What It’s Like to Design a Rolling Stone Cover
He’s worked with Paul Kelly, Empire of the Sun, and so many more monumental figures in Australian music. His illustration studio won four ARIA Awards, earning nominations for even more. But Dave Homer, a veteran of the Australian music industry for over two decades, was still humbled to be asked to design the cover for Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s ‘Icons Issue’. “I’ve been a subscriber to Rolling Stone all my life,” he says.
Homer illustrated the stunning cover for our special collector’s edition, which celebrates 50 of the most iconic stars from across Australia and Aotearoa. The ‘Icons Issue’ takes a closer look at 50 living Icons across screen (TV and film), music and comedy, those who have broken boundaries, shattered ceilings and opened doors.
From music favourites both old and new – John Farnham, Iggy Azalea, Blackpink’s Rosé, and many more – to screen luminaries such as Margot Robbie and Taika Waititi, the 50 chosen Icons are etched into the cultural history books — here and abroad — and continue to inspire the next generation of Icons.
Homer was kind enough to discuss his experience designing the prominent cover with Rolling Stone AU/NZ, which you can read below. See more of the illustrator’s work here.
Rolling Stone AU/NZ: Was this your first time designing a music magazine cover?
Dave Homer: I don’t think I’ve done any music covers, but certainly the first time I’ve done a Rolling Stone [cover]. My main work used to be album covers; now I do more illustration.
How did the opportunity to design the ‘Icons Issue’ cover initially come about?
I was talking [with Rolling Stone] about another project that never happened. These things happen, protects come up and they go away all the time. Katie [Taylor, Head of Studio] mentioned that this one was coming up. We talked earlier in the year, and I just mentioned that I’d love to do a Rolling Stone cover. And it all kind of panned out pretty well!
As an illustrator, do you have a bucket list of publications you want to work with?
A very, very long bucket list in the music industry, and Rolling Stone was definitely one of those. The American version – and I think the Australian version as well – used to have a final page with an illustration of the album of the month review. I always dreamed about doing that, but I could never get the gig. To have the cover come along, just out of the blue, I was really excited.
I mean, that’s even better! How long did you take designing the cover?
The actual project itself probably only took a couple of weeks. The editors whittled down the list and chose the six [Icons] for the cover. Once they locked that one, I think it only took a few weeks. Not all day every day, but I did different pencil sketches and sent them off to get feedback. I did two or three different layout designs with the typography. Once the pencil sketch was approved, it was pretty much just straight to illustrating. So that’s my normal process.
Did you not get to pick one of the Icons for the cover then?!
I didn’t! They were given to me but I was pretty happy with the six. Some of them were really fun to draw. Lee Lin Chin was amazing, she’s got such an expressive face.
Was it easy to draw someone as famous as Margot Robbie on the cover?
Well, with someone like Margot, she’s probably the biggest actress in the world at the moment, you have to make sure that you’re not copying someone else’s photograph. It’s a little bit of a balancing act of finding the right reference material, making it look like the person is supposed to look like that without stealing someone else’s photograph.
Who were your favourite Icons in the full list?
Nick Cave. What can you say about Nick Cave? I’ve been a huge fan all my life. He could have made the cover, there were a lot of people who could have been on the cover very easily.
I think you could have an entire ‘Icons Issue’ devoted to just Nick Cave.
Oh man, I’m just listening to an audiobook about Sonic Youth and Nick Cave is scattered throughout, all the way from the mid-70s to now.
What about Icons that we perhaps missed? Any people come to mind?
Maybe Paul Dempsey from Something for Kate? They were one of my favourite bands of all time. The thing about lists is they’re always controversial. If you don’t have people complaining about the list, you’re doing it wrong.
I wanted to ask about your studio, Debaser.
I don’t have Debaser anymore. I had Debaser for about 11 years and we did pretty much entirely music industry work. Album covers, music videos, pretty much all of the visual language of the artists. We did that for 11 years, we won four ARIAs for album artwork and were nominated, I think, 11 times as well.
I moved to New York probably about seven years ago because I wanted to concentrate on some other stuff. I was there for three or four years, came back, and I;m still working in the music industry. It’s probably about 50% of my work but the other 50 is illustration for advertising. I sort of split it up a little but – the Australian music industry is great but it’s just not very big.
You need a break.
Yeah. We got to the point where we were doing everyone’s artwork – not everyone but we were doing [artwork for] a lot of like mainstream, successful artists.
Did you feel you were starting to repeat yourself visually?
Exactly, you just can’t do that. So I took a little bit of a break from the industry but I’m back now! It’s a nice balance at the moment.
Looking back, who’s your favourite artist that you’ve worked with in Australia?
I worked with Paul Kelly for many years, he was a great guy. He’s such a gentleman. He’s probably the one I’m most proud of. Probably the biggest in terms of success was Empire of the Sun. I did their first two records, everything was illustrated.
Visuals are such a big part of that group’s identity, that must have been fun for you.
That was a lot of fun. It was an interesting project because I pitched this idea that instead of sending out press photos, I pitched the idea that every magazine got a unique illustrated image.
I would have loved that as a music journalist.
I think in the end I did close to 50 or 60 unique illustrations.
What’s coming up for you in 2024? I think I read on your website that you’re planning a new solo exhibition?
Yeah, it’s just finding the time to do it. I also just finished my first coffee table book of music-related illustrations. Hopefully that will be out next year. The amount of work that happens on a daily basis in the study, it’s hard to find time to put together an exhibition. My goal was to have one this year which didn’t happen, I couldn’t find time to do it.
Well now you can put your Rolling Stone cover into the exhibition!
Yeah, it’ll definitely be going somewhere!
The December-February ‘Icons Issue’ of Rolling Stone AU/NZ is on newsstands and at Coles now. If you’re eager to get your hands on it, then now is the time to sign up for a subscription.
Whether you’re a fan of music, you’re a supporter of the local music scene, or you enjoy the thrill of print and long form journalism, then Rolling Stone Australia is exactly what you need. Click the link below for more information regarding a magazine subscription.