Monday, June 1, 2009

GG EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Shawn Brauch, Founder of Pen & Pixel Studios

This actually came about in a super-awesome, roundabout way. I did a post about Pen and Pixel, Shawn Brauch responded to the post and I contacted him for an interview. And here it is.

Previous Pen & Pixel Post I suggest you read before checking out the interview


“The bling-bling actually happened over the phone,” said Brauch. “It happened between B.G. and myself…He was getting frustrated, trying to explain how we wanted the stuff to shine. He was like ‘this little things’. I used to call it star blast, and I was like ‘this bling’. He was like ‘Yeah ! Bling-bling!’ He said it, I said it. He never thought it would take off anywhere. And he's like ‘Yeah, do the bling-bling thing man, hook it up, nahmsayin' ?’ I was like ‘Alright, alright, I got the handle!’ From there, every single time we put the diamonds and the starblast, it was considered "bling-bling" and that just became a huge term.”

Where are you from? How did you get started at Pen & Pixel/Graphic Design?
I was born here in the States, but moved overseas when I was about 5 years old, I grew up in Asia and Brazil. I came back to the states for college.

My background has always been art based. I was taking college level courses at 15, and advanced from there. I went to the Chicago Art Institute to study Interior Architecture and Photography, I then transferred to Parson school of Design in Los Angeles. I majored in Communication design.

Pen and Pixel started purely from demand for the artwork! We could create things digitally that were impossible or way too expensive to assemble for a photoshoot! The special effects era was born in the early nineties...Pen and Pixel was a logical off shoot!

How did you put together the team at Pen and Pixel?
My Brother Aaron, was really more responsible for assembling a winning team. We started out small and brought in experts in their fields, we paid them well because we knew without that kind of experience we would not be able to grow. Aaron was a motivating force and plain and simple had the long term vision and business savvy to organized us into a very well rounded promotions company.

How did you come up with the style that came to define the studio’s album artwork?
The inspiration behind the Pen and Pixel style came about from comic books really, I was always fascinated by their “larger than life style” I wanted to convey that perspective and ”over the topness” in Pen and Pixel covers. That was the impetus for what you see today! I put a great deal of thought into the composition of the covers, I want the viewer to visually participate in the album cover, not just to attract attention in the store, but to ”live” with the music and lyrics!

Did artists come in with ideas about their artwork or did they figure it out once they arrived?
Yes, many artist would come to Pen and Pixel with ideas, some very solid and creative ones, others came with little or nothing. It was always a great time talking with these guys, and getting to know them first. We would invest time into them and in many cases guide them to a more marketable design solution.
We wanted them to succeed!

Which artists were the easiest to work with?/Which artists were difficult to create album covers for?
The artists/record companies that were by far the easiest to work with had to have been Cash Money Records. Brian Williams and Ronald Williams were always extremely professional and had a good grasp on what they wanted out of a high end marketing piece. They also knew the importance it would play in capturing attention not only at the retail level but in other media forms as well. Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Turk and of course Mannie Fresh were always fun to work with. I have to say that when Lil Wayne first came to Pen and Pixel, I was a little concerned because he was the youngest artist that was mainstream Gangsta rap. He had a look about him and a stage presence that I knew was pure gold! This guy was dead serious about his music as well! He was writing non stop, he was and still is a thinker (poet). Juev was more laid back and confident, but all Cash Money Artist were good guys!

The most difficult clients were usually the ones that had all their eggs in one basket or were extremely specific in details that a normal viewer would not engage. Probably the most “selective” client/record company was Short Stop Records. I have to admit, in hind sight that the quality of the covers for Short Stop was extremely high and effective, and like many Pen and Pixel clients ended up doing very well in the entertainment game.
In fact most of our clients became our friends, there was such a symbiotic relationship between the “Artist and the “Promotion companies” that we had to work together to get the biggest bang for our buck, that’s one thing we did very well over the years.

Master P apparently came down to Pen and Pixel studios to confront you guys about creating an album cover featuring a ice cream truck being blown up, and allusion to one of Master P’s popular early singles “Ice Cream Man” in the earlier part of the 90s. Instead of beating anyone up, you guys apparently helped re-brand his company with several iconic album covers.

Yes, the story of No Limit Records coming to Pen and Pixel is fast becoming a legend. The sales director at Pen and Pixel Graphics received a call from a Mr. Percy Miller (AKA) P, a very pissed off “P”! Apparently.
I was directed specifically by a new client some months prior to design and Photoshop an Ice cream truck blowing up and the ice cream vendor falling to his death. I thought it was a rather strange request, but I followed thru. We printed and released several thousand copies of the CD and poster. I had know idea what it meant and Tre-8 obviously had other intentions with this cover.

Anyway “P” had been working with another company out in the bay area to get his CD covers and promotional materials printed, he was dissatisfied with the turn around times and quality of their work. His demeanor changed drastically after everything was explained and he had the opportunity to meet our team. It was the beginning of a new era in promoting music, and Master P was the brains behind it. He knew what he was doing, he also know that hiring the best and expecting the best was the way to make things happen. When he said jump, we asked how high? It was an awesome time, Master P and his staff were great people...period!

In a segment we hope to continue regularly here at GG, Shawn is gonna talk about how he feels about various pieces of graphic design/album artwork/whatever. I decided to start out by asking him about some of his old company's crazy shit!

Big Bear - Doin Thangs

Big Bear, I just am amazed at how much coverage this cover has had! Alright so it’s one of the more bizarre covers we came up with, but when you meet this guy, it fits! We had the theme of “Bear” and just pushed it to “Big PIMP Bling-Bling Bear”! It was rare that a Hip-Hop Artist would step out of the “Norm” (HO’s, Chedda & Bentlys) and feel confident in his own humor.
Big Bear’s cover is so effective because it does just that, it’s funny, engaging and satirical! (as well as very well executed, if I don’t say so myself)

Juvenile - 400 Degreez

This cover had a different motivation behind it, and it explored a combination of different Photoshop techniques. One thing that most people believe is that Pen and Pixel’s signature diamonds encrusted type was some how created by a “Filter” in Photoshop!
I will tell you now, we did not use filters to create these effects, if you look very closely at a Pen and Pixel Poster, for example, and you know Photoshop, you will understand the labor that went into these covers! That’s why they have stood the test of time, because most folks just cannot imagine spending that much time to create a “Hip-Hop” CD cover! We thought it was worth it because we thought our clients were worth it. For many of them this was there one and only chance to “Break Out” of there past life and start a new!

There it is. Expect more from Shawn soon, and once again, apologies for calling him greasy in my first post.

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