft 2.3 (each .point something is a draft, so you can see we are already onto many many revisions) – This is where we started getting the light source more of where it should be coming from.  We wanted me to have an illuminated effect, obviously because the title of the album is Illumination, but wanted to be sure it looked like the light sources were directionally correct.

Draft 3.1 – Still tweaking the “illuminated” effect around my hair, and trying out different fonts and effects for the lettering.

Draft 6.1 – Playing around with the colorization, contrast, etc.  Also tried a lense flare (which we didn’t like and took out later), as well as the font, size, spacing of the title and where it should go.

FINAL DRAFT:  And here is the final draft, which we used for the cover (this was draft 7.1).  This is uncropped.  Now compare this to the original, and let’s see how many differences you can name…

I really love the vignette that was adding (the shading around the edges). I also love how the colorization of the photo really brings out some contrasting in my hair. I love the lighting coming through my sleeve  and up behind my head.  I think it all turned out so well.  And the font and swirls were just perfect as well.

Ryan – thank you. You spent a lot of time on this, and your hard work is so obvious. It’s beautiful.

More about Ryan…

Now if you’re wanting to know more about Ryan, I asked him some questions and he so kindly took the time to reply to them.  Here they are…

  1. What is it you do?  Do you work, or go to school?
    I currently intern for the Producer’s Guild of America (PGA) and Jennifer Lopez Enterprises (JLE).  I am pursuing a career in filmmaking, and ideally I would like to write and direct feature films.  I’m also an artist and pursue oil painting, digital painting, 3D animation, photography, and graphic design.
  2. What is your specialty, or what do you love to do?My specialty is storytelling.  For all of the mediums that I work in, it is my common motivation to create art pieces that communicate beyond simple images.
  3. What are your goals for your future?My goal for the future is to write and direct meaningful stories that have a resounding impact on my audience.
  4. What would you say is a project that you are most proud of?The project I am most proud of is actually my wedding.  I designed everything, from the wedding invitations to the table centerpieces.  Of everything that I’ve done, it turned out the most true to how I had envisioned it.  I wanted to have amazing invitations, for instance.  And so, I handcrafted the invitations, including the envelopes, designing all of the included elements myself (tickets, direction cards, etc.).  I even individually crafted the typography for every guest’s name on the outer envelope.  I am big into presentation, and the invitation would be the first thing our guests would see – it would set the tone for what kind of wedding my wife and I were having.
  5. Top 5 things on your bucket list?The top 5 things on my bucket list are:  travel through Asia, direct an award-winning feature film, write a novel, build a sailboat, and own a top-end Apple computer.
  6. If you could meet anyone, who would it be and why?If I could meet anyone, I would want to meet J.K. Rowling.  Jo Rowling’s books, for me, have been a keystone in my life. They came to me at a time when I had no one and became my closest companion. I read them regularly and often relive the halls of Hogwarts in my mind’s eye with Pensieve-like clarity. Thanks to Rowling, I have walked those halls, I have been down the third-floor corridor, won the triwizard cup, and even had courage in the face of pure evil.  (Before he died, I would have also loved to meet Steve Jobs, who became an inspiration to me while I was in college).
  7. Favorite dessert?My favorite dessert is apple dumplings.Ryan’s Bio


    Ryan’s childhood was spent in many different places until he graduated from Evansville High School (Evansville, WI) in 2008.  He then attended Columbia College Chicago (Chicago, IL) to pursue a BA in Film and Video, which he received in 2012.  His passion for art is what led him to film, which he believes to be a combination of elements from nearly every other art form.  Ryan pursues every art he can find time for, and is highly interested in using his artistic skills to create and enhance compelling stories.

    Ryan is available for hire. Due to his busy schedule, he may be unavailable for hire at certain times. If you are interested in hiring Ryan, contact him.


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