Henry Rollins once said, “You can only trust yourself and the first six Black Sabbath albums.”
Two illustrators and graphic designers from Sabadell, a small town near Barcelona, liked the quote so much, they put it on the shirt that became one of their most famous designs. Branca Studio is a design studio created by Pol Abran Cantador and Marta Maldonado. Under this name, they have been creating artwork for bands like Venom, Angel Witch, Cavalera Conspiracy, Converge, Foo Fighters, and Queens Of The Stone Age, to name a few, for almost 10 years.
“We started doing posters and other design works around 2008, but only in 2013 I started using this name to sign my works for friends and shows we booked in Barcelona,” Abran Cantador says. “In 2015, I got fired from my regular job, and it was when I started focusing 100 percent on Branca Studio. First, it was my project, but slowly, Marta got more involved.”
“I was born in a working-class neighborhood in the south of Sabadell,” Maldonado says. “Since I was a little child, I loved drawing and spent a lot of hours doing it, but I never thought about making it professional until I was about 18 years old. I couldn’t study arts at the university, so I was studying different things until I was 22, when I started studying only illustration. Today, I’m 29 years old and still studying it, and I think it’s something you never stop learning and improving. I started reading fantasy when I was 9 and listening to metal music when I was 11 thanks to my sister, who introduced me to Iron Maiden, now my favorite band. Since then, fantasy and the illustrations in metal album covers influenced my style so much.”
“Also, for me, music has been the main obsession since I was a teenager. This is why I ended up working for bands,” Abran Cantador remembers. “I left school when I was 17 years old, and I started working as a carpenter, pizza deliverer, and in a metal factory. The time at the factory made me get back to studying. I was 25 when I started studying silkscreen and then graphic design.”
“First, I started collaborating with local bands from Barcelona, local promoters, then I started booking shows in Barcelona around 2012 for bands like Acid King, Acid Witch, Pilgrim, Monolord, Windhand, Eagle Twin,” he continues. “We could make posters for those shows to have a more professional portfolio. Then, slowly, I started to get money for those works until [I began creating] the designs under the name you know now.”
The name Branca Studio has a personal and particular connotation. “It comes from Pol’s surnames,” Maldonado explains. “His name is Pol Abran Cantador, so we took that, Bran-Ca,from it. It also means ‘branch’in Catalan, and we thought it could explain a lot [about] how graphic design works. It can start with a little seed and keep growing until the final result.”
“It’s a word that makes you think of growing, of creativity,” she continues. “At the beginning, we couldn’t imagine that we would make our living working only with bands; that’s why we choose a ‘not metal’ name. You know, it’s not ‘Blood And Steel.’”
Maldonado and Abran Cantador are not only a team, they are also a couple. “Surprisingly, we didn’t meet exactly because of music,” Maldonado admits. “Pol was studying graphic design, and he had a classmate who was my friend. At that time, I used to tattoo my friends, and Pol asked that classmate who had tattooed him. So, Pol wrote to me asking for a tattoo—yeah right, good excuse. We had a date to ‘talk about the tattoo’ but quickly forgot about it. We’ve been together since that very first date, seven and a half years ago.”
Since then, they have worked together as Branca Studio. “I remember the first paid work was the cover of the [self-titled] first album and single of Hypnos, the Swedish band, [in 2014],” Abran Cantador says.
“Mine was the demo cassette, [2008’s Skull Krushers], by Insulters, a band of friends and family. I look at it now, and it’s like a 5-year-old did it!” Maldonado exclaims.
After all these years working with metal bands, they have a lot of funny stories to tell. “Once, I was painting a cover for an album,” Maldonado remembers, “and while I was at a concert, one of the members arrived, and we started talking. I asked him how the record was going, as I knew it was almost finished. He told me they had to start everything again because a member of the band didn’t like it and deleted the whole album without asking. That gave me a few months more to paint!” she laughs.
“I have millions of stories,” Abran Cantador adds. “One time, at a festival we love, a musician we admire and who we have worked with was super drunk and excited. He told us that we were as good as Frank Frazetta or Michael Whelan and that we will make all their future album covers, merch, etc. Next day, he was hiding from us every time we crossed him at the festival, with a serious hangover and ashamed face. We couldn’t stop laughing every time we saw him running away from us. We love him. We learned that festival afterparties are not the best place for business.”
Branca Studio has collaborated with many musicians. “Bands like the Cavalera brothers, Black Sabbath, Rammstein, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, etc. made us who we are now, and if I can make a wish, I really would love to work for Electric Wizard,” Abran Cantador says.
“Let’s dream so—Iron Maiden!” Maldonado adds, “but, of course, other bands like Satyricon, Tribulation, or making book covers for Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, or, of course, Tolkien!”
Even if Branca Studio works with bands worldwide, Barcelona and Catalonia remain their main point of reference. “Back in the middle 2000s, there were a few good doom bands in Catalonia,” Abran Cantador says. “We started listening to doom mostly because of Great Coven and Eight Hands For Kali—with [drummer] Tas, ex-Electric Wizard, [and guitarist] Jondix—Warchetype, Lords Of Bukkake that played kind of Iron Monkey sludge. At the same time, in Spain, there were other awesome bands like Moho and Orthodox, but they all broke up—except for Orthodox—when doom and sludge started to be more popular worldwide. Shame, because I think those bands could have been important these days. There are a lot of talented musicians, but I think our cultural and geo-economic situation don’t let bands explode as in other countries like Sweden or the U.K.”
“It’s also important for us to stand politically,” they declare. “We use our small platform to tell people our vision of what happens here. Maybe this closes some doors [for us], but we think that it will open others.”