Logo & Design for "Love On The Inside" Album

QuestionsForLiving Interview with Joel Anderson November 6, 2012 regarding the creation and design of Suglarland's "Love On The Inside" album cover. Joel also discusses his questions for leading a successful design firm and offers suggestions for young designers interested in having a successful career in graphic design.

QuestionsForLiving:  What can you tell me about designing the logo on Sugarland's "Love on Inside" and album cover design in general? How did it come into being?

Joel Anderson:  Well, I think it’s funny how certain things like this get noticed. From my perspective, it was just one of these projects that just happened, and had to happen really fast. The record company is based in Nashville, and they have a talented in-house art department. They  had gone round, after round, after round trying to come up with an album cover that felt right that the management and everybody really liked.

Basically, they called me at something like 4:00pm on a Thursday afternoon saying, "Hey, by the end of the day tomorrow we’ve got to have an album cover. We’ve done everything we know how to do and it’s just not working. Do you have any ideas?"

Usually, when you’re coming in that late on a process, and the client accepts your idea, you don’t know if they’re taking it because it’s good or because they’re desperate and they have to—whatever you end up with. 

All they had for me to work with was the idea of a heart and a flame, but didn't specify how to render it, or what it should look like - none of the details were prescribed. They just gave me the project with that germ of an idea. I actually started by doodling it on a scrap piece of paper just to get my thoughts together. Because time was tight, I said, well, I’ll just send them this doodle and see if this is going in the right direction. They liked it and they said, keep going. Because time was tight, I didn’t really even redraw it. So what’s on the album cover was very close to the initial doodle.

Graphic design is not typically supposed to be done this way, but the crisis, and timing, in the situation dictated process, and that was about all I had time to do. In hindsight, when I saw it up on the side of a building and I’ve seen it, in people’s record collections, I just kind of laugh at how this album cover came into being. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they loved it; and maybe I just didn’t have enough time to ruin it.

It just had to be done and so this is as “stream-of-consciousness from pen to paper to computer” as you can get with a design. Normally these projects go 20, 30 rounds of comps, taking weeks to complete. They approved my scratchy sketch, I put color on it, and then I got my design team to follow me up and help me finish designing the rest of the package, which integrated the photographs and some extra doodles and stuff just to tie all the different panels together with the cover.

QFL:  Were you familiar with Sugarland or the music on this album?

Anderson:  That was the other embarrassing thing—I don’t really listen to a lot of country music, even though I live in Music City. I knew of Sugarland, but I didn’t have their albums and I wasn’t familiar with this project. Whenever I do an album cover, even if it’s a genre of music that I don’t listen to, I want to have the rough cuts so that I can listen to it and try to get inside the head of the artist. That way, I’ve heard the music and I know what we are working on, so I can try to make the art an extension of the music. In this case, I hadn’t heard a single song off the album. It was more about the record compnay just telling me the title was, "Love on the Inside", and knowing that it had something to do with a heart and a flame.

As you were designing the logo, how did you relate to the project and to this picture?

Anderson:  What I was trying to say with "Love on the Inside", is that love is an external manifestation of something that’s inward. That’s usually what any kind of love or passion is, it starts as a stirring inside and then it bursts through. It only really feels like love if it comes out and people can see it, receive it, and perceive it. The wings were a representation that love goes places and it lifts people up—it’s not a stationary thing.

The vines and the doodle shapes represent organic growth. I’m a gardener and I love plants. I’m always fascinated by what goes on underneath the ground. The plant and the flowers look great, but if you look at roots and vines that creep and re-root as they touch dirt, everything is about growing and never stopping.  Nature’s pretty stubborn. Passion is like that. It is pretty stubborn, too; it just takes off. So the flame is for passion, but the roots and the little vines are taking root and continuing to grow.

QFL:  Were there questions that you were interested in pursuing, or that you were asking yourself that encouraged, or led, to a career in graphic design and media?

Anderson:  Yes. Ever since I was a little kid, I liked to draw and create and make things. My parents saw that and encouraged it. And my first job in high school was bussing tables at a restaurant, and I just hated it. Every day toward the end of my shift, I couldn’t wait until it was quitting time and I could walk outside and just be free.

So I started asking myself at age 15:

  • If I love art and I love creating, can I do that instead of this?"
  • Can I make money?
  • Can I pay myself, ( put food on the table), and get things that I want just by doing the things that I love to do?

Those were the first questions. Based on those questions, I signed up to learn how to airbrush T-shirts. This was in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. On the boardwalk, they had all these airbrush T-shirt artists. Customers could walk up and tell them what kind of design they wanted. Some were standard designs displayed on the wall, but customers could bring a picture of their dog or whatever, and the artist would copy it onto a shirt while customer stood there and watched. So I learned how to do that. At the end of my first summer, a buddy and I said, "Let’s do this ourselves next year."; and we started our own little airbrush T-shirt operation.

By the age 16, I was an entrepreneur and already starting to use art to do what I wanted to do. I also had a band and I was into music. So really my art was a way of funding my music and it  my equipment and recording and doing the things that I wanted to do. I didn’t realize that as I went to art school and still did music and art, that at some point I was going to have to make a choice between music and art, because anybody who’s really good at something has to dedicate themselves pretty fully to this one thing, otherwise you’re just going to "be kind of" good at a few things. I decided to commit to becoming really good at art.

During this time I started asking myself:

  • What do I really love?
  • How do I know which of these passions needs to be followed and pursued? For me, it turned out to be art. 

Also started asking at a young age:

  • Why am I here?
  • Why do I have this talent?
  • I’ve got this love for art and this skill, so what should I do with it?

It’s nice when you start asking those kind of questions, because the answers are usually right in front of you. I knew I didn’t want to bus tables, so I asked "How can I use art?" Then stumbling across air brush T-shirts, that became the answer.

Once I had done the air brushing and I knew I can make money at it, then I started asking:

  • What do you do with money?
  • What else do you love?
  • Where else do you go with this?

So that’s what I like about being creative— you’re always asking questions and it always drives you to that next chapter in your life or that next fork in the road. Maybe the fork in the roads is a question. You ask it and then you go in the direction that seems right.

QFL:  Given that you are currently in your 19th year of owning your own and successfully managing your own design company, what can you tell me about your questions as a business owner and designer that have contributed to running a successful business?

Anderson:  I worked for an ad agency for seven years when I got out of art school. And as soon as I got to Nashville, I was doing work at this ad agency but I started doing paintings and hanging them in a gallery and doing freelance illustration. I never just did one thing.

I was always asking myself:

  • What are my limits and my boundaries?
  • What do I really enjoy doing?

I didn’t know myself very well yet. I was so new in my creative career that I hadn’t tried enough variety. So I’ve built clocks and made things, and then I painted, and I did freelance illustration and design, and I did advertising, and I did video work. I actually even won an Emmy for working on a kid’s TV show back in the 80s. But I never did anything else with Television after I got that award. It just wasn’t as easy-flowing in terms of opportunities.

So part of the decision to focus on art and design was that I wanted to get married to my college sweetheart as soon as I could. I was getting ready to graduate, but felt that I needed to  put off getting married because I didn’t know how I was going to support my wife and future family. Once I started the advertising job in Nashville, we got married. She’s French, and she came to Nashville. Since then, she’s become an American citizen. Her family still lives in France. She came to America when she was 16, and she’d already been here three or four years before she met me.

I chose to move to Nashville to take my first job at an ad agency. Art looked more and more like a livelihood. It wasn't just a passion I enjoyed, it was actually a viable profession and source of income. My primary question at that time, was, "How am I going to support my wife and future family?" We’ve been married 25 years now, and we have 4 kids!

So, it’s interesting, these little decisions—you don’t know where they’re going at the time—but I’m glad I came to Nashville. A lot of great things have sprouted from my being here. It probably would have happened very differently had I taken a couple of other opportunities that I had out of art school.

In terms of the running the business successfully, I’m a little bit unusual in the art world because I have some business acumen. I think I’m just as much of a business person as I am an artist. A lot of my creative friends aren’t business people. And they’re phenomenal, they’re better artists than I am, but they can’t make money from of it. So I realized pretty quickly that anything that I was doing or creating was really part of a service industry; and I was a tradesman in the service of those who hired me. If this was 200 years ago, I might have been a stone carver. I might have been commissioned to help build cathedrals or make sculptures.

Since my trade is design and illustration, I’m being hired by somebody who has a goal or a purpose they’re trying to achieve. My art is a means of helping them to achieve their purpose.

So the first thing I always ask myself is:

  • Why am I being hired?
  • What interest does the client have in my art?
  • What can I do that can help them with whatever it is they’re trying to accomplish?

So in the case of the Sugarland, it was a desperate creative director, who needed an album cover to be designed quickly. The record company was trying to sell records. They were also trying to make a visual component to this audio product. And so I always want to find out:

  • Who’s my target audience?
  • What message am I trying to convey with whatever I’m creating?

I know in my work and life I’m a steward. I have been entrusted with something important. So it’s not just about me, what I like or what I’m interested in. I have to understand who the customer is and who the audience is and what they’re up to, and how to serve them. If my art is something I’m passionate about and it helps achieve their objectives, then everybody wins.

Another secret of my success: I realized early on that collaboration is the best way to get the most done. A key question about collaboration: "If I can start on something but I can’t necessarily finish it, or if I can take it to a certain level and then partner with someone else who is a better illustrator or designer or a smarter thinker, or has assets that I don’t have, why not just team up with them?" Together we’ll make something better than I could have ever done it by myself! That’s one way I’ve been in business this long.

Another key to survival has been an ability to adapt. The  economy tanked and the music business changed drastically.  Book publishing became more challenging, so we had to re-invent ourselves and create new ways to turn art into a livelihood.

There are many freelancers doing graphic design on their laptops at home with no overhead. When we saw that coming along and we realized the pricing structure for graphic design and the full-service design was collapsing, we started creating our own posters and pieces of art that we could turn into products and sell.  Now our website has a SHOP button on it that has all the lines of posters that we’ve created.

That gave rise to Spirit of Nashville, and Art Soul of America, World Travel, and all the different collections of prints that I started creating. For an overview of our art, please click here. We did all of this between projects for clients. We started using our downtime— so if we were waiting for a client to get back to us with an approval on something and we had two or three hours to spare, we asked "Why not start sketching and creating new art?" We knew that if we kept the designs in a cohesive collection that a lot of people could relate to, like, famous US cities and national parks or whatever the theme was, we could keep adding new designs while we’re doing our real job.  We really used our free time in a productive way.  These collections and our willingness to keep creating in our downtime turned out to be the thing that saved the design firm.

Other questions include:

  • How can we best use our time while we’re waiting for people to get back to us?
  • What else can we do to add value?

Time management and spending time wisely is key. I have four kids and I do a lot of mentoring with interns and art students, and that’s one thing I’m always telling people. Every human on this planet has some of the exact same assets that they are given by their Creator: a body, a brain, and 24 hours in a day. If you use your spare time to do things that are going to develop you and push you forward in terms of what you want to do, and what you’re passionate about, you’ll be miles ahead of other people. Even if others are more talented than you, just by deciding to use those extra two, three, four hours a day, times seven days a week, times a month, times a year—this will enable you to go farther and do more.

Over time, you’ve built something that others could have built, but they just didn’t because they were watching TV and playing video games or whatever else they want to do with their free time. I believe in relaxing and having fun, that’s not a bad thing. But, if you don’t take advantage of the spare time and limited resources that you’re given and make the most of them, you’ll eventually reflect back and think "I wish I would have been a little more diligent or productive". If you don't use your time wisely you're going to get passed up by somebody else who actually does use every minute of their work day productively.

QFL:  For a young person, who’s just entering the field of graphic design and web design, are several specific questions they should ask themselves to be successful in the business of graphic design? If so, what are these questions?

Anderson:  Yes. I think, everybody can do what we do. Now that the computer exists, and stock photos and fonts exist, anybody can make a website or a brochure. But the questions is:

  • What do you bring to the table that’s unique and different?
  • If you’re going to use the same tools everybody else is using, how are you going to produce something that’s altogether different?

And that’s got to come out of the inside of you. Like the sketch for Sugarland, if, I could have given that to all the people on my staff, and everybody would have come up with a different approach. I happened to do this doodled thing because that’s the way I think and draw. So I’d say, find what is unique to you, and then play it up and major on it. 

QFL:  Tell me a little about the creative process. Are there specific questions that you ask yourself of others during the creative process? Do you have a specific process, or do you just sit down and start?

Anderson:  I think a lot of what graphic design and illustration is, it’s staying in touch with pop culture. You’re basically speaking to the culture. So you have to ask, learn and know:

  • What are people already into? 
  • What colors, what fonts, what vibes are starting to resonate? 
  • What language is everybody speaking right now?

Style and culture is always changing slowly— it’s almost imperceptible, but if you notice decades of design, music or fashion or haircuts or clothing or morality or anything like that, the changes are pretty obvious. Oh, that’s so 80s, or 1950s. You just don’t notice it changing.

An astute designer—a communicator to popular culture—needs to understand what are the trends, where are things going, and ask "How do I actually take the design in that same direction?"

Because you can run off in a totally different direction that nobody wants to go in. You may have something strikingly different, but no one can relate to it, they don’t care about it, or it just doesn’t resonate with them. So you have to ask yourself: "What are people into?" "What speaks to them?"

Whatever you come up with, if you want it to be meaningful and if you want others to enjoy it and to use it, you’ve got to step into the flow of whatever is already going in the same direction as the target audience or culture at large.

QFL:  Aside from graphic design, what three to five questions do you think people could ask themselves on a daily basis to make the world a happier and healthier planet?

Anderson:  I am, and I’ve always been, a little bit of a skeptic. I grew up in a religious home and later started asking questions about things that I just assumed to be true. I have come back around full circle on a lot of core beliefs—that God loves us. That we are all like lost sheep in need of the Good Shepherd. That we cannot save ourselves, so we need a Savior. That even though we are broken, we can be made whole. We are not here by accident. We have each been created with unique gifts and talents. Each of us has a purpose—everyone matters.

We are are all stewards who have been entrusted with something. So we need to act as if everything we have is on loan to us, as if it’s been entrusted to us for a season, because we’re not here for very long. I believe each person is an eternal being. This life is only a short chapter in a never-ending story. In this life, we are either moving toward God, learning to know and enjoy Him, becoming more like Him, or we are moving away from Him, becoming more and more self-centered, self-preserving, and self-absorbed. I believe that selfish people end up getting exactly what they want—to have everything go their way. And they end up lost and lonely—probably for all of eternity.

If you think about things in a larger perspective, every moment really counts. There isn’t a difference between secular and a sacred. I think all of life is sacred. If every moment that we have is a gift from our Creator, then how are we supposed to use it for His glory and do things that would bless other people, and help them understand that they’re valuable? We’re all made in God’s image, so no one is better than someone else. Everything we have is really on loan to us— so we should take good care of it because it’s not ours to misuse it or dismiss it as unimportant.

And so the little questions I’m always asking myself are:

  • What’s the long-term consequence of this decision or this act, this thing that I’m doing right now?
  • If it’s not really mine, and if I am a steward, how do I take care of it and use it for good?
  • What’s the return on the investment that outlives me, that benefits other people and would make the person who gave it to me glad that he trusted me with something precious?

For more information, Joel Anderson can be contacted at:


116 29th Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37203615-327-9894


Thank YOU!

Jodi O'Donnell-Ames's picture

Joel, I LOVED your interview and could and will write down many good quotes pulled from the piece.  I will be sure to check out your work.  Thanks for the gift of your insight and for sharing it with others.  It's always good to be reminded that every moment is a gift from our Creator and we should use it for HIS purpose!  

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