Cover Stories: Meet the Designer Responsible for iLoveMakonnen’s Mannequin Heads and the Artwork for His Latest EP

Just a few days ago, iLoveMakonnen released the sequel to his breakout I LOVE MAKONNEN EP. This one titled I LOVE MAKONNEN 2, the project spotlights the Makonnen we’ve come to know and love—wobbly croons, culinary references and all. Like the preceding EP, this project’s cover shows Mak’s signature mannequin head, but this time it’s accompanied by a new partner.

Keeping the project’s visuals an in-house job, Makonnen turned to his art director, Mark Gierl, to create the cover. Being an LA-based designer with a stacked resume of notable album artwork credits, including nearly all of Makonnen’s past releases, it was only right that Gierl was the man for the job.

Between Makonnen’s background in cosmetology and Apple’s pesky wallpaper crop settings, Gierl told us the entire Cover Story behind I LOVE MAKONNEN 2.

How did you start working with iLoveMakonnen?
Before “Tuesday” and the Drake stuff, I had been around for a while doing covers for people, mainly rappers from Atlanta, like Migos, Future, Gucci Mane. So I was semi-established, and I had heard his stuff and thought it was so different than anything I had heard. I was really impressed. I was a fan at that point, but I wanted to start working with him because I really liked his music. I hit him up and he was down in Atlanta at the time, so he had seen some of the stuff I had done. We immediately started working and everything went really well off the bat. We started with his logo, worked with the doll head, did illustration, branding, and all of that.

Can you tell me the story behind the mannequin heads?
He’s a licensed cosmetologist down in Atlanta, and would draw on the mannequin heads when he did their hair. He wanted to make his different and do their hair weird, and he made all those drawings on their faces. That’s where his DIY style came from; he was into making his own videos and everything, but he needed something to shoot, so that’s where the dolls came in.

The original one is Martha and the second one is Samantha. There are a few different ones out there with all different styles, but this one’s essentially a Martha replica. It’s pretty much the same style.

You’ve been working with Makonnen for a while. How have you seen his aesthetic change over time?
Most people who get a certain level of exposure change, but Makonnen has his own style and situation; he does what he likes to do and that’s just Makonnen. He’s still producing some of his own stuff, like a couple songs on this EP, and it’s pretty much always been that DIY style. So if it has evolved, it’s been organic—just a representation of what he’s feeling at the time.

In terms of branding, he’s always been about making something that’s iconic and recognizable, while not being too difficult because of the uniqueness of the music.

Do you ever feel pressure when you’re designing something for him?
I don’t know about pressure; he’s pretty cool and when he gives me an idea, I can just run with it. We’ve also been working for so long, so from the beginning it was always easy to get an understanding and build it as we went. But of course, when I need to put out something quickly, there’s pressure to put out high quality product.

Was there a vision you and Makonnen talked about for this cover?
He wanted to do something in nature. We were originally going to do something where we showed all four seasons, but we were in LA and decided to shoot it somewhere around here. We met up to shoot it at El Matador Beach in LA. I brought Samantha and he brought Martha. Because it’s I LOVE MAKONNEN 2, we wanted to use two doll heads.

Why nature?
He talks about nature a lot and really inspired by it. If you watch his Snaps or follow him on Instagram, but he does a lot of stuff out in nature. Even in “Trust Me Danny” he says, “I be riding through the woods, city and the forest.” The first one was shot out in the forest, so we wanted to keep that going.

How long did the whole process take?
After we took the photos for the cover at El Matador, it was really just a few rounds of taking Mak’s input and preferences, doing a few options with different photos at different angles before settling on the head-on look (like the first EP), then just playing around with different crops. The first one we settled on was pulled out more and less tight. And Mak set it as his iPhone background, which being vertical cropped half of their faces off on each side. He sent me a screenshot of his phone with that as the background and said he liked it half cut off, so I did a crop like that, shot it over, that was the one.

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