The Siege of Syracuse

Back in 2007, I drew a picture and decided it looked like an album cover. So I drew a fake back cover, as well.

Siege of Syracuse (back cover)

Last week, I was looking at that picture and decided I still liked it. So I drew another picture, designed explicitly as the cover for a CD from the same band.


And, of course, I had to draw a back cover as well. Complete with moody photo of the band.


Back in the early 70s, Raven Museum was a fairly typical prog band. But by the early nineties, they’d embraced modern technology, drifting into a somewhat psytrance-flavored sound.

With the first one, the cover image came first, then the title and back cover; with this one, I started with the title, then the image, then the back cover. I had a lot of fun playing with the implied narrative of the credits – if Richard Chatham is the drummer, then why’s someone else credited with drums on half of the album? And why are there only three people shown o the back cover, despite the band officially being four people?

I figure that future albums list Richard as “drums emeritus’, and he continues to be absent in band photos and live performances. When asked what happened to him, the band inevitably changes the subject.

I also kinda feel like drawing my fictional band is the next step on a slippery slope that ends with me doing comics about them. Hey, it’s not like I’d be the first; Matt Howarth, one of my major influences, had a whole constellation of imaginary bands, one of whom started in a comic book that ran for like thirty or forty issues.

Technically, I’m proud of the front cover of the new one. I figured out a reasonably efficient way to do distortions without leaving Illustrator:

  1. Make a new layer, draw a 50% grey rectangle that more than covers the area you want to distort. Draw your greyscale distortion map on top of it, matching whatever parts of the image you need to – here, I matched the ripples I’d sketched in the water.
  2. Make a new artboard the same size as that rectangle you made in step 1. Export this artboard as a 300dpi greyscale PSD. I found that Illustrator consistently appended ‘-distortion map’ to the exported file name, interestingly enough.
  3. Turn off the layer you drew the distortion map in.
  4. In the layer you want to apply the distortion map to, draw a rectangle the same size as your distortion map. Give it no stroke and no fill.
  5. In the layers palette, target the layer you want to distort.
  6. effects->rasterize. 300dpi, add 0pt around the object.
  7. effects->distort->glass, load in your distortion map. 100% size, other sliders to taste.
  8. You’re done.

If you want it to be a higher resolution, you can do that. Just make sure you export the distortion map at the same resolution you rasterize the stuff you’re distorting.

(Sure, you could do this completely vector by doing a distortion mesh. But making a complicated mesh is a fiddly, annoying task that I really don’t care to do. And it takes a hell of a long time to render. This takes a not-unnoticeable amount of time to render as well, but it’s a lot faster than a distortion mesh on my machine.)


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