Cover artwork

Blackstar is one of the few David Bowie albums not to feature an image of the singer. Exceptions include the original US version of The Man Who Sold The World, Tin Machine II, and the first edition of The Buddha Of Suburbia.

The cover artwork for Blackstar was designed by Jonathan Barnbrook, who had had previously worked on Bowie’s albums Heathen, Reality, The Next Day, and the compilation Nothing Has Changed.

He always wanted to do something interesting, often to the annoyance of the record company. He understood the value of the image on a record cover, when other people had forgotten about it.
Jonathan Barnbrook
Dezeen

The Blackstar cover came in two basic variants: vinyl, which was all-black cover with a cutout of the star shape; and the compact disc, which featured the album logo on a white background.

The black design is the vinyl release. I wanted to make it very much a physical object – vinyl is in an interesting place at the moment, similar to letterpress where the craft and tactile quality of it is everything. So that’s why the cover is cut away and you can see the physical record – the opposite of the digital download, I wanted to give it the feeling that it contained something quite threatening. The label here is part of the design – it is just black, too. In some senses I’ve done the perfect Spinal Tap cover – in the film they receive their newly-pressed album and it is just shiny black with nothing else on it, but the subtleties are what makes the design in this.

The white design is the CD cover. There are other stars that are being used but we are centring on just the five-pointed one for the main releases. You will see the other stars around which I think push the concept of Blackstar more.

Jonathan Barnbrook
Creative Review, 26 November 2015

On both physical formats, underneath the black star, was Bowie’s surname constructed from star-shape fragments.

We are, wherever possible, using the ★ for the title. The original idea came out of discussions with Bowie about ways of representing the album, so this is very much his creativity and his direction…

It was a way of being as minimal with the title as we were with the design and in doing so making it stand out from all of the other stuff you see around you. It was also calculated to work in all different kinds of technologies as it is a recognised Unicode character.

We also have the logo of his name which is an extension of this. There were one or two people at the record company who were nervous about this but I do believe legibility is about familiarity – and once you get used to it you can only read it as ‘Bowie’. This was a painful many hours of working to try to get his name to be legible enough, but not too legible, to read it straight away. I tried many different stars and endless combinations for this one, but I think this has the right balance. There is a hint of the glam David Bowie here. I know it’s just a logo of bits of stars, but I think it is important to have a little of Bowie’s past in it.

Jonathan Barnbrook
Creative Review, 26 November 2015

David Bowie – Blackstar album lettering by Barnbrook

This was a man who was facing his own mortality. The Blackstar symbol [★], rather than writing ‘Blackstar’, has as a sort of finality, a darkness, a simplicity, which is a representation of the music.

It’s subsided a bit now, but a lot of people said it was a bullshit cover when it came out, that it took five minutes to design. But I think there is a misunderstanding about the simplicity.

Jonathan Barnbrook
Dezeen

The vinyl edition came in a gatefold sleeve, with the main star on the front cut out, through which the disc was visible. The black panel behind it, when held up against a light source, exposes the image of a constellation seen on the inner gatefold. This feature was discovered in May 2016, four months after the album’s release.

The inner gatefold also contained a portrait of Bowie, as well as selected lyrics from the song ‘Blackstar’, with the words arranged as if they were stars in a constellation. A booklet, also included in the compact disc edition, contained further artwork, lyrics of the songs, and credits for the album.

Barnbrook claimed that the black star image was used to represent both the personal and universal.

The idea of mortality is in there, and of course the idea of a black hole sucking in everything, the Big Bang, the start of the universe, if there is an end of the universe. These are things that relate to mortality.
Jonathan Barnbrook
Dezeen

A promotional website, imablackstar.com, also launched to coincide with the album. The site invited fans to upload photograps to “the ★ universe” using five image mask templates.

The five symbols also appeared in the Blackstar artwork, and were each given names on the website: blackstar, guiding star, sunstar, pricestar, and creation star.

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Another website, bowieblackstar.net, was launched in early February 2016. It offered ten design elements from Blackstar for download, including the Blackstar Deja Vu Serif Bold typeface, for non-profit use.

The typography for the new album I hope is elegant, but is big, bold and direct. I do think sensitive use of typography is at the heart of creating an album cover which is a good representation of the music. It is the tone of voice in the music. The font is also open source as one of the things at the heart of this album’s graphics is that they are open to being used and reinterpreted by people who listen to the music.

A special edition of the font – Virus Deja Vu – will be released with all the logos etc in for people to use as they wish. This is something I learned on The Next Day when people started to use the white square as a meme. It was planned that we would do a lot of intervention with it, but I didn’t expect people to take it up on Twitter which was amazing. So for this one the system is available to everybody because I do want people to feel included and to be able to use the elements without worry in the way they want to.

Jonathan Barnbrook
Creative Review, 26 November 2015

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Barnbrook loved working with David Bowie, he was simply one of the most inspirational, kind people we have met. So in the spirit of openness and in remembrance of David we are releasing the artwork elements of his last album ★ (Blackstar) to download here free under a Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence. That means you can make t-shirts for yourself, use them for tattoos, put them up in your house to remember David by and adapt them too, but we would ask that you do not in any way create or sell commercial products with them or based on them. Any questions or commercial licence usage please contact us.