Imagine Dragons – The Story Behind “Smoke + Mirrors” Artwork (Video + Interview by Tim Cantor)

Posted 2 years ago

Tim Cantor, the talented painter behind Imagine Dragons “Smoke + Mirrors” artwork explains the story behind each single cover. Check out the exclusive written explanation, “Cover by Cover” by Tim Cantor below!


Download “Smoke + Mirrors” on iTunes : Standard – Deluxe 

imagine dragons smoke + mirrors album


Smoke + Mirrors Album Cover

In the beginning, I was given the title of the album cover and a private listen to the tracks Smoke + Mirrors and I Bet My Life for inspiration.  Truly, I loved the songs they were sharing with me, and so it was very natural to let the music send sights into my brain.  I guess from there, I just closed my eyes and immersed myself in the song music.  As I listened to the songs, I began seeing mirrored hands bound and stricken together at the wrists by coiled twine, which soon evolved into reflective gold silk.  The lyrics inspired the illusion of the bird being set free from the grasp of these confined hands, reluctantly, but seemingly when the moment was right.  There are many hidden elements within the original painting.  On the upper left corner, written upside down and mirrored is the date of the album’s release.  Within the detail coming from below the hands is an intricate stylized web containing secret coordinates to buried treasure.  I loved the anticipation of waiting to see who would discover the actual meaning of the numbers.  There are also other traces of hidden messages within the painting that have yet to be found.  I will leave the rest a mystery!


imagine dragons shots


This song holds special meaning to me for reasons I can’t quite reveal just yet.  But when I heard the sound of Shots, I thought that it was unique compared to the rest of the music on the album.  That is one of the great things about Imagine Dragons; their exceptional ability to cross over different genres and eras both musically and lyrically.  For Shots, I felt the music was light, but lyrically dark.  And this I love.  It is the kind of contradiction that I’m most attracted to–,– and it inhabits most of my art.  A menacing painting may actually have a very optimistic or even romantic meaning, whereas a pleasing scenic piece can sometimes hide intense sadness and pain.  For Shots, a man with a swarm of birds flying freely, out from his head, are indeed his thoughts spewing out audibly and uncontrollably.  To me, the song is about how one can destroy their chances by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  Ultimately, those who are driven by their emotions cannot help themselves and they must let go, run with it, and take their chances.


imagine dragons gold 


To me, I feel the song is about losing the ability to know who to trust when fame and wealth enters the equation.  The man I have painted here has lived a long, enlightening life.  He’s old.  He’s wise.  And he has figured it all out.  Somehow, he has ripened his insight to know who he can truly trust.


imagine dragons smoke + mirrors

Smoke + Mirrors

This is the song that made me begin to feel emotionally connected to the music as well as the band.  In Smoke and Mirrors, I loved its vaporous sound combined with Dan’s haunting lyrics.  Again, the music reminded me of the contrasts and emotional twists that I strive to convey in my own art; dark, light, despair and hope.  When designing this single cover, I altered my original impressionistic painting, integrating a cropped portion of the man’s face and mirrored it to become “the other I” or “second self.”  A reflection of the two minds in me.


 imagine dragons i'm soory

I’m So Sorry

Like Smoke and Mirrors, this portrait represents one of duality, yet is presented in a more daunting manner to parallel the temperament of the song.  A man who is sure of himself, yet cautious from mistakes that he has learned from his past.  He holds the options in his hands; though unsafe, it is what motivates him to push forward.  His expression, I think, narrates that he thrives on living life this way.

 imagine dragons i bet my life


I Bet My Life

With each listen of I Bet My Life, the figure of a man began to slowly take shape.  I saw him in pain.  I saw him in peace; thereby forming the reflection of two souls in one.  Bluntly stated, his four arms represent that there are two versions of one man here.  The black hole in his chest is the inevitable emptiness that coincides with following one’s own passion.  And the bird is that passion.  Essentially, this is a portrait of someone striving through the conflicts of all they know and love, rising upwards despite the pain, and coming to peace with the hardships of ambition.


imagine dragons polaroid


This painting is all about the story of life.  From the moment of inception and birth, life is how one defines it.  The leopard represents life eternal, to live in the moment, rapidly; may it be guarded, reckless, or full of regret… But ultimately, lived to its fullest.


imagine dragons friction 


After hearing Friction, there was no other image that could better represent the intensity and feeling of the song.  I wanted to convey, flesh and bone, resistance and surrender.  I wanted that arm to appear as if you could feel the blood rushing through the man’s veins.  The intricate detail revolving around the open hand symbolizes energy, power, time and imagination.


imagine dragons it comes back to you

It Comes Back to You

This song really correlates my personal story as an artist.  I paint every night, beginning at midnight until the early morning.  It’s really isolated and lonely, and my mind sometimes drifts in strange and unpredictable ways.  In those hours, reality can often become ghostly and vague because no thought is put into my surroundings.  It’s difficult to describe without sounding insane, but I guess I sometimes feel like I’m caught just beneath the surface of being completely awake, and hints of dream make way into my wakened state.  I think that this painting really captures that feeling.  It Comes Back to You, for me, captures that feeling a well.

On a side note, this work is actually a painting of my wife Amy.


imagine dragons dream


This painting is about floating through time, lost as to where one is destined to belong.  At times, we feel faint, disillusioned, and saddened by our fate.  But, to take one single step differently would change what has become.  Memories exist because life is random from our wish and fate we cannot know.  As this relates to the song, I believe that the girl is falling into dream intentionally, to flee from the disenchantment of reality.


imagine dragons trouble


What can I say, this man is Trouble.  He finds himself a little lost.  I have the sort of mind that if I let my imagination get away from me, I can dwell on the tiniest glitch and let it snowball into massive fear.  The only positive to that flaw is that I often draw inspiration for my art from the fear I create in my head.  When one realizes what can be lost, the greatest of emotions and gratitude is stirred.


imagine dragons summer


I wanted to create a painting with no limitations, inspired purely from the imagination.  All the little gears, jewels and intricacies are part of this freedom because that is what comes naturally to me.  But the chorus of Summer is the true motivation.  I love its message.  Be who you are meant to be.

  imagine dragons hopeless opus


Hopeless Opus

As with Gold, again, with time comes wisdom.  I see this man as looking back on life realizing mistakes he has made, regrets, challenges, triumphs, and joy.  He is reflecting on everything that made him who he is today.

 imagine dragons the fall

The Fall

When we actually met for the first time, the band invited us into their studio to hear songs from Smoke + Mirrors while still in the works.  What an incredible experience it was to see them in their world.  I felt so honored.  I will never forget the moment I heard The Fall.  It is so damn beautiful!  A floating tree with thousands of gold petals rising to the sky came flooding in.  In my mind, without doubt or question, this painting completely captured the spirit and emotion of the song and became the perfect means of expression to tell the story of The Fall.

imagine dragons pr 1

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