‘Western Skies’

Book Design, Packaging

Book design and album packaging for Austin singer-songwriter Darden Smith's 16th album.

Darden Smith is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter known for his vivid lyrics and blending folk and Americana influences with rock, pop and the rich musical history of his home state of Texas.The Austin-based musician, author and artist has also been a longtime collaborator with Pentagram’s Austin office. 

Over the years, Partner DJ Stout and his team have designed vinyl/CD packages and posters for four of Smith’s album releases and three of his books. His debut album, Native Soil was released in 1986, and for his sixteenth album, Western Skies (released last May), the singer-songwriter called on his friends at Pentagram Austin once again.

The Western Skies project – part music, part prose and part photographic essay – is Smith’s homage to the mythologies of Texas and the American West. During the live-show-stopping days of the pandemic the performer began taking long sojourns out west. Amid a series of solo road trips to West Texas, Smith found himself writing songs at the wheel and taking Polaroid pictures of the stark, therapeutic terrain. Inspired by the spirit of the landscape, he scribbled his observations in a notebook and found new life in old lyrics. Between the prose, the music and the photographs, Western Skies came vividly to life. 

The vinyl and CD packages feature four of Smith’s ethereal photographs, duly obscured by the design team with red, wall-to-wall typography inspired by vintage Buffalo Bill’s Wild West posters. The book, published by Dexterity Books, Nashville, showcases over sixty of the artist’s sepia-toned landscapes taken with his “old-school” Polaroid camera. In addition to the images, the book includes the lyrics of the new album (of the same name), sixteen original essays and a forward by Grammy Award-winner Rodney Crowell.

The layout of the 128-page hardcover coffee-table book interweaves Smith’s photographs, essays and song lyrics, set in Tiempos by New Zealand-based Klim Type Foundry. The passages are punctuated with dramatic, poster-like typographic moments set all-caps in GT America by Grilli Type. The printing of the over-sized volume on soft, uncoated paper heightens the overall handcrafted, silk-screened feeling of the book. 

Working with Smith and Jace Graf at Cloverleaf Studios, a custom bookbinder based in Austin, the Pentagram team consulted on the design of a special, limited edition of Western Skies. The collector’s edition features a leather/cloth cover, a signed lithograph print of one of the Polaroid images and a tipped-in signature page all contained within a handsome clothbound box.

In addition to the music album/CD packages and book, the Pentagram team designed a separate limited edition vinyl package for Smith’s spoken-word performance of his Western Skies essays. This album features his Polaroid images as well, but with a decidedly more minimal typographic approach.  

DJ Stout
Project team
Stu Taylor
Jace Graf, bookbinding
Nick Cabrera, photography
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