Craig Cutler’s Creative Process from Beginning to End
Craig Cutler is more than a photographer, he is a creative force and go-to collaborator for the most prestigious publications in the world. He ideates, develops, and executes cover designs about the most important issues of our day. Whether it's the fight over Obamacare, understanding how race factors into contemporary life, or examining how the energy industry moves from the old model to the new, Craig is able to tell these complex stories in a single image. We recently caught up with Craig to talk about a bunch of his covers and his creative process, and we started with his cover for The Atlantic that features a neon sign of the word “BELIEVE” with some words blacked, so it spells “LIE.” “It’s a unique dynamic,” says Craig. “From a photography point of view it’s a nice image, it’s graphic, but when you add the element that the person who shot that actually created the idea it’s a whole different story.” Few artists get the kind of control and process that Craig does, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
He starts with sketches, filling them with splashes of watercolor, narrowing them down until he lands on the best execution that becomes the cover. Sometimes he even expounds that image into companion motion work that goes beyond what one cover can do. “I do that for New York Times, Washington Post, that’s what gets me excited is that I’m brought in to concept and be creative. To me, being creative is the most important thing,” he explains. “My background is design so I like the fact that when they give me a story, I get to come back to them with ideas. It’s not for everybody. But to me, when the biggest magazines like that are coming at me I think that’s very exciting. That’s heaven to me.” It's a holistic creative process and one that requires unique trust given to him that he earns with every successful cover.
Most photographers are approached by magazines with what they want the cover to be and ask the artist to create the image they already have in their heads. But Craig prefers the top down approach. It’s collaborative, creative, and incredibly rewarding. Plus it’s fun. “It’s the most exciting thing to be able to concept and then execute,” he says.