Riding the Lightning

It is interesting when ideas strike our brains. Most of the time, we can formulate a concept by past experiences. That's what happened to me while coming up with the design for the Jan. 18, 2019 cover story in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal.

Without even realizing it, I created an illustration that is similar to one of the best heavy metal records of all time. I have no idea how the concept got into my head. Only when I was done and about to send the paper to the printer did I see the connection. I thought to myself, "Why does that look so familiar? Where did I see that before?"

Then lightning struck!

The cover was similar to the album cover of Metallica's Ride the Lightning!

In all honesty, I had no intention to consciously be inspired by the album cover, but subconsciously it was there. But why?

I remember someone a long time ago told me at a Society of News Design Regional workshop to pay attention to your surroundings. You never know what will inspire you down the road. To this day I have done that.

So how did I get to this?

The cover story was about how entrepreneurs and startups were investing into the treatment of mental health issues in the workforce. I had two portraits of some these investors, but it didn't really focus on them as much as the overall concept of how they are tackling the problems that affect mental health. That concept was a little more challenging to illustrate.

The editors, the reporter and I met and came up with the headline "BRAINSTORM," which sparked an idea in my head to literally design an illustration of a storm above the brain. After looking through countless numbers of photos in Getty Images to see if there was such an illustration that existed, I decided that I had to create it myself.

Then I had to find the right type of stock art of a head, brain, clouds and lightning. I had only so much space on the page to make the design work. I had to factor all that in when I started creating the illustration.

In addition, I had to brush up on my photoshop skills to make the brain look like it was being charged by the lightning and not too realistic. The last thing I wanted was the MSPBJ readers to get grossed out when they picked up the paper.

I labored all day to make it work the way I wanted. I had to step away from my monitor just to collect myself, because frustration set in. I was up against a deadline, and I wasn't even sure the editors would go for it. Even when I left at the end of the day, I still wasn't quite satisfied with the way it looked. While I was out for dinner for my daughter's 11 birthday that night, I couldn't stop thinking about it.

The next morning, I got into work early, and it became more clear. It was finally coming together the way I wanted it to. I added the background storm clouds and the blue hue. And more importantly, the editors went along with it.

WHEW! That took a lot out of me. But I was happy and finally relaxed. And after the realization that I had channeled my inner heavy metal past, I went to Spotify and starting shredding to sweet, deep cuts like "For Whom The Bell Tolls, Fade To Black and Creeping Death" inside my earbuds.

I'm not saying my next cover will be inspired by Van Halen's 1984 album cover designed by Margo Z. I don't think the editors would go for smoking angel baby on the cover. But you never know.

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