Dusty Peterson presents: A Journey Into Darkness

Hi, my name is Dusty Peterson and I am the album artist for Six Feet Under’s newest album, “Undead”.  Several months ago, Metal Band Art asked me to give a little bit of insight into my process for this album art, so I tried to take snapshots of my work as I went along to show you the process for the piece. You’ll be able to see the earliest sketches, where I decided to change my mind, and how I finished up the painting throughout the course of this article.

For starters, a little background on how this piece got started up. Previously, I had done quite a bit of work for Six Feet Under (Graveyard Classics 3, Wake The Night: Live In Germany DVD, and many T-shirts) but before I started this, Chris Barnes told me how the new album was quite different than previous albums and thus should have a cover that was not “standard” in any way. I don’t think it’s a secret that the Six feet Under brand uses a lot of skulls and skeletons over the years, so I made a conscious effect to go way outside the box with this. We batted around at least 15-20 ideas before figuring out which direction we wanted to go, but finally settled on the basic concept of “Insane thoughts swirling out of a skull”. All credit where credit is due, it was actually my lovely wife that came up with the idea. As an artist, It can be a blessing and a curse to have free reign over a design. On one hand, when the client has a clear concept it can be hard to see what they are visualizing in their head, but on the other hand when you end up doing the “I’ll know it when I see it!” approach, creativity can start to get fatigued on new ideas. Happily, I have my sidekick to help out and when I told her that Barnes said he wanted something “Completely insane!” that is the first thing she thought of.

So I drew up this rough color sketch, which is always my first step.


It’s more important to get the general vibe and composition down than details at this stage. Some labels/bands probably get frustrated at me, because this is the first thing they see and I’m sure they’d prefer a bit more information before making a decision for approval. But I just have to hope they trust that the details will turn out alright in the end.  As it turned out, people were pretty excited about this approach. We really wanted something that was old school, yet modern, and even at this early stage I think you can start to see that happening.

After the approval I need to start figuring out the details.


Not the entire drawing, but it was the last time I saved a copy of it. You can see that a lot of the details changed quite a bit. Sometimes once I start painting, details just start to look stupid to me. The “worm lord” as I have started calling him in the upper left corner of the image looked more like some old molester or something to me at this stage, so that quickly had to change once I started painting. I actually toiled with the details on him quite a bit before he finally ended up the way he did. You can see in the gif below that there was going to be a lot of meal worms and maggots swirling around next to him, but it all just felt out of place to me, so I abandoned them.

As for the process itself, I tend to draw kind of weird. Sometimes I am more comfortable sitting on my couch sketching. Sometimes I am more comfortable at my drawing table. Sometimes I am more comfortable drawing directly from the tablet into photoshop. In this case, I did some details in chunks and assembled them afterwards in photoshop. This sketch below came before the drawing above while I was just messing around with ink and watercolor. I liked it so much that I decided to incorporate it into the main drawing.


Again, super crude, but at this stage I am not really out to impress anyone, I just want the ideas that I have in my head down on paper however I see fit at the time. As the artist, I know where I will end up so I only need to speak in my own language until I am ready to start polishing details.

After assembling the chunks and integrating them into the whole, I overlay the line work in photoshop onto my original color sketch. From there, I will start to refine the colors, but also the early stages of values (lights and darks) so I have a better idea how it will look.


My style of digital art is meant to look as traditional as possible. For this reason, I try to paint mostly on one layer as if I was painting on a real canvas. I think that using this technique helps not only the look and feel as colors get layered up on each other, but it also helps me become a better painter because rather than delete a mistake layer, I just paint over it until it’s right which teaches me how to do it the right way the first time. That said, I do take advantage of the tool when necessary. Occasionally I will mess up or not like the way something is working compositionally and I’ll lasso, resize, or reshape something until it is the way I like it. I primarily use digital over traditional because my work space is small and it’s easy to make edits if a client isn’t happy with something.

I made this gif to help illustrate my painting process a little bit.


There are a lot of methods to building up highlights and shadows. Some artists work mono-chromatically (or only in black and white) and then add in color after they have solved all of the values. I choose to build up highlights by selecting a brighter version of the color below it. Constantly sampling and brightening until the highlight has been formed. Then I do the same way in the other direction with the shadows by selecting the color and making the color darker. There is no right or wrong way to do this, but this way works best for me as I think it helps in creating that “painterly” vibe and not looking too “photoshoppy”.

As for the details themselves, I have had a few questions about what a lot of them mean. Primarily, I was just trying to go for “as insane as possible” and just pulling from my countless influences in horror and science fiction to hopefully create something creepy. But the little spider baby is indeed being “birthed” out of some sort of unfortunate pregnant soul. This was meant to be a subtle symbol of rebirth due to the bands lineup change.  Another neat bit of trivia, the cover as a whole is meant to symbolize the “backwards 6” logo that appeared on the cover to Warpath back in 1997.

You can see the skull at the bottom and then the swirling insanity has a vague shape of a backwards “6”. Again, I was trying to symbolize that “old school, yet modern” message that the new album conveys. While “Warpath” was a more graphical cover, albums like “Haunted” and “Maximum Violence” are absolutely classic painted album covers, in my personal opinion. My primary goal was to hopefully live up to that legacy with this album. So calling back to that era of the band was very important to me as an artist and as a fan.

And this is the final cover!

It was a very long process to get to this stage. I hope Six Feet Under fans like it! I know that everyone involved with this album poured their heart and soul into it, so give it a spin next month and see for yourself!

About Vertebrae33

Through hard work and dedication, Vertebrae33 has established himself as one of the most prolific and exciting illustrators on the scene today.  He has received much acclaim as of late for his innovative designs, attention to detail, and wholly unique, raw style.