How to make one of the covers of the year

With a nomination for Hot Rum Cow’s Scotland Issue to be this year’s Cover of the Year, Creative Director Eric Campbell discusses the method that produced the madness

“Some people will like it, some will hate it and some just won’t get it.” This is how we described our newly launched drinks magazine in 2012. And when it came to creating the cover of the Scotland Issue, the same sentiment applied.

Creating the cover is always a collaborative effort between editor, Simon Lyle, and myself with input from the design and editorial teams too. In this case we faced the predicament of creating a cover that was quintessentially Scottish without being too ‘tartan shortbread tin’ or too obscure.

Dark thoughts

Our team brainstorm took us down many a dark avenue, exploring numerous aspects of Scottish culture and history. We considered iconography that included The Loch Ness Monster, thistles and heather, highland cows (seemed like a good fit), Oor Wullie or The Broons, ancient highlanders uniting the clans (Freedom!), beautiful landscapes of misty lochs and glens (we’re not Cereal) even a Trainspotting mash-up (“Ah’m no filling ma veins wi that shite!”).

We eventually came back to focus on the content. The cover feature identified 10 icons of Scottish drinking from throughout the ages – The Behemoths of Bevvy – including Rab C Nesbitt, Friar John Cor (Scotland’s first known whisky distiller), Rabbie Burns and The Tennent’s Lager Lovelies.

So how could we create a cover that showcased the breadth of interesting profiles in the feature and sum up one nation’s considerable contribution to the drinks world?

The only thing to do was to embrace the eclecticism of the subject matter and try and shoehorn as many of the iconic visuals into the cover composition as possible. The bizarre mash-up we devised naturally provided an intriguing visual hook, but the coverlines would need to work hard to help the reader with concept, and who the hell would be brave enough to take on the job of illustrating this?

Mr Unflappable

Fortuitously, Edinburgh-based illustrator Marco Bevilacqua had recently approached me with samples of his work. I was impressed with his unique collage style, which borrowed a mix of techniques from the worlds of pop and street art with a retro feel and bold use of colour. I immediately had him in mind as the man for the job if he was brave enough to take it on.

This was the brief:
“We are producing a typographic treatment on the cover accompanied by a graphic that throws a lot of Scottish clichés into the mix. Your brief would be to produce an illustration of Scottish drinking icon Rab C Nesbitt riding a highland cow.

“He would have on his usual ripped, tatty suit with string vest and dirty headband but would also be wearing a kilt on top of his suit trousers. In his right hand he would be holding a can of Tennent’s Lager (from the 70/80s era when they had pretty girls on the side). The highland cow would be leaping over a barrel of whisky. The background colour should be flat/neutral and quite light in colour/tone.”

And this was the response:
“Haha. That’s actually hilarious. Yeh, that sounds great! Count me in!”

Whilst Marco was working to this prescriptive brief, Simon and I played around with the coverlines to get something to fit the space. The bold statement “Made in Scotland from” was the main hook (and a nod to Scotland’s other national drink – Irn Bru), and the list of ingredients that followed had to stand out without dominating the headline and illustration. I tried many different ways of doing this but settled on a large stamp effect for the headline set in Ryan Martinson’s Veneer followed by the ingredients set white on black in one of Hot Rum Cow‘s house fonts, FS Lola.

The balance of space was key to making this work and the best execution worked with the elements utilising their own space without overlapping. The graphic could have been bigger (overlapping the masthead more than it did) and the stamp could have been enlarged to obscure part of the graphic, but it made the cover harder for the reader to interpret. The space and negative space were key to this being a coherent and distinctive cover that sold not just the content of this issue, but the Hot Rum Cow brand.

Snog, Marry, Avoid

As I said at the start, some people will like it, some will hate it and some won’t get it. It’s not the first and it certainly won’t be the last time that this will be the case with a Hot Rum Cow cover. I’ve not had anyone tell me they hate it (yet), but I have no doubt it could cause some confusion overseas and there may be a feeling that it paints Scots in a negative and clichéd light. But we see it as an honest and playful celebration of (our) Scottish heritage. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.