Alum designs 2nd album cover for popular hip hop/rock group, Gym Class Heroes

WIU alum Evan Leake's album cover designs for Gym Class Heroes

Evan Leake's designs for Gym Class Heroes' debut album, "The Papercut Chronicles" (left) and the band's sequel "The Papercut Chronicles II"

When Evan Leake designed his first album cover for Gym Class Heroes‘ debut album “The Papercut Chronicles” back in 2005, he said the Geneva, NY-based rock/hip hop group had “just been freshly signed” to its label, Decaydance Records. Six years and a few albums later, Gym Class Heroes’ sequel to its debut album is number 10 on Billboard’s Rap Album chart (week ending December 3, 2011), and Leake has yet another dynamic cover design to his credit.

Recently, Leake–who earned his bachelor of fine arts from Western Illinois University’s Department of Art in 2006–was tapped to produce an album cover for Gym Class Heroes’ sequel to its debut album, “The Papercut Chronicles II.” According to Leake, he designed this second album cover so that “the artwork flowed seamlessly between the two albums, side by side.”

Charles Wright, art department chair at WIU, and I sent Evan some questions about his latest vision and creation for Gym Class Heroes. Following are Evan’s answers he sent to us via email.

Pale Bird Design Studio | Evan Leake

Pale Bird Design Studio | You can see more of Evan's work at

Q: How did you first come to be involved with the album cover project for Gym Class Heroes?

Leake: I did the original “The Papercut Chronicles” album back in 2005, when Gym Class Heroes had just been freshly signed to their label. I had worked my way up to getting gigs with major and large independent record labels, and this project was given to me randomly. When the latest album, “The Papercut Chonricles II” came around, they contacted me to do the artwork once again.

Q: How did you conceptualize the first album cover for the band? Can you explain how the creative process works, between you and the band members?

Leake: I usually send artwork to the management and label people, who then, in turn, send the art to the band, so I don’t always get in touch with the band members themselves. This time around we had a couple phone conferences with Travie McCoy [lead vocals] up front to talk about art and photography before we began to get everyone on the same page. After that, we collaborated through management.

I don’t think the band had much in mind when we developed the original artwork. I know we wanted something brightly colored but “urban” and interesting. I took some of the standard iconography of hip hop culture, street art, etc., and made art that resembled stencil graffiti or something to that effect. We also incorporated photos of the band into a sort of collage.

For this most recent album, it was very important to the band’s lead Travie McCoy that the artwork for both albums fit together side by side, like puzzle pieces. I created the new artwork with similar, yet refined techniques and developed the cover for the album to match up directly next to the original.

We then fleshed out the inside of the booklet using portraits of the band again, but this time we gave each member a “totem,” featuring photos of them through childhood, a picture of them from the era of the original album, and then a modern portrait, stacked up to represent growth and reflection.

I was also able to create three single covers for songs that should be hitting the airwaves soon. These covers are designed so that they fit side by side with the cover and match up seamlessly as well. I am very excited for the success of this album, more than anything else I’ve worked on yet and am grateful for the opportunity to work with such talented musicians.

Q: Does the creative work (music) of the band influence your album cover design(s)? If so, how?

Leake: I always consider the band’s music when developing artwork for the band. I like to try new techniques for each CD I do. Sometimes bands will request a style similar to what I’ve done in the past, but I usually try to differentiate each layout so each CD has its own tone that suits the music. I usually like to listen to the record while working on the artwork, but sometimes it’s not so easy. It took a while for me to get a few watermarked MP3s for this latest release, and I didn’t hear the full album until it was released, but when I was working on the original, I had the full album 6 months or more before it came out. But that was a while ago, before the all the early leaks and filesharing.

Q: How did you create the album cover designs?

Leake: I used Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to create the artwork. The original “Papercut” layout was entirely created in Photoshop, but this time I created the artwork as a 100 percent vector graphic, so that it could be easily adapted to other kinds of merchandise and stage backdrops, etc.

I feel like I was able to create a more interesting layout this time around, using photo collage based on photos the band provided me. I feel like the newest package is much more intentional than the original release. We were kind of just messing around back then, and so was the band. So I think the growth musically and visually really go hand in hand.


Evan is the owner and lead designer of Pale Bird Design Studios. He is a native of Macomb and lives in Macomb. For more about Evan and his work for other bands, like Fallout Boy, Alkaline Trio, Atreyu, The Academy Is and Trapt, check out, “Local artist designs hit album covers,” which appeared in the Nov. 29 issue of the McDonough County Voice.

Bruce Walters, professor of art at WIU, contributed to this post

History faculty talks U.S. Army doctrine at Fort Leavenworth

Walter Kretchik, author of "U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror," talks to Command and General Staff College faculty about the "last war" Nov. 10

WIU History Associate Professor Walter Kretchik, author of "U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror," talks to Command and General Staff College faculty about the "last war" Nov. 10

In September, Western Illinois University Department of History Associate Professor Walter Kretchik published the book, “U.S. Army Doctrine: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror.” According to the information included in the book’s front flap, Kretchik’s book is “the first comprehensive history of Army doctrine,” and “fully explores the principles that have shaped the Army’s approach to warfare”:

From the American Revolution to the global war on terror, U.S. Army doctrine has evolved to regulate the chaos of armed conflict by providing an intellectual basis for organizing, training, equipping, and operating the military. Walter E. Kretchik analyzes the service’s keystone doctrine over three centuries to reveal that the army’s leadership is more forward thinking and adaptive than has been generally believed.

Last week, the Fort Leavenworth Lamp posted a piece by Melissa Bower about the Nov. 10 talk Kretchik presented to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.

Read the piece, “Doctrine expert talks to CGSC?staff, faculty,” at

Learn more about Dr. Kretchik’s work via his faculty page on WIU’s website at

WIU professor’s research featured in local agricultural news section

A story about the pennycress research of Western Illinois University agriculture Professor Win Phippen was recently featured in a GateHouse News Service publication, “Former’s Forecast.”

See the section at, and read the story at

History Alum Covers “Field of Dreams” Set Sale

Iowa Public Radio’s Alex Heuer, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Western in 2008, recently (Nov. 16) contributed “New Owners, New Dreams For Baseball Mecca” to National Public Radio:

November 16, 2011 from WOI
The iconic baseball diamond, two-bedroom house, and 193-acres from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, was sold. About 65,000 people visit the free-admission site every year to play pick-up baseball and view the scenes from the movie. The new owners plan to develop the site, building a baseball/softball complex for national youth baseball tournaments.

During his time at WIU, Alex worked and trained at Tri States Public Radio, an NPR affiliate and outreach service of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at Western Illinois University.

Listen to Alex’s story at

“Horse Country”

A short drive down Rt. 336, then a left on County Road 650 and we arrived in “horse country.”


It was a beautiful October day … the sun was shining, a cool fall breeze was in the air … it was a perfect day for the WIU Equestrian Club’s “Equestrian Experience,” an annual event sponsored by the WIU club to introduce the Western and surrounding local communities to the sport and to raise awareness for their club. Kayla Venhuizen, president of Western’s Equestrian Club and agriculture major from Morrison, met us and escorted us to the barn to begin our experience. After meeting other club members, my 13-year-old son was ready to start riding. And I even heard myself ask if I could ride (even though it had been 13 years since I took my last horseback ride)!

From the line of half a dozen horses, Club Fundraising Chair Amanda Post, psychology major from Wonder Lake, chose Buddy, a brown horse with white blaze and stockings for William, and a pinto, Ben, for me. We slowly made our way around the indoor arena, getting a feel for our Equine pals, and learning the very basics of riding. During the experience, we also learned the ABCs of caring for a horse.

Club members are students from a variety of majors, but they have one thing in common: a love for horses. Some of the members have been riding since they were four years old, while others are new to the hobby/sport. And a few intend to combine this hobby with a career. Sydney Musgrave, pre-social work major from Naperville plans a career in horse therapy, helping trauma victims and special needs children. Kevin Zerbe, a law enforcement and justice administration major from Des Plaines, plans on becoming a mounted police officer.

During the school year, the WIU Equestrian Club takes part in approximately six English and Western competitions. Riders (and even non-riders who want to learn) are welcome to join the club. Members don’t need to have their own horse, they don’t need to have riding experience and they do not have to participate in the competitions. The Equestrian Club practices at Walt Dorethy’s horse farm near Colchester on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, while meetings are held on campus at 5 p.m. on Mondays in Knoblauch Hall Room 307.

For more information about the club, visit

Just another day at the office? Not the “Case” for WIU LEJA Alum

The Quincy Herald Whig’s police and courts reporter, Rodney Hart, posted a short piece today (Nov. 8, 2011) about a memorable day on the job recently for a 2004 WIU alumnus.

J.D. Summers, a Quincy (IL) patrol officer who graduated from Western with a degree in law enforcement and justice administration (LEJA) and who played men’s basketball while attending WIU, along with fellow officer Kris Billingsley, recently saved a potential suicide victim on the Quincy Bayview Bridge.

In Hart’s article, Summers noted: “The guy basically had one leg straddling the railing…I thought, well, this is the real deal … The information we had was that he was tired of living and that he wanted to end his life, and that’s what he was showing to us.”

Read Hart’s entire piece, “QPD officers keep man from jumping off Bayview bridge during ‘intense’ call,” at