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Alyse Thompson

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While comparing album covers for Gym Class Heroes’ “The Papercut Chronicles” and “The Papercut Chronicles II,” many would not guess that Western Illinois University graduate Evan Leake is behind both colorful designs.

Leake, a Macomb-based graphic designer, created the then-fledgling band’s first album in 2005 after a string of covers for independent groups. Gym Class Heroes, whose current single “Stereo Hearts” is at No. 10 on Billboard’s Top 100, turned to Leake again for the album’s sequel.

“The main issue was getting things to match up,” said Leake, who graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in art. “If you put the covers side-by-side, they flow into each other, and that was very important to the band. They’ve been really supportive.”

For “The Papercut Chronicles,” Leake, 27, used the group’s pop/hip-hop sound as inspiration for his neon design.

“The first album was kind of just playing around,” Leake said. “This was the first hip-hop CD on an independent punk label, Fueled by Ramen out of Florida, so we’re kind of just going for something kind of gritty, but bright and colorful – something that would kind of fit the music.”

The second album’s design, according to Leake, used similar design concepts in a more developed manner.

“This one we kind of did the same thing, but a little more refined this time,” Leake added. “Everything was created in a little higher quality than the original artwork, so they were able to use the pieces of it in a wider variety of applications for merch and stuff like that.”

“On this one, they kind of wanted to show personal growth, reflection to their childhood and also the pattern of the first album,” he added. “We used photos from their childhood and photos that were unused from the photo shoot of the first album, and I kind of made a collage – I call them ‘totems’ where they are stacked up together. That kind of went along with the theme they want to do.”

Despite working with the band for both projects, Leake said most of his communication with Gym Class Heroes passed through the band’s management.

“I’ve had limited contact with them,” Leake said. “At the beginning of this project, I talked to (frontman) Travie McCoy a couple times just to get on the same page, but after that, then it’s just usually going through the management and labels for approval. They send things to the band, so it’s always a couple steps away from the band.”

While Gym Class Heroes is his most popular client, Leake has also created 10-15 album layouts for smaller, more independent groups such as Chicago-based The Academy Is… and Trapt, a band most known for its song “Headstrong.”

“I really enjoy CDs because they let you be more free,” Leake said. “It’s just a blank canvas instead of a bunch of rules that you have to follow.”

Now, Leake mostly works on web design through his company, Pale Bird Design Studio – a moniker he picked at random in 2003.

“I took that name when the first CD that I made,” Leake said. “I didn’t want to just go by ‘Evan,’ so I needed a company name, a distributor name. I just went to GoDaddy or wherever I registered my domain name, and I was just kind of typing in things thinking about what looked cool or short or something I could live with. I came up with that just on the fly. It’s just been the name I’ve gone under.”

And after eight years, Leake said he is still happy with his company’s name though he is usually his toughest critic.

“I’m always extra critical on my old work, but I still like the name, so that’s good,” Leake said.

Currently, Leake works part time doing promotional and branding work for, a site dedicated to buttons, magnets and zipper pulls. He is also in the process of creating an online streaming site for a mega church in Arizona.

Leake doesn’t forget his roots, however, and squeezes in some album designs for independent bands.

“The best thing is a client that comes back because people come and go,” Leake said. “Each project with a new client is scary because you don’t know what to expect, and you don’t know how they are going to be about all kinds of aspects of business. A client that you’ve worked with a long time will respect you – you’ll know what they’ll appreciate, you’ll know how to hit the nail on the head the first time around.”

Leake also offered some advice for young people looking to break into the graphic design industry.

“The main advice I would say is just work as much as you can. Take projects no matter how small they might be. You need a portfolio to get real work. That would be my main advice.”

And as a designer for a digital world, Leake also admonishes young people to watch what they post on social networking sites.

“Be careful about social networking; the more personal stuff you have online, the weirder it might be for employers,” Leake said. “I’ve always been kind of a recluse on social networking. I’ve got stuff from my company, but I don’t post a lot of personal things on it. I know that if I was looking to hire someone, I would be Googling them and making my judgments based on that. If I was teaching young graphic designers, I’d say censor your profile and start thinking about a professional identity.”

Though designing takes up much of his time, Leake also enjoys listening to music, watching movies and spending time with his baby daughter, Nora. And no matter what projects he pursues, Leake said he’ll do it with a purpose in mind.

“I like to design,” Leake said. “I think it’s important that everything we use in our daily life is well designed. I think Apple products are helping that become important to other companies. I like the order that the graphic design feel brings to things. Poorly designed products or images, they don’t inspire confidence, and that’s my job to make my client look as good as they can.”





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