Undisputed Master logo designer Christophe Szpajdel
Christophe Szpajdel was born in 1970 in Gembloux, Belgium and started drawing since the age of 3. Already in his early years, fascinated by both nature and the dark side of this world, CS forged his vocation in art, despite the orientation of his studies, which were initially Biology and Forestry. In the beginning of the 80’s, inspiration flew and upgraded with the acquaintance of the sinister sounds of such bands as Ultravox, The Cure, Visage, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Hawkwind, Venom, Celtic Frost, Possessed, Mercyful Fate, Candlemass, Infernal majesty, Sarcofago, Vulcano, Necrodeath, The Melvins and much more…
In 1989, when started studying Biology/Agronomy/Forestry at the Universite Catholique de Louvain, LLN, Christophe joined forces with a locally based fanzine called Septicore, which put out 6 issues between 1989 and 1991. It is by this time Christophe got in touch with Samoth when taking care of Thierry’s correspondence. That was the time when he was just about to start Emperor, tired of his death metal bands Xerasia and Embrionic (who released a very good death metal demo called “Land Of The Lost Souls”). I surprised both Mortiis and Samoth by sending them a gift, the Emperor logo and I found out, with great delight, this logo accompanied every Emperor release, from the cult demo “Wrath Of The Tyrant” throughout all the discography. My name featured on the album “In The Nightside Eclipse” was the starting point of The Great Odyssey…my name started its travel across the four corners of the world with the release of this album in 1994, which co-incited with the uprising of the second wave of black metal.
Apart completing such important logos like Liar Of Golgotha, Old Man’s Child, Desaster, Ceremonium, Nargaroth, Borknagar, Corpus Christii, Flagellum Dei, Kult Ov Azazel, Trimonium, Nachtmystium, Impiety, Moonspell, Filii Nigrantium Infernalium, Graveland, Dark Horizon Productions, Witchcraft, Witchmaster, Darkside Of Innocence, Anima Damnata, Hell-Militia, Behexen, Horna, Tsjuder, Enthroned, Ezurate, Primigenium, Deviser, Seth, Covenant, Cursed Ruin, Licurgo, Necro Ritual, Soulburn, Forever Mourne, Wolves in the Throne Room, Abigail Williams, Hantaoma, With Faith Or Flames, Forever Mourne, Ancient Malus, Dark Storm, Trimonium, Stormcrow, and many…many more, Christophe spent a lot of time on travelling and visited quite a lot of parts of Europe like Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Norway, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal (incl. The Azores) and the USA (California, New Jersey, Oregon) where he made most of it starting with connections through the Internet.
2007 came as a breath of fresh air in his creativity, leading to the diversification of his art through the re-visiting of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Moderne…. what infused a noticeable spark in Christophe’s creativity. That also knocked down a lot of barriers and stereotypes, allowing Christophe to explore new direction and venture into themes never trodden before…. some examples are such logos recently created as In The Wake Of Tragedy, Starless Night, Spheres, Nocturn Deambulation, The Green Evening Requiem….
That enlargement of interests and styles allowed Christophe to reach a wider public, not only restricted to the metal circle but also to the para-musical universe, which allowed him to gain interests and take commissions from clothing companies and other businesses which are not related with music.
In 2008, Christophe is offered to take part in Mark Riddick’s compendium book “Logos From Hell”, displaying 17 of his artworks alongside with Chris Moyen, Kris Verwimp, Medan Savamhel (Ba’al Graphics), Daniel Desecrator, Lou Rusconi, Rob Smits…
In 2009, several Art Deco oriented logos were selected to be part of an Art Deco themed Exhibition curated by Stephan www.artdecosociety.com/stephanartist or www.myspace.com/stephanartiste, which occurred in Newport, Oregon.
January 2010: Release of the long awaited book “Lord Of The Logos” on Gestalten, www.gestalten.com
January 2010: Mini-exhibition (solo show) at the Exeter Central Library
October 25-30th 2010: Music and Image Festival, Rotterdam. Speech at Cinerama about the dynamics of creating a logo and exhibition at Roodkapje, Downtown Rotterdam
December 2010, creation of the Official Website
September 2011: Devon Open STudios, Exeter
September 2011: Magnum Opus Tattoo Gallery, solo show
October 2011: Little Krimminals, Studio krimm, berlin, Germany
October-February 2011: Graphic Design Now in Production- Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis, USA
January -March 2012: Black Thorns in the White Cube – Paragraph Gallery, Kansas City, MO and Western Exhibitions, Chicago USA
May -September 2012: Graphic Design Now in Production- Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York, USA
As of today, Currently employed as Retail supervisor in a convenience store Christophe continue his passions like Travelling, Discovering nature… and producing quality logos on a very regular basis, as you can look through his pages
Interview with Christophe Szpajdel
HMA: I want to begin by asking, perhaps something that you already get asked quiet often, how did you get involved in designing logos for bands? And your passion… is definitely unique among artists and designers, how did it all begin?
Christophe Szpajdel: Thank you very much for this compliment. When i was at the age of 7, I got stumbled by the logos of such bands as Kiss as well as the Art Deco logos but also YES and several 70’s psychedelic typographies as well as the whole Art Nouveau movement which was quite popular these times. Along these lines, I had a chronic passion for Nature, forests, trees, birds, reptiles and insects, reason why a lot of the logos I do involve shapes of insects. In the mid 80’s, I got acquainted with darker and more extreme forms of metal and bands like Venom, Mercyful Fate, Celtic Frost, Slayer, Sodom, Possessed, Metallica, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Helloween, Kreator, Protector, Destruction, Infernal majesty, Sepultura, Sarcofago, Necrodeath, Necrovore remained forever engraved in my memory. These bands music were the starting point of making scary letterings. These aforementioned bands really triggered my imagination for logos. In 1987, I even needed to immerse into more and more obscure stuff.
I started ordering demos; going to underground gigs…. like, in 1989, the first gig ever of Asphyx, the first gig ever of Ancient Rites. During these times, I also met at school Thierry who shared the same passion as me and was writing back then for a fanzine called Septicore. I joined the zine in the spring 1989 and 6 issues came out. If you were involved in Heavy Metal between 1989 and 1992, you might have been lucky enough to own a copy of this real paper fanzine. During these years, fanzines were a current media and some very good ones to remember are Slayer Mag (NOR), Metallic Butcher (POL), Eternal Torment (POL), Morbid Mag (SWE), Necrotomy’zine (ITA), Death Vomit mag (USA), Isten (FIN) and many more. I also helped Thierry with the correspondence and that is how I met people like Mortiis and Samoth (Emperor), Euronymous (Mayhem, DSP) through mail…. In January 1991, I designed what would become the iconic logo of Emperor…. as well as the revamp of the Filii Nigrantium Inferbnalium logo, the Moonspell logo to mention some very significant ones that made my name going round the world.
HMA: What type of creative process do you use?
Christophe Szpajdel: First I take an A4 sheet that I divide in 4, using the medians, so I can work around the center towards the edges. I also print the e-mail of the client, specifying what details I have to pay attention to. Most of my clients, LUCKILY, know exactly what they want and I make sure that they give me a clear and accurate vision of what they are looking for. During the first days, I send sketches back and forward. I often draw some thumbnails before the full-scale draft, which holds on an A4 white paper. A sketch is very easy to amend while an ink outlined design is IMPOSSIBLE to change. Reason why once I send the sketch, I wait for the approval, work on amendments… It does involve sometimes MONTHS of patience when clients keep turning down the sketches. Then I am outlining the approved sketch, filling it using different fine liners (0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 0.7 and thicker markers/sharpies to fill it in) Then I proceed to the touch up. Once the logo is finish I get a few of my companions (Death By Graphic Designs, Norgith Demonrace, Joseph Hollo, Rachel Young…) to digitalize the logo and convert them in the format the clients require. As fantastic I am with my hands…. as miserably I fail when it goes to PC software. I have attempted several courses to learn about Photoshop, MS Paint, IT logostics and ended up being dropped out and advised to look into private one-to-one tuitions, which unfortunately I can’t afford at the moment.
HMA: What are your immediate artistic goals, in terms of style and perfecting even further your talent?
Christophe Szpajdel: The most important goals are to reach a larger public than the one, which is restricted to metal. In order to achieve that, I am looking to take part in events, exhibition opportunities across the world, displaying my art alongside with emerging talents and more established artists. I am also approaching tattoo artists who unfortunately, unlike most people could imagine, disregarded me or reacted unfavorably. I visit exhibitions, like the Plymouth BA Hons Degree show in June this year to explore new horizons of aesthetics. On top of it, I have explored new sorts of pens and drawing markers, fine liners, paintbrushes…. More challenging clients often involve me into different paths of creative exploration. Definitely, apart nature, there is also Psychology, states of mind. I ask my clients lots of questions before starting sketching logos. Sometimes between the sketches and the further proceedings of the logo, there can be several months…. It is called the Settling down. To be honest, impatient clients who are unable to wait for the final product to come naturally are getting very disappointed when they turn to a cheap artist and then see some of my newest work coming online…. as you can see, I needed a few breaks, reason it took me so long to answer an interviews like yours.
HMA: Some of your artwork is very much influenced by the Art Deco style, can you tell us what other styles they might fall into and why?
Christophe Szpajdel: Art Deco and Art Nouveau have been a real source of inspiration for my creativity. I have explored the aesthetic of how to make a logo at the same time aesthetically pleasant, attractive and at the same time functional. I adored how Edward Budd conceived the design of his Burlington Zephyr locomotives, that gave a new push to the ailing railway industry in the late 20’s…. or how Bruce Goff geniously conceived the design of the Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa, OKlamoma, USA, or Timothy Pflueger elegantly designed his best work of all times, the paramount Theatre in San Francisco…or even the little known Albet J Evers designed the Old Oakland Floral Depot in San Francisco as well as he influenced architects in Lisbon for the Eden Theatre on Lisbon Main avenue. It is in 2007 that I felt completely drained off all inspiration that I started looking closely to both Art Deco ad Art Nouveau designs…. That enhanced the need to look deeper into new directions of aesthetics with the need to come up with powerful logos. Art Nouveau enhancing the Natural designs (Art deco in a certain measure as well) like Floral motives, animals. Both Art Deco and Art Nouveau aesthetics helped me to capture closer what the client has in mind, bringing me new ideas how to use the spacing and allocation/distribution of the lettering. Some of my favorite Art Nouveau artists are Victor Horta, Paul Hankar, Hector Guimard as they are truly conveying what I am trying to interpret in some nature inspired logo with a flair for Originality. Art Deco and Art Nouveau has been very little used in metal logos before I started to look seriously in the matter. Lately, I also explored the Pontic, Georgian (and the aesthetics of the Georgian Alphabet), Midle-Eastern, Eurasian, Micro-Asian cultures that brought a lot of unexpected inspiration and new ideas…. as I am constantly looking to diversify my creativity as much as possible. Some of my depressive logos that combine the Austere straight lines developed by Bruce Goff with the sinister look of eroded letters, drippings, shading is something I baptized as “Depresiv’Moderne” and it is my first attempt to incorporate modernism with dark ambient and depressive dark metal. Musical soundtracks of Velvet Cacoon, I Shalt Become, Krohm, Marblebog, Apparitia, Dolorian (Finnish masters of Dark Ambient doom), The Swans, etc largely contributed to the honong of my “Depressiv’Moderne” very own style. As an extension of Art Nouveau and Depressive black metal, giving the whole wintry feel on leafless, gnarled trees in the winter, I developed a style I could call “Winterstyl”, in extension to Judendstil, German name of Art Nouveau. Examples of such logos are Winter Deluge, Winter’s Plague, Season of Sorrow, Nocturnal Degrade, Northumbria when the letters are actually forming part of a tree. That style, I found out, became very influential over the last few years
HMA: Dare I say that a lot of your work is 100% original and a distinguishable Christophe Szpajdel – Lord of the Logos style? If you have to give yourself a stylistic classification, what would that be and why?
Christophe Szpajdel: A very difficult questions because, as you can see, every logo I design is tailored for a customer and I have developed a wide variety of disciplines in my art. I am going with what the client requires. I can do as much an ART DECO logo, an ART NOUVEAU logo like I can do a completely original logo that will not fall in any category. Nowadays, I have reached a complete control on the diversity of logos I am drawing. I am pushing any kind of barriers further… and finally knocking them down. I do have my own style but I am able to mimic any style of logo. At that point that is nowadays very hard to distinguish who could have done this or that logo. I can come up to ANY sort of logo, if I am correctly shown which path to take. For example, if you look at the logo of INGESTED, I mimicked the logo of Immortal. One thing I would like to bring your attention to is the accuracy, the precision and the passion for excellence I am putting in each logo. Over the last few years, I got a few other artists involved in the first and vary last stages of my creativity. A few excellent examples of “Hybrid” logos are where I got the first drafts and structures created by Dennis Hughes (Moon of Cythraul) or Norgith Demonrace who is an incredibly fast mind reader able to capture subtle details…. to nail it first. Once I have his draft, I am producing a second draft and then continuing it further…. I also get help from other artists like Death By Design Graphics who help me to understand what a client need but which come across to me in a different way. Using that kind of help, I am surer that I have a clear understanding of what the client wants. I have started a very challenging commission for the logo of a yet little known but extremely promising band called ALTARS. They want something in the vein of the logo of ANTEDILUVIAN, which is completely unreadable. It has been quite a few days I am trying to understand my client before working on further sketches. The logo of ANTEDILUVIAN is a fantastic work, but not done by me, very unreadable and very hard to understand, while I think a logo, even if complex, overloaded, decaying, grim, menacing should be before all READABLE. If I really would like to name my style, I would call it “Ancient Modernism”
HMA: What is your philosophy on logos and branding?
Christophe Szpajdel: A logo should be powerful, memorable, readable, distinct. That means it should be something that you will remember once for the rest of your life. An example of distinctive logo is the logo of Coca-Cola, which remained almost the same since the birth of the company in Atlanta. Of course the logo has undergone slight changes but it is recognizable. A logo is also ment to make the brand of a product appealing to the customer, and Coca-Cola is again the example of a successful logo.
HMA: In Heavy Metal the logo is more than just branding, do you share this view and in your experience, what are the musicians looking for in a logo?
Christophe Szpajdel: In heavy metal, the logo is more than just a brand, it is also the mirroring of a musical style and that logo is very important, as it will define what sort of band it will stand for. A logo is necessary for a band to attract a certain range of public and reflect what the band is trying to send across.
Due to the profusion of metal bands nowadays, it is hard to become original and very often logos look very much alike. Throughout my commissions, I tend to produce logos that are similar to some others, even if I have not looked onto my previous works. I always ask the client to send me examples of logos that have NOT been made by me to aim for originality with each logo. This is something very challenging for a band as often, clients I work with do not give me artistic freedom at all. This tendency is actually changing and since they see the quality of my work, they also trust my judgment. Generally clients who want me to stick to their guidelines very closely have logos that does not work while clients who give me full artistic freedom are delighted when they get the final product from my hands. A logo should also convey the musical and lyrical content of what they want to express. Often a band who in another hand, say to me, “Do the logo like you feel our music” generally turn around saying that the logo is not what they have in mind. I respond to “That is how your music and concepts came across” and in most of the case, the band turns on to another artist. To summarize, The logo is the most important thing to brand an item…. or a musical entity (band, movie)… or a creation…. or even a business.
HMA: What are your views when it comes to experience music and the visual arts?
Christophe Szpajdel: Music and Art are forming an entity. Some visuals would complete perfectly with black metal while other would convey perfectly with folk or dark/trance/experimental/harsh ambient… This is something that cannot be separated. A certain sort of aesthetics would convey for a defined style of music.
HMA: Your initial drawings are always black and white. Is there are reason for this, or do you also have other techniques/process?
Christophe Szpajdel: There are very obvious and clear reasons why there are in black and white. I ALWAYS started doing my logo sketches in pencil, and then used ink. I have attempted working on logos in colour but it ALWAYS turned into a miserable disaster that causes BOTH to the CLEINT and me an EYESORE. I have attempted coloured logos, like the one for the Maltese SCEPTOCRYPT. Unfortunately after having failed many times on coloured logos I realized I am not good enough working with colour so I have now completely gave up. It gives me a better grasp to come up with something that can be manipulated with Photoshop on ulterior stages. If a client want the logo in colour, I delegate this task to the almighty Norgith Demonrace, the Super-Amazing Death By Design Graphics or Joseph Hollo who are able to do that job in less than 20 seconds and in any colour the client wants. This makes the things so much easier and allows me to produce more logos, and I am aiming to reach productions of 100 logos per months and reach great success in every logo I create.
HMA: Your logos are always really precise and very well drawn. In comparison to other genre, Heavy Metal logos are often symmetric, intricate, interesting and hard to read the band name. How do you deal with so much complexity?
Christophe Szpajdel: It just comes like that…. or it does not come at all… it clicks… or it doesn’t … It’s all or nothing. Some logos like the one I recently done for AROUSED came in my vision and I just got up in the middle of the night, grabbed a paper and did the draft I had exactly in my vision, really on an impulse. It happens very often that after days of thinking, doing doodles on the corner of a paper I come immediately to an idea… and I grab it, like a bird in flight…. this is something I do on an impulse and if I have the image in my vision, I garb it straight away, not in five minutes but on the spot. That is also the reason I can suddenly sit down in the middle of a busy car park and unpack my drawing gear and jot down the primary sketch of the logo… just because I got it on the spot. If I got an idea or a vision, I must throw it on paper RIGHT NOW, not in a minute, not tomorrow but RIGHT FUCKING NOW!!!!!!! That is the reason why something ultra mind breaking can come CLEAR, PERFECTLY CLEAR in my mind and then… I MUST THROW IT ON PAPER, I can’t wait, I MUST THROW the idea on paper. Drawing a logo is for me like an epileptic attack and that is the moment when I get it all falling together. I can think for hours, days, weeks, months, years about a few band names on the lists of commissions I have written on a list that I take with me EVERYWHERE and on all my whereabouts because a certain idea can click right away across my head when I expect it THE LEAST… That is the reason how I am getting it right… because it clicks in my brain and then I rush to find a pen a paper… I always have my scrapbook with me, even in my bed, even in the bathroom…. ANYWHERE… as I can get a logo started anywhere when I expect it the least. I start drawing a logo often on an impulse… Sometimes when I think a bit and it clicks, I have the vision, I can see the logo how it will look like, I can imagine it, I can draw it out of the blue, out of the woodworks… find sometimes a solution how to mirror the edge letters to each other… as symmetry is something I got a certain obsession with. An easy example was the logo of AROUSED…. while a more challenging logo was the one I did for ANGIST as A and T are very difficult to mirror and require more brainwork… and give more brain ache.
HMA: Where you summon your creativity? Where is the inspiration coming from?
Christophe Szpajdel: This come from experiences of my travelling’s but also from watching documentaries of interest (about Nature, Geography, Culture, History, Social phenomenon…). Again a building, a painting, a visual, a situation can become source of inspiration or generate a sudden shake of my brain…. like a shockwave. It is like “In-out, in-out, Outside in, Inside out-Shake it all about!) Inspiration can come from the forests surrounding me… a band performing nice folk tunes, some CD’s I listen to (even folk artists like Psarantonis or Dato Kensiashvili. I also get inspiration from other artists who I consider as CHALLENGES. The art of Medam Savamhel (BA’AL Graphics), Gragoth (Luciferium War Graphics), Nihiliferian Uncreations, Industrie Chimere Noire, Daniel Corcuera (Vomit Arts/Daniel Desecrator) are of the highest standards of quality and allowed me to achieve higher and higher targets to reach perfection in my logos…. Harmony, accuracy, perfection… There is this pleasure to compete, set the standards higher and higher and the aforementioned artists are perfect to set my own challenges and raise my standards every time,
HMA: What can you tell some young artist wishing to follow in your footsteps?
Christophe Szpajdel: I would like to tell all the young artists to follow their own path, to be perseverant, to strive for perfection, to use their own instinct of creativity. A sentence that would resume it all in a nutshell. “The truth is that the majority of clients will disappoint you, but the challenge is to find the few ones which are worth the effort and suffering for” It is important to explore, to take time to understand the clients, to come up with a respectable portfolio, to gain a steady hand… and believe me, that takes YEARS of practice on a daily basis. I am so addicted in doing logos tat there is not a single day when I am not drawing a logo… I also prioritize my work. Across the e-mails I can find out which logo is very urgent and which one can wait for the time I get ideas settled. Never work on a logo if you are not inspired, it is like you feel a strength of a rope, you feel like it is dragging you to create a logo, when it is pulling your spirit, then let the wolves unleash the creative passion… also it is when anger comes that you crate the most intense logos.
HMA: In your artwork there is a vast amount of symbolism either taken from nature or from literature i.e. occult, mythology, etc., how does your knowledge play on your hand while you are working?
Christophe Szpajdel: I totally agree with you that many of my logos do contains symbols of nature and ancient mythology, occultism. Symbology is very important to me and before using any sort of symbol; I have a huge consultation with the client. I am having a clear consultation what symbol the client has in mind. If needed, I ask the client to send me a mock up with the place where I can appose the symbols on the logo itself. I am taking this opportunity to study the symbols and their meaning “on the job”. I actually like commissions where I learn new things about symbology.
HMA: The natural world is often bleak and dark in your logos, is it just inspired by the style of the band (often Black Metal) or do you have personal feelings that your contributing to the band image?
Christophe Szpajdel: It is indeed. Especially when it involves gnarled trees, mountains, ravens, owls, wolves, silhouettes…. then it is indeed and when comes the late autumn and the winter, I am often delighted to come across the scenery of nature in the winter…. and it does connect very closely with the whole concept of Dark Metal and Black Metal and its subgenres (Depressive Black Metal, but also other related genres like dark ambient). Often I prefer to stick to what the band is researching in their logo and go by these guidelines. It is not rare that personal feelings contribute to a band’s image, reason why I do certain logos when I am in a particular mood. For example, when I am depressed, that is when I do the best depressive logos. The Bleak and dark image is then something that will come across in my drawings when i am in that sullen mood….
HMA: I love how your logos are always really precise and very well drawn. In comparison to other genre, Heavy Metal logos are often symmetric, intricate, interesting and hard to read the band name.
Christophe Szpajdel: Thank you very much for your comments, that truly means the whole world to me as I am putting a lot of passion and sweat to understand my clients…. When I do my first round-up, which is a vivacious exchange of e-mails, ideas, quizzing in order to come to a mutual arrangement, out of 500 clients, only 50 remains… 50 which are worth all the suffering for. During the round up, a lot of clients never write me back because they cannot afford 40 euros or 30 pounds or 50 dollars for a logo. The 50 percent deposit is actually weeding out more than three quarters of people who contact me for a logo. As I said with this golden sentence “The truth is that everyone will hurt you, but the challenge is to find the few ones worth suffering for” That is exactly what I am applying in my art… to work with the ones that are deserving to have my hardworking hands to craft a logo for.
HMA: …any final words?
Christophe Szpajdel: Thank you so much for this excellent interview. I really wish I could have more time to give you better answers to some of the most challenging questions I ever have answered to.
Now to the readers, I would like to thank you very much for having taken the time to read through all these answers, which are not mirroring the excellence of Alex’s amazing questions. I would like to insist, anyone who would be interested to have a logo done by me, please plan ahead as I am dealing with a very heavy workload and I need time to have my mind settled. It is also primordial that you familiarize yourself with the diversity of your art… and that you are prepared to pay the rates I am charging for a logo.
Copyright 2012 © Alex Milazzo, Heavy Music Artwork. All rights reserved.