How often is it that an album cover’s art draws you in and brings you to pick up a record and want to hear it?  

There are many album artists that you might think of, like the Peter Blake’s design of the Beatle’s “Sgt. Pepper” or Robert Rauschenberg’s “Speaking In Tongues” Talking Head’s cover.  Long before both of those great album cover artists, there were journeyman artists like David Stone Martin, everyday craftsmen creating constantly whether the format be an advertisement, a book illustration, poster, mural or, most famously for David, the 12” by 12” inch format of the LP cover.

When I first saw David Stone Martin’s work, sometime back in the 90’s, I was drawn in.  I had been a fan of local Seattle artist Edward Fotheringham who, during grunge, had done cover art for bands like Mudhoney, Flop and Love Battery.  Luckily, when discussing Fotheringham with another music friend, I was led to David Stone Martin.  

Martin was a superb craftsman.  His masterful figures of musical instruments and human forms really speak to the character and style of his subjects.   

David Stone Martin, or DSM as I’ll refer to him from here, started out as a graphic designer working for the US government in Pre War America in the 30’s, designing murals during the 1933 World’s Fair.  DSM spent the remainder of the decade as art director of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and served during World War II as an artist/correspondent for Life magazine. 

After returning to the U.S. after the war, he mounted a career as a freelance artist, landing advertising gigs for clients including the Disc Company of America, CBS Television, and Lincoln Center; in 1948, he also began teaching at the Brooklyn Museum School of Art, followed in 1950 by a year at New York City’s Workshop School of Advertising and Editorial Art. 

DSM entered music illustration through his longtime friendship with producer Norman Granz, designing label art for Verve, Norgran, Clef, and Down Home labels as well as hundreds of now-classic cover paintings for acts including Art Tatum, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton.  

DSM went on to create over 400 album covers many of which are now highly collectible and also rather beautiful.  Using a fluid, impressionistic style that perfectly echoed the jazz albums his artwork adorned, his influence can be seen throughout the world of album cover graphics, particularly on the jazz sleeves of Andy Warhol.  

In his introduction to the book The Art of Drawing with Pen, Pencil and Brush, DSM himself said, “Searching out a line is like bending wire… volume, modeling, shape and motion can all be said in line and wash… or even more simply by line drawing alone.”

David Stone Martin died in 1992 at the age of 79 but left a legacy that will delight generations to come.

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