Behind the Artwork: Bright Ones

Behind the Artwork: Bright Ones's been a long time coming, but here we are! The artwork is released and this new project is officially available for purchase and to stream on all platforms!

Honestly, this project has been a massive undertaking, not just in terms of design, but in all aspects of production from ideation to execution. Our whole team (marketing, design, project co-ordinators, stakeholders) have really been put through the fire on this wonderful, crazy journey! To see this album released, done and dusted, is nothing short of a miracle.

I'm thrilled to write this blog, explaining the art (and the heart behind the art) because it's been a difficult journey but one where the Lord has remained close throughout, calling me to lean further into Him in times of frustration or disappointment. That sounds hugely dramatic - which I've been known to be - having said that, read on and put yourself in my shoes and see!

This project officially kicked off in June/July 2017, but it didn't really land on my desk as a finalised project until September/October 2017. In those 3 months from June to September our team (from Senior Leadership down to us) were still trying to land the naming and narrative of this whole project.

The biggest problem we had to try and solve was how to transition these kids from "Bethel Music Kids" - a very young "Kidz Bop" style vocal group - to the "Bright Ones" - a now teen-aged group of vocalists and talented musicians, singing about and dealing with different issues than their previous effort.

Those 3 months were spent in focus groups with kids, teens, parents, staff, you name it - trying to dial in this narrative and trying to land a name that would suffice and hold the tension between "Bethel Music Kids" and their now teenage counterparts. Many fantastic names were thrown around - some that I personally wish we could've kept, but for one reason or another they were over turned or proved ineffective.

After the focus groups and leadership meetings, "Bright Ones" was chosen for the name and I began to start brainstorming ideas and mood-boards for the album artwork and messaging.

Initial art direction and concepts for the artwork of "Bright Ones" - note some of the original concepts use our first album title "The Youth Album".

Looking back over my files now, I made 150+ album cover concepts (a conservative estimate), that were tested and once again put before focus groups to see what resounded. From these tests and meetings, the art direction had 3-5 serious pivots - resulting in lots of iterations and further exploration of each concept.

Once the final art direction was decided (after 4-6 weeks of iterations and meetings), I began to layout the album booklet and establish a visual language for the rollout of this new brand. It needed to be something iconic and fun, yet decidedly edgier but age-appropriate for this now teenage target audience.

For a long time, our art direction and visual narrative was centered around a 70s theme as a nod to iconic musicals and movies such as "Grease" and "Fame". Obviously our "Bright Ones" record hasn't even a trace of sensuality or scandal, so the design was relying heavily on the 70s typography and bright colors to communicate that essence of familiarity and nostalgic musical experience.

Final art direction for "Bright Ones" (at the time).

I have to note that while the cover above was chosen by the team and stakeholders to define the art direction, I personally didn't like the cover - it was a concept that I was playing around with, exploring what a 70s aesthetic could look like...but I didn't really think it worked. However, I was outvoted, and that's okay.

In the process of creativity, it's important to allow your voice to be heard, fight for your ideas and your vision, but be prepared to submit to those in authority over you joyfully; to take up the challenge of discovering what it looks like to give 110% to a project that you may feel disconnected from.

So with that outlook, I set my heart in alignment with the leadership and charged ahead to create all the packaging and promotional assets that this album would require. It was in this process that me and Lindsey (Creative Director) decided that we needed to change the artwork - or at the very least make sure that our concerns were heard.

As this album is the "soundtrack" to an upcoming "Bright Ones" film, part of the brief was making sure that the album cover in some way represented the vision and essence of the film (a Christian "High School Musical" if you will). The more that the film progressed and finished production, I realised that this 70s aesthetic wasn't going to cut it - it just didn't make sense with a film set in the present day, heavily relying on the 2010's Insta-culture.

So at Lindsey's suggestion, I went back to the drawing board and re-visited a bunch of the original designs to see if anything fit the mold better now. As it turned out, we got really inspired again and tweaked some of the original designs to create a bunch of new concepts to present to our leadership team.

Some of the concepts from my new art direction direction for "Bright Ones".

As you can see from these concepts, I was still loving the strong pops of color, just not in the form of 70s stripes! I've always loved the tall / condensed font "Knockout" and I've wanted a project to utilise it on - "Bright Ones" became said project. One of my favorite concepts is the 6th one (above) with the giant mouth. To me it symbolised the power of declaration, song, joy, laughter, smiling etc, however on further analysis and focus-group feedback - it ended up being too suggestive of a more adult connotation, which really bummed me out, but I understand!

Final artwork for "Bright Ones".  Jewel Case packaging (TOP), Example spread from the album booklet (BOTTOM).

After a few rounds of revision and more feedback, we finally landed the final artwork that you see today! It was a much longer process than I thought initially but it turned out to be one of my covers ever. I loved the challenge of designing for a generation that's not my own, taking so many different opinions from more generations that weren't my own, and creating a brand and visual language that truly represented the life, joy, freedom, and pop sound of this fantastic album!

If you're currently working on a project where you feel you can't win, or you're faced with too many opinions and "cooks in the kitchen", I bless you with the testimony of this project - you will get there, His Spirit is moving in your situation / project and is bringing you the most incredible creative solutions!

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Creative Direction: Lindsey Strand and Baltazar Pazos
Art Direction and Design: Stephen James Hart
Video Direction: Bommy Kwon
Motion Graphics: Jonathan (Mendo) Mendoza

Heart to Hart: Chris Perry

Heart to Hart: Chris Perry

Heart to Hart: Taylor Ostrom

Heart to Hart: Taylor Ostrom