The artist Tim Bruckner is perhaps best known to Beatles fans for creating the artwork on Ringo Starr’s landmark 1973 album Ringo.

Tim began his career as a sculptor at the age of 18. For two years he worked for a jeweller in Beverly Hills before becoming a freelance artist for a range of clients. In addition to a brief musical career in the 1970s and 80s, he worked for a range of companies including DC Comics, Hasbro, Hallmark, Mattel, Danbury Mint, Franklin Mint and Toybiz, in addition to private commissions.

In February 2015 Tim agreed to answer a series of questions about working with Ringo, his memories of the Lost Weekend, fame and friendship, and shared a range of previously unseen artworks.

Ringo Starr: cover artwork for Ringo album (1973)

How did you come to paint the cover of the Ringo album?

I’d been working at a jewellery store in Beverly Hills, California as a sculptor and apprentice jeweller. I’d been there almost two years when I realized that wasn’t the career path for me. So, one day, sitting in my apartment, I thought I’d like to do album covers.

I looked in the phone book and found two listings. There was no answer at the first one I called. The second, Camouflage Productions, answered. I told the receptionist what I was interested in and after putting me on hold for a few minutes, asked if I’d be willing to come to the studio and show my portfolio. I said yes.

The only hitch was, I didn’t have a portfolio, so I took a handful of framed drawings off the wall, loaded them into the car and spent my last 28 cents to get to the Hollywood Hills, about 26 miles from where I lived. I was greeted by a lovely, smoky voiced receptionist and asked to wait. Ten minutes later I was being interviewed by Barry Feinstein, a famous art director/photographer. He looked at my stuff, seemed to like what he saw and asked me to wait.

He left the room and came back about 20 minutes later in the company of a tall, lanky, generously toothed gentlemen. I was introduced to Richard Perry, the producer for the Ringo album. He looked at my work, said something to Barry and the two left together.

Shortly thereafter, Barry returned and asked if I had a passport. I did not. He told me I needed to get one as soon as possible. I was going to England to work on Ringo Starr’s album cover art.

That cover led to designing and illustrating the Average White Band logo, Ray Charles’ Renaissance album cover, a Lipps Inc cover, the prosthetic elephant nose for George Clinton’s Trombipulation cover and the dust jacket for Cat Stevens’ Buddha And The Chocolate Box.

Did you work closely with Ringo on the cover concept, or were you given free rein? What was your design brief?

They already had the images of Ringo leaning against the giant letters, à la Elvis. In the original pictures, Ringo’s shirt is blue. They had it retouched to make it red. There was no concept at the time. I put together 10 concept sketches and they picked the one with him on stage with a balcony full of people. There are 26 portraits in the balcony. The rest are people I invented.

I was working on the design at the R or R offices at night. When I needed inspiration, I’d take a walk through the London streets and come back to work inspired. I didn’t meet Ringo until I went to England so I don’t know what his involvement was beforehand.

Ringo’s cover sidekick, the cherub, happened after I got home. Having met the man and spent some time with him, I understood how important humor was to him and his circle of friends. The cherub just seemed like an natural extension of that part of his character, funny and a little mischievous.

My biggest regret about doing the cover was doing it at the actual size of an album cover. The original painting was about 12″x12″. No one told me I could have done it twice as large and they’d reduce to size. I think the entire piece could have been much better if I would have done it two up.

Was the cover an intended homage to Sgt Pepper, with the faces in the background?

I’d never intended it to be connected to Sgt Pepper at all. The only directive I got was their desire to have the musicians who played on the album represented on the cover in some way. Klaus Voormann, who did the art for Revolver, had designed and completed a piece line art for Ringo’s cover. Ringo decided against using it.

Klaus Voormann's unused illustration for the Ringo album (1973)

It was never used. As far as I know I have the only copy, although I assume Klaus has the original.

The motto “Duit on mon dei” (‘do it on Monday’) appears at the top of the Ringo sleeve, and was also a Harry Nilsson album title. Was it Ringo’s stipulation to have it on his record sleeve, and was it a regular in-joke at the time?

This was Harry’s invention. He wanted to make it a joke on a Latin motto. I think the only reason it got on the cover was they thought it was funny and asked that I include it.

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