Susan Archie

Susan Archie has produced striking designs for Revenant, Dust To Digital and Table of the Elements which we’ve been happy to cover here on Hard Format. Her work imparts a sense of profound respect for its subjects which are fleshed out with biographical and critical detail. She often makes much of limited resources, for example the one surviving photograph of Charley Patton on Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues. As with so much of the work we cover, we recommend you go out and buy this work to experience it properly.
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I like to think that my strength as a music packaging designer is as a documentarian. I’m not a particularly good logo maker, I’m not a great designer, my strength is editorial. I make a beautiful book(let) from a pile of photographs and words. I present/filter the information/artifacts I am given in such a way as to make a compelling story.

I came to graphic design from the back end – the computer. I always wanted to be a filmmaker, musician or photographer but didn’t have the ego necessary to sell myself. After getting a degree in photography at a humble southern university, I moved to NYC in 1981 and fell into making money in evolving office technologies. I progressed up the ladder from being a secretary at a top ad agency to a word processing/powerpoint temp at Citibank to being a ‘desktop’ designer at a swank minimalist design firm on Fifth Avenue. I didn’t catch my ‘break’ until a friend introduced me to Jeff Hunt at Table of the Elements, who needed digital pre-press work. That’s how I broke into the music business, riding my Macintosh in from the bottom-left, moving up through the avant-garde minimalists with a ‘textual’ or ‘document’ perspective.

My influences are my clients. Each of the label owners I work with has a succinct and distinct vision – I act as arbiter/conductor, a medium to actualize their dreams. Over the last seven years, five different clients have received Grammy nominations and three have won Grammys for packages I worked on. This is pretty remarkable due to the truly independent nature of these labels; none of these releases has sold over 10,000 copies.

I’m very fortunate to have been exposed to the depth and breadth of music collections on these labels. Tony Conrad and John Cale, Stanley Brothers, Art Rosenbaum, Captain Beefheart, Dock Boggs, Rhys Chatham, Charley Patton, John Fahey, Blind Willie McTell…. The list goes on and on. In my mind “Goodbye, Babylon” is the daddy of them all – it’s an insanely great music collection. If you love music you must save your pennies or ask grandma for this set.

So, for me, this has become my Art and my little reason for being – to contribute to these labels that recognize music as Art – and who spend the time and money to present it that way.

I always gripe about money – there is never enough – but I am so blessed to be doing the work I am doing. I still owe it even more to my partner, Janet L Smith, who allows me the freedom to work at something I love, rather than what pays the electric bill.

28 March 2009
Susan Archie
Atlanta GA USA

Further information

Susan Archie’s design discography
World of Anarchie