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

Award-winning research: a family tradition

One of the high school students featured in a story on WSIL-TV yesterday (March 28) is pretty lucky when it comes to having a dad who can help with homework, so to speak.

WSIL, a TV station in southern Illinois, profiled some of best high school students in the state, who had gathered at Southern Illinois University over the past weekend for the 33rd Annual Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. One of those students was Macomb High School senior Prem Thottumkara. As the story explains, students delivered presentations based on their summer research projects and a written thesis, and one rule for the symposium was that “students must conduct their experiments and research under the watchful eye of a mentor.” This student didn’t have to look too far to find a scientist who could guide his work. Prem happens to be the son of WIU chemistry professor Vinod Thottumkara (who goes by T.K. Vinod). As the story says,

Thottumkara said he is glad that his mentor is his father because it makes asking questions an easy task, even if the answer is not what he wants to hear. “I can say, “hey dad, how does this work?” and he’s quick to give me a response and even when there’s something he knows I should know yet, he’ll say “this is advanced organic chemistry, you don’t need to know this yet” Thottumkara said.

And Prem’s participation in the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is just another chapter in the family history of father-son collaboration. Professor T.K. Vinod even earned a patent on a project that was initially sparked by his elder son during a junior high school project. Learn more about Professor Vinod here.

picture of Professor T.K. Vinod with his son and other students

Professor T.K. Vinod with his son Arun and other students (2005)


An up-lift-ing achievement: student sets world records in international competition

Like many college students, Sophie Simmons found herself feeling a bit restless during a break from school.

But instead of channel-surfing or sleeping in, she got involved in a new sport. And not long after that she set a world record in it.

Simmons, a senior exercise science major at WIU, recently brought home the record for her age division and weight class at the American Drug Free Powerlifting Federation (ADFPF) World Championships held in Castleblayney, Ireland. Simmons was among 300 competitors from 20 nations competing to lift the most total weight over a set of three lifts, a squat, a bench press, and a “dead lift.” The 21-year-old in the 58.5-kilos (or 123-129-pound) weight class lifted a total of 656 lbs.

“It was incredible,” she said of the experience. And as if that weren’t stunning enough, the Macomb native dropped this tidbit of information: “I’ve only been doing the sport for a little under a year.”

Find out how she got into the sport–(more after the photos)–below.


photo of Sophie Simmons in the national power lifting competition

at nationals in June 2010

photo of Sophie Simmons lifting a weight in a power lifting competition

Simmons displays her strenghts at nationals in June 2010

photo of Sophie Simmons at the World Championships

Sophie Simmons at the World Championships in November 2010

While Simmons may have mastered the art of power lifting in record time, she has been competing in athletic endeavors since childhood, starting with gymnastics at age seven, which would lead her to winning national titles in power tumbling.

“I’ve done track and pole vaulting, I love dance, cycling, swimming…I like to do everything,” she said.

Still, she had never heard of power lifting until last fall, when she was looking for motivation and happened to visit the workout room at the Salvation Army Community Center in Macomb as part of a kinesiology class. There, she met two retired WIU physical education professors, Judy Gedney and Roger Gedney, who introduced her to the sport. Judy is not only a WIU Athletic Hall of Fame coach, but also has competed in power lifting for 40 years.

“I had been doing triathlons, but triathlon season ends when it gets cold, so I started working out there,” Simmons explained. “I was like, I need something to do, something to compete in.

I’m just really competitive by nature. I love working out, but I need a goal, something to look forward to.”

Aside from her experience with weight training as an athlete, and seeing weight-lifting competitions on TV during the Olympics, she only knew the stereotype of the bulging-muscled female body builders in tiny bikinis. With her slight frame, Simmons acknowledges, “I don’t look like a power lifter. I look like a runner.”

But Roger Gedney recognized something in her, she said.

“I was a gymnast for about 10 years, and so were Roger and Judy back in the day. Gymnasts just have a natural base strength, and the movements are similar in power lifting, so I caught on to the form on my first lift. I was like, ‘I think I can do this.'”

Judy Gedney taught Simmons each of the three lifts and explained other elements of competition, including the one-rep maximum lifts in three attempts and how the totals are added up. The organization is one of the only federations that’s explicitly drug-free and determined by drug testing, she said. At their encouragement, she began training for competition in November 2009, working out at the Salvation Army center for two hours a day, three days a week from December through April. (That’s in addition to her student-worker position at Western’s Spencer Student Recreation Center as a personal trainer and group fitness teacher.) She found satisfaction in the process as her strength began to build.

“It’s a process where you can visibly see your results as you improve along the way,” she said. “I have a notebook filled with every workout I’ve done since the first day I was in there, and you can see, as your weights go up, the strength you’re attaining. It’s rewarding to see your progress.”

She stepped up to five days a week for the summer, and “this summer was the strongest I’ve ever felt,” she said.

And it wasn’t just a feeling. In June, Simmons competed in nationals held in Columbia, Mo., where she set qualifying totals to compete on the international level. Once she knew she was going to the world championships, she said, “my only goal was to do the dead lift, 140 kilos. That’s 309 pounds.”

A shoulder injury set back her training. But she kept at it.

“Roger definitely had the biggest influence on me to stick with it and keep it going,” she said. “They’re 70 and 75 years old (respectively) and they’re still both in incredible shape,” she added. “It’s inspiring.”

And at the international meet, she lifted 92.5 kilos (or 203 pounds) for the squat; 65 kilos (or 143 pounds) in the bench press; and 140 kilos (309 pounds) for the dead lift.

Despite this show of physical strength, Simmons says one of the things she’s most proud of actually happened after the competition: she traveled around Ireland on her own.

“It was the first time I’d traveled out of the country,” she said. “It was really humbling going to a different country, realizing how much I didn’t know about the world. At the meet, I had to make an effort to meet people and go out of my way to talk to the other athletes, who were from places like Ireland, England, Italy, Sweden, Poland, and Germany–I’m friends with some of them on Facebook now. I also got to spend a day in Dublin, which was so exciting. I really was proud and surprised at myself.”

So, now that she’s conquered the world (or at least the world championships in her sport), what’s next?

“For the next semester, I just want to concentrate on figuring out where I’m going to graduate school!” she laughed.

For now she is concentrating on readying her application materials for Arizona State, where she hopes to study exercise and wellness programming. She hopes to prepare for a career in corporate/workplace health and wellness teams.

“I want to work with people and make a difference by coming up with practical ways to incorporate fitness into peoples’ lives,” she said. “I’m enthusiastic about it because fitness and exercise is my life.”

And despite her success, Simmons says she won’t be returning to power lifting training right away.

“I’m proud and happy about it, but honestly…it’s a sport you can do your whole life. I might pick it back up, but not for awhile. I do still weight-train, but I’m not sure what my next endeavor will be. If you’d told me five years ago ‘you’re going be a world champion at power lifting,’ I’d be like ‘no way.’ So who knows where I’ll be in five years.

“I like challenges,” she continued. “Everything I do is 110 percent. I don’t go halfway into something.”

Students purchase more than $300 in groceries for local food pantries

If you happened to shopping for groceries at a local store yesterday, you might have gotten in line behind a group of shoppers with six carts, and who were trying to calculate their expenses with a calculator–but they were actually working for a great cause, not just holding up the line!

[More, after these photos]

photo of WIU Management students with food donation

photo of Management class delivering food

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, nine WIU freshmen and their instructors shopped together at a grocery store in Macomb, filling carts with more than $300 worth of groceries including canned vegetables, peanut butter and other staples.

But it wasn’t to stock up their own residence hall rooms for the winter months.

Beginning in late October, students in four sections of Management 125Y, Business and Technology in a Global Society–a class offered through Western’s First Year Experience (FYE) program–sold 50/50 raffle tickets to benefit local food pantries. These nine students (above) volunteered to take the proceeds to the store and purchase groceries for disadvantaged families in the area. And as the holiday season approaches, this project was in addition to the Black Student Association’s ongoing Thanksgiving Basket Project, in conjunction with the annual Cans Across America Drive.

Instructors Jeri Harper, Becky Mahr and Cathy Onion came up with the idea for the raffle project.

“Considering the current economic climate, the students involved are receptive to the idea of giving back to the community they live in,” Mahr said. “Since a majority of today’s businesses stress social responsibility, this project prepares students to volunteer and assume an active role in making a difference.”

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Spotted on the way to work…

Usually, when this University Relations staffer (Alison) drops off her car to be worked on in the shop, she hitches a ride to work in the company’s van. Today, however, it was so beautiful, a cool and dewy fall morning, she decided to walk to work in Sherman Hall at Western Illinois University, about 1.2 miles away.

On her way to work, she noticed the Community Gardens Initiative started by a WIU professor–a county-wide project involving McDonough County Housing Authority residents–surviving in their blue plastic baby-pool planters, despite last night’s frost warning, and decided to snap a picture. (Please forgive her for capturing her own shadow as well.)

Thumbs up to Professor Rob Porter and the community members who kept a cool, creative idea going this summer and into fall.

cell-phone picture of community garden tubs

Never mind the photographer...please notice the plants!