The CD Artwork for Jess Novak’s Bad Habit

The CD Artwork for Jess Novak’s Bad Habit

Multi-talented dynamo Jess Novak recently released her first solo CD entitled Bad Habit. Recorded in Syracuse, NY in 2013 and released in January 2014, the album “captures a moment in time, focusing on relationships, both good and bad, telling the stories with honesty.” – ( description). Here is a look inside the creative process behind the cd artwork.

Jess contacted me in late summer of 2013 and asked if I would be interested in photographing her for the cover of her upcoming debut release. Being a fan of Jess’s attitude and the positive energy that she had been infusing the Syracuse music scene with since she arrived here, I was definitely into helping her out. She had some basic ideas for the images, envisioning black and white photos and showing her song’s lyrics written on her body. Other than that, she was open to ideas.

I asked her to send along some of the tracks so I could get a feel for the style and themes of the songs. The recording process was not yet complete, but Jess had decided that the title track would be the song “Bad Habit”. After spending some time listening to the works-in-progress, the chorus of the title track sparked some ideas in my head:

Oh I won’t stop you
If you want a shot at it
But just know baby
I’m just a bad habit

When we got together to discuss and schedule the shoot, I explained that I was thinking of going a bit literal in the visual translation of the idea that she is a “bad habit”. Then I told her that I wanted to put her in an ashtray, surround her with smoke and basically imply that she’s a human cigarette. Understandably, she looked at me funny at first, but she nodded and smiled as I clarified the concept and how we would go about it. I wasn’t shooting for cartoony, overstated imagery. I described the aspects of smoking that I was interested in conveying with the photos. The long length of a smoldering cigarette, the way it’s smoke rises and gracefully moves through the air, you know, the sensual, alluring things that initially tempt one into starting up any bad habit. I remember that Jess sweetly stated that she believed I was the only one that could get her excited about being put in an ashtray. I was flattered and thanked her for her confidence in the concept (and in me!)

The Bad Habit Ashtray

The glass ashtray was photographed on a black plexiglass sheet for the cover of the cd artwork.


I had picked up an awesome glass ashtray for decor at a fantastic place called Flower Child Vintage in Columbus, Ohio awhile back. It is a beautiful piece that really pops when it is all lit up with sunlight. I was excited to be able to use it for a shoot, it was a perfect fit. We photographed the ashtray on top of a black plexiglass sheet so it would really pop and we’d get some reflections beneath it.

It was my first time photographing smoke but I was really pleased with the results. We found that shooting smoke that is wafting up from an incense stick using a speedlight or small studio strobe with a tight grid makes for some dramatic contrast. (We used an Alien Bee B800 with a 20° grid.) I loved photographing smoke. Such dreamy images were captured.

photos of smoke

Photographing smoke is kind of addictive.


Jess was photographed last, fresh from her hair and make-up session with the fabulous Erica Abdo. We set up in The Gear Factory and photographed her on an all black backdrop, making it easier to place her into the ashtray during the editing process. She wore a white, fitted dress and tan boots, a subtle visual reference to a cigarette and it’s filter.

When you are photographing subjects that will be combined into a composite image, it is important that the quality, intensity and direction of the light is consistent for each element of the scene. For instance, we photographed the ashtray with one strobe, placed high and to the right of the camera, with a 30° grid. We then also photographed Jess with one strobe, placed high and to the right of the camera at the same distance and angle, modified with a beauty dish and grid. We placed bins of differing heights beneath the black cloth to mimic the sides of the ashtray and had Jess use them to help her pose in the correct positions. These steps were taken to make sure that, in the end, the eye believes that Jess is actually sitting in a life sized ashtray.


The image of Jess that was used for the cover (bottom) is a hybrid of two different photos of her (top and middle).



Some alternate shots of Jess from our shoot.


After the ashtray shots in the dress and boots were completed, we started on the shots of Jess with the handwritten song lyrics on her body.

Jess Writes On Self

Jess wrote her song lyrics on herself so they were in her own handwriting.


The handwriting on body images were used for the back cover of the CD case, as well as on the inside right, underneath the CD.

Written on body photos

One source, high contrast lighting was used and smoke was added to the black and white “body writing” images to carry a consistent visual theme throughout the cd artwork.


Alternate ashtray shot

An alternate ashtray composite image that was not used in the Cd artwork.


After the shoot was completed and her favorite shots had been selected from the proofs, we began focusing on the styling for the typography and graphic design of the cd case. Jess had relayed that she wanted a feminine, clean and contemporary feel for the artwork, almost a “pop music” type of vibe. She had a specific style of font that she envisioned for the cover. We brought all the elements together to create the final artwork for Bad Habit .

Jess was willing to go with an actual creative concept for her CD artwork as opposed to just wanting a pretty portrait of herself in a pretty place to use for a cover. These are the kinds of projects that genuinely interest me, so I was really happy that she trusted me and allowed us to bring the vision I had for the artwork to life. Bad Habit is available for purchase on iTunes.




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