How to design a record cover in 1977

The stages of creating the sleeve for 10cc’s Deceptive Bends were slightly more involved than many others because the artwork was rather complicated, writes Storm Thorgerson. The stages were as follows: Commission; Brief – first meeting with the band; Roughs – second meeting with the band; Shooting; Artwork; Finishing.


When 10cc were signed to Jonathan King’s UK Records, it was King, rather than the band, who came to us for Sheet Music, on the strength of our design of Houses Of The Holy for Led Zeppelin. By the time Deceptive Bends was being recorded, we knew 10cc and had created three previous sleeves for them. They rang us up and asked us to come round to listen to four songs that had been recorded and to chat about the design.


At the time (December ’76), 10cc had just split in half. Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman were continuing 10cc and the record was their first attempt alone. They felt that a positive, glamorous and romantic image was appropriate. They’d decided on the title, taken from some road signs on the way to their studio in Dorking. They played us Good Morning Judge and The Things We Do For Love, so it sounded not unlike the 10cc we had known. They had no specific notions of their own, either about the visuals or the packaging. There was serious talk about whether they should be on the front (the Americans had been pressing for this), but Eric and Graham reckoned it was too egocentric, especially as they had just lost half the band and a portrait hadn’t been a feature before. It didn’t seem worth pursuing. Apart from stressing the feeling of ‘upness’ and glamour, they just told us to get on with it.

Spreads from the Hipgnosis book featuring images from Deceptive Bends and Storm Thorgerson’s text


Coming up with ideas is often done in group discussion, as was the case with Presence and Wish You Were Here (both shown below). However, on the way home from the studio, the first night that I’d seen Eric and Graham, I got to thinking about Deceptive Bends as a phrase. Knowing their music, I began to free associate and make simple connections and deductions. I cast aside anything to do with bends and curves in roads as too obvious. As a richly textured musical outfit, 10cc were not wholly enamoured of the obvious. I rejected any ideas about deception – about deceiving the viewer, with things that were bent but looked straight – as idle trickery.

In the process of doing this, I thought of the other possible meanings of bends … and the bends of a diver came quickly to mind. And then, immediately, I thought of those diver’s suits from the 20s and 30s and how extraordinary they looked, not only for their shiny metal, grilles and circular mask but also for the whole ‘monster’ feeling that the suit evokes. You can’t see either the face or the body of the occupant. It wasn’t long before I felt that the ‘deception’ of Deceptive Bends referred to the person in the picture, not to the person looking at it. The diver is deceived by his bends. He is thrown into a state of self-deception. He fantasises and since the band wanted a positive, uplifting feeling, it had to be a nice fantasy – that he was emerging from the waters of the deep with a treasure. And rather than pecuniary treasure, why not a mermaid? He had rescued the girl of his dreams from a watery grave.

Privately, we see ourselves as heroes, rescuing our sweethearts from fires, earthquakes and any number of terrible fates. It was this mythic quality that appealed to me most. When I ‘saw’ it, I visualised it in a circular frame (like the diver’s mask). The border around it on the sleeve would be pretty and busy, rather than plain. But the central image had to be photographic, otherwise it would be too clichéd, too much like a hundred comic book covers we’ve all seen before.

During the next month, we had several meetings and came up with other possibilities. They were drawn out as pencil or paint roughs and taken back to 10cc. The second meeting with the client is fairly nerve-racking because if they don’t like anything we have to start over again. It’s paramount to do roughs clearly but not too thoroughly, for they might easily be rejected. Fortunately, Eric and Graham were very keen on the idea of the diver and they asked us how certain things might actually end up and what colours we had in mind. They removed the roughs they considered inappropriate until they were left with two, and then finally one. We hit a ticklish spot here because Eric wanted to change the jetty into a road. The debate about the road was just plain awkward, for about an hour. I personally couldn’t see it and felt that the image should look as real as possible since the concept was already pretty unlikely and needed to remain firmly as a self-deception. Divers rarely, if ever, walk up roads.

Spread from the Hipgnosis book showing sleeve design for Presence by Led Zeppelin, 1976
Spread showing cover art for Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, 1976


As far as the shooting of the cover was concerned, Deceptive Bends was relatively straightforward, though lengthy. We had decided to hire a studio especially rather than use our own, so that we would have enough space to set up lights, dress and make up models, organise diving apparatus and keep the boys happy and comfortable. At about 11 a.m., Peter picked up the diver and met with Po at the studio. The next hour or so was spent setting up the basic shooting configuration, grey backdrop and lighting. After a short argument, we settled on a large ‘fish fryer’ light pointing down and slightly forward behind the diver’s head and a smaller but stronger light in front and to the right of the camera. In the process of sorting this out, we usually take numerous Polaroid test shots to see what it looks like on paper. As a result of seeing these, in this case we added a couple of large white reflector boards to the left of camera to lighten up the shadows. This lighting set-up was used to shoot the diver with lady on the front of the sleeve.

Once the diver was in his suit, we discovered that, although he was no weakling, the suit was so heavy that he could only lift and hold the girl with a lot of difficulty. Since it usually takes ages preparing the camera, it was necessary to support the girl in some way. We rigged a bar just in front of him upon which to rest his arms. All the pictures were shot using a Hasselblad 2¼-in square-format camera. To give us more of a choice later on, we shot the front picture twice over, with different girls wearing different red and green dresses. Then the band arrived at about 3pm. After make-up, they donned the diver suits.

Then we photographed the diver in the background for the back sleeve. Here again we had to support the helmet from the roof because it was so heavy. It took a lot of time trying to make sure that for each different picture everything was exactly as we wanted it, from the basic camera angle down to how wet the girl’s legs were or whether the diver was getting steamed up inside the helmet – we finished the whole session at about 10.30pm in the evening.

The only other thing we needed to shoot was the jetty. This was done the following day next to Hammersmith Bridge. We had steps made up especially and attached to one corner, though since it was low tide they just went down into mud! Fortunately, the sun came out for just long enough for us to shoot.

Spread showing artwork for Deceptive Bends
Spread showing cover art for Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma, 1969


When all the transparencies came back from processing, there was a sigh of relief. There were then furious debates as to which pictures should actually be used. Using reversal prints, small-scale mock-ups of the finished thing were created to give us a better idea of how it would look. Eric and Graham popped in to select their own photos and to cast their votes on the front cover. By a lengthy process of elimination, we eventually chose the final pictures. It is often a compromise because one sees good points in one photograph that are simply missing from another. Primarily, we looked for a clearly ‘stepping forward’ pose for the diver and a good curved (deceptive bend) shape to the girl, so that she looked really limp. Of secondary importance was the way the girl’s dress fell, how her legs, shoulders and breasts looked and how her head hung. Lastly we examined the head of the diver, searching for one that looked toward the viewer. The sky and water were also separate shots, but taken from photo libraries.

Using black-and-white negative prints, which are prints taken from the transparencies, we montaged a finished composition, oversized in order to preserve the quality. At this point we arrived at the ‘terminal’ composition, which we could either ‘montage’ or strip in for the final.

Whereas montage involves gluing one or more prints over one another, a ‘strip-in’ does the same thing but by cutting the film, so that the end result has no edges. Transparencies are used to make dye-transfer prints. Firstly, a negative film is made and then a ‘matt’. Dye transfers are composed of red, yellow and blue only. The original negative films are ‘separated’ or reduced to a set of three films, each showing the image exactly the same size and one for each colour. These matts are soaked in the dyes (red, yellow or blue) and then rubbed down over the printing paper, one after the other, in the exact register. Combining the three matts on the single print renders the full colour image.

The big advantage of ‘strip-in’ dye transfers is that there are no edges, for the danger of montaged artwork is that the edges may leave fractional shadows. These shadows – which you can see on Ummagumma (above), for example – are not often desirable, for they interfere with clarity and ‘give away’ the techniques, perhaps destroying the ability of the viewer to temporarily suspend disbelief. They can also look scruffy. Wishbone Ash’s New England is an example of the deliberate inclusion of such shadows as part of the attempted pastiche. By using ‘strip ins’, the result, hopefully, looks like a single picture. Dye-transfer prints are quite often brighter and sharper than C-types because they are taken from transparencies. In addition, a colour negative has three layers of emulsion and is literally thicker than a transparency – when exposing onto a print, it is therefore marginally softer in focus.

When working with black and white, not only are the original prints sharper than colour but the whole business of photocopying is much simpler. Copying colour prints, even dye transfers, is a difficult business and the loss of focus, let alone uncontrollable colour variation, is usually great.

If we are combining prints, we desire to get them onto one level, one way or another. ‘Strip-in’, however, has the great disadvantage of being fixed – once the composition is decided, then that’s it, there is no more alteration to be done. Montage can be shuffled around and scrutinised endlessly, but ‘strip-in’ has a finality about it. It is also extremely costly.

Deceptive Bends required the strongest colour we could get and the best focus, so we used the stripped-in process. The stripped-in print was then re-touched to remove any marks from the matts. The completed picture was given the thumbs-up by 10cc. But the border remained a problem, mostly because it was virtually impossible to see it with the finished picture in the middle of it. We tried all sorts of colours and types of illustration. A plain border didn’t work, nor did a photographic one. It couldn’t be too colourful, nor too dull. In the end, we used a pen-and-ink line drawing. It was executed in black and white and then printed in pale green.

Finished artwork for Deceptive Bends by 10cc, 1977
Cover for Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue, by Aubrey Powell, published by Thames & Hudson


The end was in sight – the record company was clamouring for the artwork. The cover artwork was in many pieces – the pictures, front and back, the border, the lettering and the mechanical overlays. This last piece indicates how the other pieces are to fit on to the final printed sleeve. In addition, there are some credits, logos and catalogue numbers, which are pasted down on the mechanical. Each piece is labelled and covered with protective paper. Each item has copious notes written out in long-hand, which inform the separator and printer about how it all comes together.

The separation of the artwork and the printing of the actual sleeve is vital. The first proof of Deceptive Bends was awful. It was done again and the border colour altered from green to a maroon. The second proof was good and the printing got underway. We began Deceptive Bends at the end of September 1976 and the printed sleeve appeared in April 1977.

Photography: A. Powell/S. Thorgerson/P.Christopherson
Graphics: G. Hardie
Retouching: R. Manning
All images © 2017 Hipgnosis Ltd

Vinyl. Album. Cover. Art: The Complete Hipgnosis Catalogue by Aubrey Powell is published by Thames & Hudson, priced £24.95;

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