Work / Graphic Design

Art directing a monster hit record: Adult Art Club on designing Ed Sheeran’s Divide

Adult Art Club is a UK-based studio that primarily works in art direction. It was founded by Jonny Costello in 2015. Working across music, fashion, entertainment and youth culture, the studio “tries to take on only projects that really speak to us and that we can really get behind,” says Jonny. “We are as happy working on a global campaign for an artist as we are working on an independent release. 

The studio designed the artwork for Ed Sheeran’s ridiculously popular album Divide. The cover of the album appeared on screens and browsers all over the world, with the album having been streamed 56,73 million times on Spotify on the day of release. In stores, the album sold 672,000 copies in the UK on the week of the release. We caught up with Jonny to tell us more about the story behind the most-seen record cover of the year.

How were you approached for this job?
The job came about through some of the team at Atlantic records seeing some previous work we had done. They also really liked one campaign we designed for Everything Everything, they asked for some work samples, I sent some over then they asked if we would like to put forward some ideas for the new Ed Sheeran Campaign. Which of course we were pretty excited about. 

What was the brief?
The brief was was quite open, We were given the title and really just asked to explore how we could develop on the previous two albums. Ed had a naming system in place on his albums so we had to follow this to some degree. One consistency in all of Ed albums artwork is a strong differentiating colour. His previous album was a striking green so on this one we were asked to work around the theme of it being blue.


Adult Art Club: Divide


Adult Art Club: Divide

How did you develop the concept? How much input did the artist have?
The concept had to be a development of where Ed and his artwork had been previously. Ed’s artwork has always had a very natural and handmade feel to it and this naturally fits his vibe. And even though he is a massive artist at his core he is an extremely hands on singer songwriter with a massive raw talent. We really wanted to convey this in the concept. 

How did the Spin painting come to be?
Ed made the spin painting himself. He’s friends with the artist Damian Hirst and Hirst allowed him to use one of his spin painting machines at his studio. The painting is extremely large in size its around seven foot by seven foot. There is so much amazing detail in the original that just gets lost in digital but on the 12 Inch sleeve its possible to see a lot of the detail. In real life, the spin paints look fantastic. Ed did two versions of the painting and we used the one that worked the best on the sleeve. The radiating spin fit so naturally with the square format for Vinyl and Digital.  To capture all the detail of his painting we used the head of photography at Birmingham museum and art gallery. We used a digital backed medium format camera to capture all the detail. In person, the painting is really quite spectacular. 

How did you select your collaborators? Can you explain some of the work that went into the details such as the type and illustration?
With this project we had a clear over all vision laid down after the first month of how the design would look, and it was about getting some great people in place to help realise this. We knew type, and illustration would play a key role in the overall aesthetic. With the illustration we had two contrasting styles, one extremely detailed but the still very loose water colour illustrations from the incredible Kasiq Jung Woo, a fashion illustrator from Korea. Along with Kasiq’s illustrations, I created a set of contrasting illustrations to work as avatars for each individual track, these illustration were a lot rawer and more direct in feel. The type was a collaborative effort with myself and Charlotte Audrey, a designer and illustrator I regularly work with. With the type and illustrations we kept a monochromatic palette across the board so it would all sit together harmoniously. With any record that is released on such a large scale, consistency is the key, we took a lot of care to really get it looking as consistent as possible on all formats physical and digital.  

How long did the project take?
All in all the project ran for around four to five months, we did an initial concept work and exploratory stage for about a month. In this first month, we had a lot of contact with the artist to really help lock down the look and feel the illustration routes and type styles. Once we had the core visual locked down we moved into developing all the assets that came with a release of this size. 

How does it feel now the work is out there on such a massive scale?
Its always an amazing feeling to see an album through from the initial stages right through to the finished article and its even better when it does so well. The album really did amazingly well. I knew it would do well but as far as I am aware it has broke loads of global records for high sales with it going four times platinum. Ed went and got one of my illustrations tattooed on him so I guess he must have liked the illustrations. 


Adult Art Club: Divide


Adult Art Club: Divide


Adult Art Club: Divide


Adult Art Club: Divide


Adult Art Club: Divide