If you own Melissa Ferrick’s In the Eyes of
Strangers, Rachel Cantu’s Run All
Night, or a Tegan and Sara T-shirt, then you own a piece of Emy Storey’s
work. The lesbian artist has worked on album art, merchandise and
advertisements for several artists, including designing Death Cab For Cutie’s
latest best-selling album, Narrow Stairs.
"I was always really interested in art and making things," Storey
said. "I would be obsessing over the layout of my term papers [in
college]. When I look back on some of the papers I wrote, I would spend more
time designing a cover and illustration that had nothing to do with my report
whatsoever. It just sort of hit me once I came to school that I’m choosing a
While at school at Montreal‘s Concordia University,
Storey developed her own style, which emerged in her first post-college project:
designing for Tegan and Sara. Since 2003, she’s served as the band’s creative
director. She has toured with them several times, meeting fans to find out what they’d
want to buy in the merchandise lines with each new release.
From her work with the duo, she was able to get hired on for
other projects, and she also managed to build a fan base of her own. Storey was
Sara’s girlfriend for several years, which put Storey in the position to become
close to the band and the fans, and gave her an advantage when it came to
creating designs both would find pleasing and representative of the music.
Sara Quin models a t-shirt designed by Storey
"The merchandise was such a blossoming and organic part of the business,"
Storey said. "The fans enjoy the [merchandise], and they’re so wonderful,
and we try to give them what they want and think of things for them to buy. If
we had really boring shirts, I’m sure we wouldn’t sell half as many. When I
first started selling merch with them, I was obsessed with it. I built elaborate displays and lights and got to
know a lot of the fans that way and see what they were looking for … It was a
really interesting opportunity, I felt like, that only me — and by me I mean
someone really close to them — was able to bring to the job because I had so
much to put into it."
Despite spending half of her time designing T-shirts, scarves and sweatshirts
for musicians, Storey’s favorite part of her job is putting together album
Album covers designed by Storey
"I just feel like album artwork has the potential to be so creative and
intelligent if you want it to be," Storey said. "Not everybody’s
looking for that kind of thing because everybody has different tastes. It’s
really a client/designer relationship, and you have to respond to each client
differently. They’re going to look at your design and say, ‘No this isn’t our
style,’ or ‘We should put these colors,’ or ‘We don’t like this, we don’t like
Trying to artistically represent a body of music is also a
challenge because, “you’ve got to take that and try to understand their
concepts and their messages and come up with something really intelligent to
portray it all visually."
Storey said she likes to brainstorm for weeks, coming up with around 20 different
concepts and pieces to bring to her clients.
"Usually I’ll just shut myself in," she said. "During that time,
I’m the most creative and coming up with themes and concepts that I then use
again and again in their merchandise or other artwork for the duration of the
album cycle. I always do a lot during that time."