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A Q&A With Dewey Saunders, The Graphic Designer Behind Anderson .Paak's 'Malibu'

Sabina Palmieri

 // Jan 15, 2016

Amanda Edwards // Getty Images

It was only a few days ago that I spotted the album art for Anderson .Paak's Malibu, and as a huge fan of all things art, I had to find out who created the piece. Moments later I learned of Dewey Saunders, a Philadelphia-based graphic designer and illustrator who also happens to be a rapper who goes by the name Emcee Unless AKA Dewey Decibel.

I had the opportunity to ask Dewey about his inspirations, connection with music, working with Anderson .Paak, his creative process and other music artists he'd like to work with.

Get to know the artist a little more in our Q&A, and check out the other projects he's put together for .Paak below.

What sparked your creative side, and when did you start making art?

Dewey: My family is pretty artistic, my dad painted a lot and my grandmother, Catherine, exposed me to galleries in Europe and New York at a young age. I remember being in Italy when I was seven years old at a Rene Magritte show and in Venice getting a Warhol poster of Batman.

What do you turn to for inspiration?

Dewey: New music, coffee, art books and magazines. I find inspiration in everyday life, but the creative muse can be slightly elusive. One must develop certain rituals to tap into that magical place of creativity. Sometimes it can pop up out of nowhere and you just ride the wave.

When did you start doing collage art?

Dewey: I would collage in my sketchbooks over drawings I didn’t like. I have a sketchbook from a 2004 European tour and the front cover is one dense collage pulled from skate mags, posters from Cue Records (RIP) and Rasta imagery. I fell in love with the immediacy of collage and being able to quickly make a few images.

How did life in Boynton Beach, Florida influence your work?

Dewey: I was born in raised in South Florida and the sub tropical context is a huge part of my outlook and personality. I moved to Pennsylvania when I was ten and I would split my time in both places. My work heavily draws on the influences of surf and skate culture, marine life, fishing, sailing, reggae music; even the rugged, rawness, post-cocaine-cowboy-miami-sleaziness — all from South Florida.

I see a lot of music artists used in your pieces, what's your connection to music?

Dewey: Music is my life. I make music, I create art for music releases. I am fueled by listening to new music that I have never heard before. It opens me up and gets my creative juices flowing. I like to get hype and dance around a bit before I make art, you have to invoke a certain energy.

When did you start making album art?

Dewey: I would always do covers for my friends' music or my own, but the first official release on vinyl was Brown Recluse - Evening Tapestry. It was a breakthrough collage series that was used for the artwork and packaging, it was a rush seeing the physical version. I have been steadily designing album artwork since then for various labels and bands.

How did you start working with Anderson .Paak?

Dewey: I illustrated a poster for his weekly at the Lyric LA in the summer of ’14. He ended up having me design everything for his debut LP Venice. Everything kind of clicked with that cover, the bright poppy aesthetic I was working in matched the very beachy surf vibes in the samples in Anderson’s music.

What was the mood/feeling you were trying to create with the visual for Malibu?

Dewey: Malibu has a very timeless, classic feel and we wanted the cover to reflect the moods and the emotional depth of the record. The approach was to look back at classic records from the 60’s and 70’s as inspiration for the aesthetic. I worked with Creative Director Cory Gomberg and Anderson directly on concept ideation and brainstorming imagery for the singles "The Season," "Am I Wrong" and "Room In Here" plus the Euro Tour poster. We ended up creating a warm, vintage aesthetic that we ran with for the cover, pushing the analog retro collage style. The mood of the cover has a lush oil painting like tone to match the musical richness of Malibu and the lone figure of Anderson reflects the ultra personal content of the lyrics. It was a really in depth process from the concept to the execution, and I ended up working in a completely different process because of Cory’s art direction and Anderson’s overall vision and involvement in the creative process. The art was truly a group effort and the end product is stronger because of the collaboration.

What's your process when creating art for a musician?

Dewey: I use different approaches for each artist/album that I design and let the sonics dictate the image making process. Listening to the music is the top priority. I basically listened to the record on repeat for weeks, lived it and breathed it. It’s important to make the concept match the track/album also allowing the artwork tell another perspective of the same story. For Malibu I took the references from the lyrics and internalized the music, finding related imagery to build a lush and complex collage environment for Anderson and the other figures. Because of quality and the integrity of the recordings, I felt a duty to really make the artwork and packaging something special so we just went all the way in with the details. We hope it will provide the listeners an experience of discovery while enjoying the record.

Any music artists you would love to work with in the future?

Dewey: I would love to work with Flying Lotus on an album cover.

Off The Ground Tour @anderson._paak & The Free Nationals👌🏽

A photo posted by Dewey Saunders (@deweysaunders) on

Single artwork for "Room in Here" by @anderson._paak ft. @losangelesconfidential & @sonyaeelise

A photo posted by Dewey Saunders (@deweysaunders) on

New @anderson._paak Am I Wrong ft. @groovyq prod. by @pomobeats 🌴

A photo posted by Dewey Saunders (@deweysaunders) on

Just sent out the original artwork for Venice to the homie @anderson_.paak 🌴🌊⚡️✌🏼️

A photo posted by Dewey Saunders (@deweysaunders) on

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