Heart to Hart: Tanner Cook
Tanner Cook is a ridiculously talented designer who hails from Louisiana, USA.
He first caught my eye when I found his unique design project aptly titled "Fake Album Covers". This project is one of the low-key inspirations behind my personal "CCM Mashup" side project. Tanner successfully re-designs iconic album cover art from over the years, by either modernizing the artwork or simply giving it a different take while maintaining it's original design era.
He's a masterful designer and artist with an ultra-modernist aesthetic and a knack for realistic texture and grit.
I'm watching him closely to see where he goes, watch this space world -- this kid is going places. Mark my words.
Stephen: Tanner! Tell me about the time that you first realized/discovered that you were creative?
Tanner: Oh, man. I’m pretty sure I started drawing my first month out of the womb. I can remember, at different stages of my childhood, wanting to be a shoe designer for Nike, co-creating a comic series for my school newspaper with one of my friends, and genuinely believing I could one day have a career as a cartoonist. So, I’m not really sure if I ever had any singular moment where I “realized” I was a creative kid; it was sort of all I ever knew!
If you could say anything to that younger version of yourself, first starting out in your creative endeavors what would that be?
I guess I would tell myself to not give up on design. There was actually a time when I was around 19, first getting started as a graphic designer, where I had what I’ve come to call a “small existential crisis”. I immediately felt a sense of panic one day and thought “I cannot do this! I can’t sit down and make stuff every day! How am I going to keep coming up with ideas? Do I even LIKE doing this??”
Obviously, I did, in fact, come to love it, as I do sit down every day and somehow manage to keep coming up with stuff.
Calm down, young Tanner. You’ll make it.
Do you believe that as designers our job is to create art or to solve problems?
That’s an interesting question because I think that in most (if not all) cases, the answer is both! However, I will say that some projects do lean a little further towards the “making art” side of the spectrum, and some lean further towards the “problem solving” side. I think that both skills are probably the most important skills a designer needs to have, and I definitely don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.
A great designer knows how to make something that will evoke a reaction out of anyone who sees it, and also knows how to get inventive and solve their client’s problems in a way that the average person wouldn’t.
In your opinion, what's been your worst creative failure?
My worst failures were pretty much anything before the year 2017...
Hahahaha. Oh man. I can relate. Don't even get me started on anything I did pre 2010.
What project/design are you most proud of in your life?
I’d like to think the biggest accomplishment of my career as a designer has been taking on the role of lead designer of "Because of the Times Conference" at my home church for the last 3 consecutive years; more specifically, this year’s conference, the theme for which was “Linked”. It’s really a crazy thing because thousands of ministers from all over North America (and even some from overseas) come to a city of less than 50,000 for our conference. I think God definitely has a sense of humor; why else would he pick central Louisiana to be the location for such a huge event?
Anyway, I’m most proud of the work I did at this year’s conference because I think it’s some of my best work I’ve done thus far in my life, and also because I had to make all of the design elements for the conference work across all different kinds of mediums. I designed a booklet, made all the social media graphics, designed the graphics for screens in the sanctuary, designed all the signage… You get it. I’m proud of this project the most because, in the end, I was able to prove to myself that I could handle all the work that it entailed.
Who are the artists, designers, creatives that you admire/look up to (and why)?
Man, I could talk about this all day. I’ll try not to go on for too long. There are design giants like Saul Bass, Paula Scher and Michael Beirut, and then slightly lesser known ones like Reid Miles (google him right now - he designed pretty much all the album covers for Blue Note Records in the 50s & 60s; probably my favorite designer ever).
Some more modern designers I admire (that you should follow on Instagram right now) are Darren Oorloff and Ben Arfur from Australia, Bryan Rivera (who works with Post Malone), Jacob Boyles at Elevation Worship, my (internet) buddy David Navejas, and Mikey Joyce. I’ve also REALLY been into this guy named Caleb from Atlanta. His stuff is pretty weird. He’ll most likely never read this, though, so I think it’s safe for me to say that.
On your Instagram, you recently started a personal project of re-designing album covers for some of your favorite albums...tell me what inspired you to do that...and what your process looks like for each one?
Honestly, when I’m doing “just for fun” projects like that, I’m completely winging it. I may have a general idea in my head when I start, but I never really know how it’ll turn out. Usually, it’s the music on the album itself that inspires me to redesign an album cover. A lot of the time, I think “Hm, this album is incredible, and really deserves a better cover. I think I’ll take a whack at that.” That was the case with Aja by Steely Dan. Another thing that inspires me to redesign album covers is the fact that I love music and I love album covers!
As far as what my process looks like, I pretty much just stare at old album covers I like until something slaps me in the face with inspiration.
If you could work for anyone/any project what would be your dream project/person?
Well, album covers are my favorite design pieces to look at and to work on, so it would have to be designing an album cover for somebody really well-respected and well-known. I’m not really sure who that artist would be specifically, though, because most of my favorite musical artists are either deceased or just no longer making music; or at least no longer making good music, like Bob Dylan (sorry, Bobby). Maybe if Marvin Gaye came back from the dead and released a new album. Yeah, that’s my answer. That’s my dream project.
As you've so eloquently said, "I'm most passionate about making the gospel of Jesus Christ as appealing and welcoming as is possible through my work." Explain that philosophy to me, why is that important to you / how do you live that out?
I’m glad you mentioned that! I put that on my website because I want everyone who reads it to know that that’s why I was put on the earth. I’ve had the privilege of working at my home church for the past six years, and in every project I’ve worked on, the end goal is for someone to look at what I’ve done and say “Wow, this church looks welcoming, and it also looks kind of cool, too. I think I’ll visit it some time.”
Let’s face it, as soon as you visit a church’s Instagram page or website and see a bunch of clip art and papyrus, the thought of visiting said church becomes less appealing. When your visuals aren’t put together very well, it sort of subconsciously makes people think that your organization itself isn’t put together very well. That’s why design is so important; it makes the gospel of Jesus Christ more appealing to newcomers.
As a designer and a Christian, what are your thoughts on the current Christian design scene...what do you think christians are doing right, what do you think we're doing wrong/could be doing better?
I think the Christian design scene is definitely stronger than it’s ever been. However, one thing that I think a lot of Christian designers are doing wrong is only drawing inspiration from other Christian designers, and from big name churches. It’s easy to get on Instagram and just follow CRTVCHURCH and Pro Church Media, Elevation and Vous Church, but there’s SO much more to be seen! After a while, it all sort of starts to look the same and you need to look at something fresh and new. Drawing inspiration from people and things that are outside of your normal circle of influence is a great way to keep yourself from getting stuck in a rut.
Speaking to the next generation of designers coming up alongside you, what advice would you give them?
A piece of advice I’d give to any young designer is this: stick to your own style, and the right opportunities will come. God gave you your style and way of thinking, not someone else's! Don’t do what you think is safe. Don’t do what you think will give you more opportunities or make you the most money.
There was a time when I was just starting out in the world of freelance, when I didn’t really know what to post on Instagram to attract clients. I thought that the best thing for me to do was to try and get clients the way I was seeing other Christian designers doing so: offer social media packages, branding packages, and sermon series packages. I thought I should post more safe and less “edgy” stuff because that would attract more clients. However, I’m glad I ultimately just decided to be myself and create and post things that come naturally to me.
I was true to myself, I trusted God with my future, and the right opportunities came.
Outside of your creativity, how do you stay connected with the Lord? What's your daily time with the Lord look like?
I’m a weird person who prays and reads his Bible at night instead of in the morning. It’s really the only way I can go to sleep peacefully! It’s also the only time of day when I have a consecutive hour or two of uninterrupted free time; so it works out pretty well. Other than that, of course, I pray several times throughout the day for the Lord to help me meet deadlines.
What's your favorite font?
Helvetica. Without a doubt. The most flawless, versatile, timeless typeface of all time, no contest. It works anywhere with anything. Not to mention, it’s the only font that any non-designer can name. The Michael Jordan of fonts.
Favorite design trend?
Not really sure if you can call this a “trend”, because I feel like this concept has been around in some way, shape or form for quite a while - but I love when digital designs look physical. Making something look like an old sticker is on it, artificial print defects, worn paper textures, etc.
What's on the horizon for you? What are you currently dreaming about/doing?
All I’m really concerned about right now is getting married in a little over a week. Beyond that, I’m down for anything. I haven’t planned or foreseen any of the opportunities that have presented themselves to me in the last couple of months, and I think that’s just how it should be. God has been surprising me a lot lately, and I don’t want to mess that up by over-planning!
However, I wouldn’t mind doing some work for some more musical artists! If you can’t tell, I like working with those guys.