The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

June 4, 2014

Local graphic designer recreates vintage album covers for national music industry

Beckley Rotary Club featured speaker

BECKLEY — Writer and freelance graphic designer John Sellards served as the featured speaker of Beckley Rotary Club’s Tuesday meeting, during which he gave the audience valuable advice on how to succeed at pursuing one’s dreams from a small-town setting.

A lifelong Beckleyan, Sellards works out of his home and has clients seeking his services from all over the world. He is currently working primarily in the music industry for Sony Music, Time Life and other entertainment companies.

Sellards specializes in recreating vinyl album covers for musicians, most notably including Jimi Hendrix, The Everly Brothers, Ann Margret and many others. Recent projects have included Roy Orbison: The Monument Vinyl Box, a collection of four LPs of the singer’s work, and the upcoming James Brown: Love Power Peace, a first issue of a 1971 record set of Brown’s famed live act.

“Many years ago I accrued some connections ... and I began to pursue doing some design work in the music field because of my love of music,” said Sellards.

In 2000, Sellards did his first nationally released CD jacket, which was Percy Faith & His Orchestra, which led to Sellards slowly getting more and more design gigs.

At the time, he was working as the director of creative services of Mountain State University, which he eventually left in 2011 to pursue freelance work full time.

Sellards was initially unsure of the feasibility of depending on freelance design as his sole profession, but with his wife’s encouragement, ultimately decided to take the leap.

“Luckily, I’ve been able to turn the connections that I had into a career working here, in a place where I grew up,” said Sellards. “You just have to find ways to make it work, but there’s always a way.”

Sellards uses Adobe’s Creative Suite software for his design work, but he insists that he’s not an artist. Rather, he tells companies up front what he can and can’t do, but his specializations include album cover restoration, typeface recreation and black and white photo colorization.

“We get scans of original artwork and the pieces that they used to create the original albums no longer exist, so there’s a huge component of what I do that’s restoration,” said Sellards.

That process includes taking the original album, redrawing lines one by one and cleaning up the overall look of the album art, said Sellards.

“Typically, I’m kind of given free reign to do whatever I see that will make the most enticing package, especially for people walking through stores,” said Sellards.

When designing album art for re-release, Sellards occasionally colorizes black and white photos to give album covers a bigger visual punch, which he said can essentially be like a guessing game.

“It’s really challenging,” said Sellards, adding that the process most often entails him looking at the photo, referencing the look and feel of the time and emulating the style to the best of his ability.

Sellards gets inspiration from a huge vintage record and magazine collection at his house, which is where he looks to find direction and feel for projects from other eras, he said.

‘That’s something I really strive to stay true to, is that whatever you see resonates with whatever the era of the recordings are,” said Sellards.

Probably among Sellards’ most prestigious projects was a color transformation of a black and white photo of Jimi Hendrix, which he was hired to do by the Jimi Hendrix estate “Experience Hendrix.”

“I have worked to find a niche in which I can make a living, and especially here in Beckley, I think that’s very important, because I tend to think that’s the way of the future for people here in Beckley, especially small business owners,” said Sellards.

If you ask Sellards what his niche is, he’ll tell you it’s typography.

“I recreate old type ... (because) you can’t buy them; you can’t go online anywhere and purchase this typeface,” said Sellards, explaining that the typeface is very critical when recreating vintage album covers.

“It gives me a little extra edge in the work that I do, and quite honestly it’s through typography that I’ve been able to work with clients like Sony ... because these are just things that nobody else has to work with,” said Sellards.

“That’s kind of, to me, the answer. You have to see what’s missing in the market that you’re trying to work with and learn how to fill that need.”

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com

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