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A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel

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Reviewed Jun. 25, 2015 by Armin

Industry Tags /

Today I have a very rare break in content form on Brand New. It’s the first interview I’ve conducted and published here but I have soft spot for the topic. The first time I heard of Christophe Szpajdel — and first mentioned him on Brand New — was in 2008, just as the rest of the internet was also getting to know his peculiar work for death metal bands. Since then, he’s published a book, Lord of the Logos, exhibited his work around the world — including the Walker’s Graphic Design: Now in Production — and continued rocking logos as hard as possible. In a recent e-mail exchange I had with Christophe, one thing led to another, and he designed some UnderConsideration logos (shown directly below) and we stroke a conversation that I am reproducing here, along with plenty of visuals. Christophe talks about his process, the challenges of charging $100 per logo, and shares some entertaining logos of well-known entities he has done for his own satisfaction.

A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
UnderConsideration logos.

How has 2015 been for you, work-wise?
2014 finished on a great note with the "Jabberwocky & Extreme Metal" Art Exhibition on Lewis Carroll’s classic nonsense poem of that name. That was happening from November to New Year’s Eve at the Exeter Phoenix. And so started 2015 with the Marks of Metal exhibit in Odense, Denmark. This show was describing the whole creative process of the “making of” a metal album cover. That includes the logo, the cover artworks and how it connects with the music style of the band. Some great highlights were the presence of Kristian Necrolord Wahlin who did the Emperor album cover “In the Nightside Eclipse” and my meeting with him on that specific occasion.

A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Lord of the Logos.

How much of your time goes to designing band logos and how much to other professional or artistic endeavors?
For logos, there are about 20-30 hours a week going into it, alongside with 38 hours of my regular job as retail assistant. In April this year I also painted on a mural here in Exeter. This one was for a new opening restaurant called Valhalla, owned by the same guy who runs “Revolution”, a tarot and spiritual healing shop on the bustling Fore Street in Exeter. Now, I am calling on exhibition opportunities as they play a crucial role in showcasing the vast body of my work to newer audiences, attracting new types of audience that simply are eager on discovering some never seen before aesthetics in typography, calligraphy, graphic design and letter art. As well, this is a chance to boost the sales of my monograph book Lord of the Logos, which is, 5 years on, still available from Gestalten and still in print.

A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Mural work.

The mural… it’s like a completely different Christophe Szpajdel is doing the work!  Is this something you are looking to do more of, moving into larger, full-color projects? Did you approach the mural differently than you do logos?
I am looking to extend my skills onto full color projects but as they are costly, I would like to keep them occasional. The mural was a challenge offered by a friend of a friend and, since I had not many commissions in April, I took the challenge. The approach was completely different than for my logos. I had to make a scaling of what I am going to draw on paper and then go back and forth from three A3 (29.7cm × 21cm) lined up in “landscape” position to a piece of wall of 26 × 3 meters (85 × 10 feet) and from pencil sketches to full color paintings. The hardest was to maintain proportion and working in a very narrow street where I could not stand back and look at the entirety of my work. Logos in black and white will remain the main body of my work as I feel a lot more comfortable and I can move around with my art gear a lot easier.

A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Christophe at work.

Has your process for executing logos or instruments/gear that you use changed at all in the past 5 years since you’ve gotten more attention (and possibly more work)? Does anybody ask for editable vector files in the computer or are they happy with the scans you provide?
My process of executing logos has evolved tremendously. At the point I had to increase my rates to a minimum of 100 dollars U.S.A.. As a result, the amount of requests has decreased drastically. Less clients means that I can spend more quality time around each customer. I submit more drafts. Then I get one of my graphic designers I work with to convert scanned logos onto editable files or vector-formatting them. I also call for help from friends if I am experiencing difficulties in incorporating all requested changes.

US$100 is still very affordable, especially for how detailed and specific to an industry your work is. In the United States someone doing what you are doing could easily charge $1,000 per logo. I get the sense you don’t do it for the money but do you ever feel like you could benefit more financially from what you do? I assume many of your clients don’t have a lot of cash to burn but they are still selling merchandise with your logo on it… have you ever done a deal where you provide the logo for free but get a percentage of merchandise sales?
I must say that 100 US dollars is a very affordable price but still high enough to deter small prospects or anyone looking for a free handout. I am receiving a fair deal of messages like someone asking me for sketches; If they like the sketches, then they will ask me to do more and talk money. For every client I work with, I do require a 50% deposit unless arranged otherwise. There is such a competition with artists and illustrators from Asia or Eastern Europe that any band with a tight budget can get an excellent logo for as little as 20 dollars.

That includes a full job (sketches/mock-ups done on the pencil, then line-drawn on the computer and finally digitized and presented in any possible variants of tones and colors). Not to discriminate any client with a limited budget from coming to me for a logo but I do respect myself before everything; 100 US dollars is a bargain for a piece of work that has so much detail and is done completely freehand. A potential client could actually be in such an amazing band as Wolves in the Throne Room who had a small budget at the time they were looking for a new logo. I got so in love with their “Two Ravens” album that I immediately contacted them to grace them with the logo you can see all over their merch. The budget is not necessarily what I am aiming at. What really counts for me is the DESIRE, THE PASSION for what I am doing. When I did the Emperor logo in 1991, I had absolutely no clue that the band would become so big. I know Samoth when he was an average 1980s black/thrash/speed/death metal fan who was writing for a fanzine and playing in some garage bands like Xerasia, Embionic — they did a wonderful demo called “Land of the Lost Souls” in 1990 that captured my attention with a slab of proper dark and morbid death metal in the footsteps of Possessed, Morbid Angel and Early Carcass. And I had to wait until 1994, with a huge surprise to see my logo on their glorious debut album “In The Nightside Eclipse”.

A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Emperor logo.

Now more than 20 years on, since the Emperor logo I drew in 1991 got international acclaim as a landmark to my name and career, I continued doing logos and it came to my mind the idea to charge royalties but then, I would imagine a lot of bands would cease using my logo and get something cheaper by one of their close buddies. I am at the moment thinking of the “percentage deal” but after a few experiences when a few bands turned around saying “We have decided to go with a different logo than yours; we found an artist who did an excellent job for just 40 dollars and a single copy of each release/merch deal”, so I don’t feel ready for it right now. I am in touch with different artists, local and international ones, as I am currently seeking advice. Lately, I caught Foo Fighters having ripped off my Emperor logo for some stupid Christmas jumpers, I could have taken to court but instead, I have been acting differently. I offered them a new “Black Metal” logo that could be much more suitable, and that includes the FF in a ring trademark. I have saved money in lawyers and court costs and got a very nice deal. I had to seek for some help from a California-based friend Artist and Graphic Designer, Nino Meija, to help me with digitizing the files and invoicing process.

A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Foo Fighters’ holiday sweaters with a logo similar to Emperor’s. Some metal publications thought it was too close for comfort (the logo, not the sweater’s fit).
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Christophe responds with a logo for Foo Fighters.

That’s unfortunate about the Foo Fighters sweater. They have such a great reputation otherwise. Does it appeal to you or is it a goal to work with larger bands like Foo Fighters or, say, Metallica? Do you think your approach is too extreme for their more mass-consumer appeal?
Actually, With Foo Fighters, I managed to make some business and uplift their reputation. This actually gave me some taste to have some fun with some “mass-consumer” appeal. I would like to share some of the following logos:

A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Jamie Oliver, “the worldwide famous chef”.
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Nigella lawson, “as if she were a metal goddess. I did this logo for my own pleasure, as a sidetracking.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
M&C Saatchi, “inspired by the motive of the wall of Scott’s restaurant, Mayfair, london, where brutal Charles Saatchi strangled the domestic goddess Nigella Lawson.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Saatchi and Saatchi, “this is a request from a Dutch client who asked me to do a logo. I added the theme of being strangled by looking at umbilical strangulation.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Ogilvy, “as if they were a sludge doom band.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Microsoft, “a logo done on request of John Brownlee, Fast Company.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
One Direction “as if they were a brutal, smalling guttural death metal band with gurgling vokillz.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Wallace and Gromit, “as if they were both playing in a brutal slamming death metal band.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Fifty Shades of Grey, “When I did this logo, I immediately though of the Grand Belial’s Key logo. Both the film and the band are as much controversial.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Wayne Rooney, “the most talked about socer player, as he was a b’ROO’tal death metal fan….And to make sure everyone knows who I am taking about, I added a soccer ball and the central O turned into the coat of Arms of the England national soccer team.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Coronation Street (soap opera), “I had some real fun with this logo and i sort of mimicked the Impaled Nazarene logo, but I adapted it to the new word, in order to make it more natural.”
A Conversation with Christophe Szpajdel
Coachella festival, “this has been a request made by Colin Arens… So I leave to you the answer if you think my approach for mainstream consumer things is too extreme.”

Those are great. I do think that might be too much death metal to handle for some of them! Finally, what’s your favorite NON-metal-related logo and why?
It is the  Coca-Cola logo. It’s elegant, unique, recognizable and it’s got a sense of flow, it’s clear and actually it has not changed much since the birth of the company in Atlanta.

Thanks Christophe!

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