The Two Sandies

When you really care about something you want to get it right. Right?

And I do care about Heroines & Harridans. The shared relish and enthusiasm for great women in history has been a secret pleasure of Sandi Toksvig and illustrator Sandy Nightingale since they first worked together on The Travels of Lady ‘Bulldog’ Burton a few years ago. Observing their exchanges was bit like watching a tennis match. I sat by the net as fabulous females, wonderful women warriors and some real oddballs (sorry) flew back and forth between The Two Sandies. Convention usually dictates a finished text for the artist to illustrate. This gestation was far from conventional. Candidates were served up from both sides of the court. Wholly undignified peals of laughter signalling a point scored. A puff of Wimbledon white smoke and a winning woman selected. That mash-up has to count as mixed-doubles meets mixed-metaphors, methinks.

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Now I should declare that Sandy is my wife. And believe me, art directing ones wife’s artwork is not for the fainthearted. And renaissance woman, Sandi Toksvig, has become a trusted friend. Talented and charming she is also very smart, super-busy and a true professional. I treasure both enough to want to make them blush. But not here.

All sounds a bit intimidating when you are designing a book – but actually it was great fun. Sandi dubbed us the Three Musketeers as we hunkered down to bring the book to life. And print. Despite the sling and arrows . . . well you know the rest of that one. Fact is, and I have been fortunate enough to find this before, professionalism and mutual respect mean a project can overcome almost any obstacle. But if you have ever wrestled with sub-editing text that runs around an irregular shaped image then only you will know the glissando bliss of doing it live on Skype with an author with the silky skills of Sandi Toksvig. Sound fun to you? Then you would find beating a deadline while bobbing about on a boat simply beezer. Boy, can she write text that flows . . .

Being a moddy bugger I often find things an exercise in futility amid chaos. If gardening is an attempt to control nature one wonders if graphics and project management is similarly doomed to end up throttled by weeds.

Mistakes do happen. Let’s be honest. And it is fair to say the mark of a good pro is how you deal with the, right?

Summer and autumn months last year have seen the War Room that is my studio knee-deep with Heroines and Harridans. I should like to portray the War Room like a Battle of Britain nerve-centre. Skilled minions moving key features across a vast table-top map. Banks of observing experts overseeing the manoeuvres. Uniformed cohorts micro-managing detailed deployments of disciplined components. Well, not exactly but one tries.

In short we know our jobs, respect each other and are always up for a giggle. And that is the alchemy we tried to keep in the final book. All sorts of things tried to blow us off-course but we battled through and now it’s out. And lots of nice people bought it for Christmas. Huzzah!

H&H Crown FINAL!!! R1.indd

Yet Mr Cock-up did pay a small visit to our pages. One of the featured Heroines & Harridans is Eleanor of Aquitaine (imagine Liv Tyler), wife of Henry II (try Ray Winston). Their royal court favoured a jester and flatulist called Roland le Fartere whose tour de force was to perform “Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum”. Discretion compels me not to expand beyond telling you that this designer was prompted to distort and move the folio (page number) out of position as if, erm, blown across the page. A small visual gag. However on press, in the wee small hours, a diligent, attentive technician at the printer, Butler Tanner & Dennis, spotted the corrupted folio, thought it was a mistake. And fixed it!

Now I have to say Butler Tanner & Dennis are a great outfit and did a wonderful job but, with publisher economies removing a full set of proofs from the process, the first we saw of this section (others were seen) was finished books. The Robson Press tracked down the source of the ‘correction’. At first I was very irritated but, after a cup of tea (and a brief lie-down), I thought of the printer thinking he was doing the very best for us. I talked it through with The Two Sandies and we concurred, in a collective fit of giggles, to see the funny side and not to make a fuss out of a fart. Collective sighs of relief despite the loss of a small puff of wind.

H&H Crown FINAL!!! R1.indd

Yet all’s well that ends well as literary wordsmiths might opine. The second print-run is almost sold out (again huzzah!). And one part of this digital age is that printing plates are not kept but recycled so change is more viable than in the past. More copies are now available and the flatulent folio is restored.

And that sound is now a sigh.

H&H Crown FINAL!!! R1.indd

Hibrow – images

At last I have been able to design a website without the miserable prospect of wrestling with Dreamweaver. Since it’s absorbtion into Adobe Creative Suite I had hoped it would work as smoothly as Photoshop. But it doesn’t.

Sorry but the simplest code makes my forehead bleed. And the Hibrow site is very ambitious. Joy of joys, the team had engaged the boffins at Code Circus to deliver the build, integrated with the systems of Don Boyd. I was given free space to create in. Which, in turn, meant Tim & Tom, at Code Circus went through several meetings where they had clearly concluded I was certifiably bonkers. But hey, their site is ‘under construction’!

Hibrow - images

Quite soon the muse and the crews began to dance in step. More the Mashed-Potato than a Waltz at the start but it worked . . . In fact it worked very well. I’d certainly work with them again.

Setting about the website design for Hibrow it quickly became apparent that the wealth of content would need good organisation to help the users’ experience. One of the principal aspects to address were the six categories of the arts covered; Art, Music, Literature, Theatre, Dance & Cinema.

We wanted quick, easy to use navigation and, naturally, as few clicks as possible to get to the content desired. Colour coding helped in this. But pace is important. It is a given in Book, Magazine and Publication design but often overlooked in Web design. A dense, repetitive site can tire or bore a user. This is less of a problem for Hibrow, as the content is primarily HD Video, but the issue remains, especially over time, as the volume of content grows. With Hibrow it will accomodate around 10 hours of new material every month. So pace is a matter of much importance in forward design planning.

We developed category ‘Title’ pages, gathering some great talent to showcase each section and set the mood for the audience. We are really pleased with these launch contributions. I could easily over-gush with the adjectives for these talented people. Do check out their websites to see more of their terrific creative work . . .

Hibrow - images

The celebrated Dan Fern allowed us to use a detail of ‘Cantus 4’ which uses painted threads on a linen-backed map. ‘Cantus’ is the title of a piece of music by Arvo Pärt. A favourite of the artist (and mine). Watch out for Dan’s new Roots work. It is beautiful.

Hibrow - images

I had seen this image at the Degree shows at Plymouth University last year. It is by Graphic Design graduate Pippa Jupe and is one part of a series which plays with the printed book form. I love it when I can use or commission work for people early in their careers.

Hibrow - images

A section of a painting from the work of Ian Walton ‘X-11’. His large, wonderful canvases and installations have always fascinated me. I have bought several over the years.

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A striking exhibition at the Bowie Gallery in Totnes prompted the choice of these crab claws by artist Ione Rucquoi. Thought-provoking images. Intrigued to see where they lead . . .

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Thanks to digital communications to Bangkok, Thailand for making delivery of this sumptuous shot from the wonderful photographer, Simon Larbalestier. Cineaste, Don Boyd cooed over this one!

Hibrow - images

The Music category hit last minute snags! Well one out of six . . . But, not to be defeated I took my Höfner Violin Bass out into the garden and gently placed it in the sunshine, on an old gate. And shot it myself.

They make rather nice digital postcards too. But don’t forget the link to www.hibrow.tv

Do you have a favourite?

Hibrow – the Arts online

Last summer Joanne Jacobs, introduced me to a new project called Hibrow that was yet to find the right designer. It immediately made me sit up and listen as, 1. Joanne is a highly focussed individual and, 2. The project was creatively led and the brainchild of Don Boyd, Film Director & Producer. At a great meeting I found a man fizzing with infectious enthusiasm and very determined to realise his dream of bringing HD video of the Arts online. His insistence on quality and  high production values was inspiring. I probably talked too much and doubtless made some inappropriate quips but common cause was quickly established.

Hibrow – the Arts online

I’ll post about the wider project soon but, for now, I just wanted to say a word or two about the logo. After a huge effort from many talented people Hibrow just launched at The Crypt, St Martins-in-the-Fields, London and I determined to tap on the straining keyboard before the week was out. The party contained much grooviness and was richly sprinkled by luminaries including John Hurt, Gary Kemp, Floella Benjamin and, nah, I’ll stop there. After all this isn’t Hello! magazine.

Hibrow – the Arts online

Sorry, back to the logo, dear design groupies. Well, I had a free brief, the passionate zeal of The Don, the force of nature that is Jo Jacobs, the shrewd young eye of Dominic Dowbekin – and the planet-wide lovers of Art, Music, Theatre, Dance, Literature and Cinema as the target audience. What pressure?

An initial introductory meeting helped me take the temperature of the venture. Soon I had the pulse of the beast. A classy wide-ranging labour of love and endevour. Click the ‘Like’ button. But I gave a lot of thought to the name itself to tease out the nuances. On the positive side it implies educated, up-market, sophisticated, informed and cultured – which Hibrow certainly is. But I saw a danger of jibes from naysayers at an implication of pretention or being a teenie-tiny bit up itself – which it certainly isn’t! So my design takes a classical stance but with just a little humour. A dig in its own ribs, as it were. Ribs I look forward to mildly tickling as Hibrow grows. Such as the video lead-in which Chris Ennis skillfully helped me make move as intended!

HiBROW Front Bumper_WithPip_H264_WEB_MASTER_STEREO_1

More on the website soon. For now please have a good old explore on the site . . . http://www.hibrow.tv

For now, just the logo.

Do you like it?

 

Ralph Steadman

You don’t so much commission Ralph Steadman as unleash him. The art direction is implicit in the decision to ask him for artwork. He is a force of nature. His acceptance of a commission is de facto an endorsement of a project – that adds value beyond even the illustration itself.

And I send my best wishes to the lame art director who tells him what, and how to draw. Actually no I don’t send best wishes. They would be foolish. But I may send flowers as commiseration.

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An example is at the top of the page. My adjectives would be, what is the word I am looking for? Pointless, that’s the one.

His work has often been a rage against the system. A wildly exuberant hand and an acute, almost feral, venal eye. His symbiotic, yet combative, relationship with Gonzo writer, Hunter S. Thompson for Rolling Stone magazine is legendary. One of the great hoots being the way each blamed the other for the excesses of their exploits. And his biography is all over the web.

My simple prompt for this blog is just an urge to celebrate this man who has been a part of my life for such a long time. I could relate the time he burst into Stanley Studios demanding “Where’s my fucking artwork?” Not because he thought we had any – but he did feel publishers were not returning his originals as they should – but mainly because he was living in Parsons Green. And we were the nearest. Lunch at 11 Park Walk calmed all. Fuelled by his mockery of his own wrath and significant amounts of Barolo.

I could tell you of his soliloquy on how The History of Civilization all began with the Welsh. “The first man was a Welshman, Homo Boyo. And his wife, Homo Womo. Like a side of beef with arms she was . . .” But Ralph would probably defend his copyright but arriving with a Howitzer and obliterating my cats.

I am tempted to show you a photograph of his spare room. When working on I, Leonado he took to painting The Last Supper on the wall to get under the skin of the painter, hands on. When completed he changed all the bed-linen to white and pushed the bed against the painting so the pillows became the tablecloth of Jesus and his disciples. “That’ll stop visitors getting up to any hanky-panky!” OK, here it is. It is called The Last Cuppa.

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You can look for yourself for Ralph’s antics destroying an iphone with an icepick live on stage. Technology infuriates him. Only mention any kind of Social Media if you wish to see your giblets up close and personal. So may tales and yet I have to tell you he has a big heart, can be the very best company and the world is a better, more vital place, with Ralph in it. he work is full of passion. The man cares. He should be knighted. Go on, Queen and Government, I dare you . . .

I have only spilled a few beans here. And, for your patience Dear Reader, I end with a glimpse of personal friendship. I think of it as belligerent affection, and love it for that. A letter received when we moved into a house in London.

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http://www.ralphsteadmanartcollection.com/ or follow on Twitter (A family member I suspect!) @SteadmanArt

The Fellowship of the Ring, Rotterdam

There is a fair amount to say about design, its inception, creation, execution, reactions and reception. (Let’s skip occasional perdition.) Strictly speaking this blog is intended to highlight the back-stories to some of my design projects. This one ends back stage.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam
But the fact is that the more involved you become with your work the more the work/life thingy blurs. One good part of life celebrates another. That is how it seems to go with me and The Lord of the Rings. Every time I get involved there seems to be a coming together of events. I have put iQuill to App before about Doug Adams‘ splendid book and you can read more about it via this link. And those of you who are as yet unaware the enormity of this book/film/music project may well have just missed the point, possibly got sniffy about Middle-earth and gone off to watch celebrity wrestling. Bear with me.

For my curmudgeonly disposition slips into pleasure at the thought of this past week in Holland. Eurostar to Brussels was superb. And through ticketed to Rotterdam for less than a train from Exeter to London – shame on you First Great Western. Towards the end of that leg of the journey we chatted with a charming Dutch cellist who had just completed her music finals in London. Onwards, switching to regular trains as we hurtled onward through the Belgian countryside I became aware of the chap next to me. As did fellow passengers. A young man with tousled curly hair was peering at an unopened Tupperware lunch box. Through a crack in the lid he stared intently and the salad within. Frequently putting it back in his bag before nervously re-examining it at frequent intervals.
The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam

When the going gets weird the weird get going“as someone once said (who was it? Hunter S. Thompson?). For just as I was praising the efficiency of mainland European railways the announcement came over the Tannoy that there was a problem ahead and we were to disembark at the next station and begin a convoluted re-routing involving several trains and a coach. Our cellist companion, the chap with the cracked salad box obsession and ourselves formed a small fellowship of travellers collectively trying to fathom out the increasingly complex travel itinerary in mixed languages.

And that, patient reader, is how I came to find myself in Antwerp as minder to a cello and a box of stick-insects. The owner of the aforementioned Phasmatodea (a unique gift for a friend) was in fact David Buckingham, an accomplished classical guitarist and composer currently appearing in Zorro the musical. You couldn’t make it up.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam
Together we chuckled and chatted our way through to Rotterdam where we were greeted by our hosts, Geoff & Doris van Beek. Once work was taken care of (signing-off the graphic identity for ace dentist Geoff van Beek – more on that in a future post) we looked forward to celebrating his birthday. And the fates had conspired to have the band in town that very weekend and, as their guests, we shared with the van Beeks the amazing experience of  a river taxi to Hotel New York for a superb fish lunch followed by a Live to Projection The Lord of the Rings Concert. Converging these dates had depended on the warmth of reception to both the design and the availability of  concert seats. Both went well. Phew!

The concert? Think of the early days of film. Can you picture silent black & white films with musical accompaniment from some berserk crone at the piano? OK. Now forget it. Completely. This is the movie projected in a concert hall with enough musicians performing live, for the whole 3 hours, to constitute a vast sonic army of orchestra and choirs.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam

The venue, the impressive Rotterdam venue called de Doelen, in the heart of the city, flanking Schouwburgplein. A concert auditorium and a great conference venue (Like Minds?) There was the familiar, handsome LOTR banner outside. But no people. Well, usual busy city weekend people, but not the usual Tolkein throng. These events draw very large crowds. Seemed odd. Eerie, even. Once inside I realised why. Our host is very well connected and had thoughtfully arranged to introduce us to the de Doelen Director, Mr Gabriël Oostvogel and his team. Such delightful people. Design is a largely back-room activity but they made such a generous fuss of us. Their hospitality was peerless and shared, during the intermission, with the beautiful people of the city. And me such a scruffy English creative!

The concert itself, The Fellowship of the Ring, was sublime. Powerful. Expert. Moving. I dare to say the acoustics may even surpass the more venerable Royal Albert Hall. The industry and power of the event was so impressive. The sheer talent and quality from all concerned was impeccable. And I love the diversity of audiences these concerts attract. Dinner jackets on one side. Shorts and Gandalf T-shirts on the other. But overwhelmingly the power of the emotional resonance of the music of Howard Shore triumphed again. After The Return of the King in London I was not expecting to be quite so moved again by The Fellowship of the Ring in Rotterdam. But we were, of course!  And the van Beeks loved it. The whole audience was ecstatic. Do check this link for YouTube footage, music, review and photographs.

 
And back stage? Permit me a little pride as we were invited back after the performance by the extraordinary conductor Mr. Ludvig Wicki (who is just beaming, joyful and indefatigable off-stage as he is in performance) and his charming wife Beatrice. How he manages to be so bubbly and excited after such an exhaustin and brilliant performance I will never know. So good to have made his acquaintance and I hope we meet again. And the night produced yet another treat as we met the singer, Soloist Kaitlyn Lusk. Wow! What a voice.

The Fellowship of the Ring, de Doelen, Rotterdam

An amazing day. I shall remain forever grateful to Doug Adams inviting me into the world of The Music of The Lord of the Rings Films in 2009. Next Year? Tickets are booked for the de Doelen and The Two Towers concert. See you there?

 

Maxine Hong Kingston

The first strand is the recent publication of I Love a Broad Margin to My Life which is a memoir, in verse, by Maxine Hong Kingston. She is Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Her memoirs and fiction have won numerous awards, including the National Book Award and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Literature Award. I recommend a quick search for her podcast lectures available from BBC and itunes/Berkley/Yale.

The second strand is the arrival on the mat of an invitation to the Lifetime Achievement Award in International Publishing at the London Book fair in a few days. It has been awarded to Sonny Mehta, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Regular readers her will know that I worked with Sonny for a decade and I count him as a mentor. One day I will summon up the courage to write about the influence of this fabulous man had on me. But that is for another time.

And the third strand is the first ‘Guest Blog’ on here which is coming soon. It will be from an art director in New York who worked with us at Stanley Studios in the 80s as an intern. The eccentric Stanley Studios was our Art Department sanctuary from the steel and glass Pan head office in London. More on that later too.

china-men

These are the elements that prompt me to show two of the very first of my cover designs for Picador Books with Sonny at the helm. China Men and The Woman Warrior. She has a special voice and you know I am not going to give you a cheat-sheet on here. They are both a great read. Seek them out and see life through the eyes of a Chinese-American.

There is no perfect recipe for all book covers but some choice ingredients can be found here: Genuine original writing, crackling, inspiring publisher, a slightly bonkers studio space and an art director who reads, having the time of his life. And thrilling at the wealth of illustration talent to be discovered and enjoyed. llustrator Cathie Felstead took her maiden voyage with us. And what a debut she made!

In China Men we are taken into the world of workers migrating to America (the Gold Mountain) for work to enable them to send money home to their families. How they are seen as one amorphous group but who, by turn, see the caucasians as all looking alike. For their white-skin they call them ghosts. The Postman Ghost, the Carpenter Ghost . . .

Woman Warrior

Cathie’s beautiful artwork was the first commission where I bought the original for my home too. There are few objects, except books and music, I treasure but this sure is one. The colour is built up with layers of collage tissue. The rough edges kept for character. Background off-white as in Chinese culture white associates with death. The fish, which appeared elsewhere in Cathie’s glorious portfolio were added as a migration motif and to draw the eye to an early “First British Publication” slogan without destroying the cover with graphic devices more commonly linked to Daz.

Today there are so many references to Branding. Here the distinctive artwork is the success. It worked in a tough, competitive market-place. It’s all about character, identity and paying due attention to the very special. Human appeal counts.

Hear Maxine Hong Kingston reading from her new book here: http://bit.ly/eCH8W4 . . . and follow @RandomPR on Twitter.

Design Works Site

As designers it is our stock in trade to bring an experienced eye to our clients’ identities. We seek to present a clear message for them. We deploy our Visual Communication skills to show them in a confident, poised stance. Their goods, whether books, music or widgets made sparkly and their services reflecting their best qualities.

Look at me! The graphics cries. I’m shiny, appealing, loaded with character. Desirable, charming company you can enjoy doing business with. My shelves are bursting with must-have goodies. A veritable wizard’s quiver of skills and talents. Resplendent in cool, sharp livery and clearly the dog’s dangley bits in their field.

We have listened closely to ourclients’ problems and aspirations. We have compared the competition and teased out what makes them special in our minds and performed our voodoo on the Mac.

We designers bring focus and objectivity. And hopefully some fun too!

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But what about our shop windows? I reflect on this as I have just re-vamped my website www.day-ellison.com. Frankly it is torture! Andrew Butler at DesignCredo calls it The Cobbler’s Shoes. Personally, I can’t see the shoes for wanting to strip out the cobblers. All your inner conflicts rush to the fore like anarchists at the barricades. Is this piece relevant? Am I being vain? Are SMEs as well represented as the celebrities? Should I make something more prominent? O, the human condition! One minute a carefree Creative Director setting out a succession of successful projects, the next taunted by the Demon Doubt, asking if you know how to re-organize the deck-chairs on the Titanic. Physician, heal thyself!

If you have dallied on my Blog before you will know that I love the English language. Marvelling at its power for clarity and delighting in its potential for whimsy and unruly playtime. But not on my website! I don’t want boastful adjectives and purple promises traipsing through with their out-sized muddy boots. I mean, I must think the better part of my work is good or I could not, in all conscience, release it to any the fab folk whose tags adorn this blog. But I certainly don’t want to lather the pages with sales-pitch. It’s just not me. But do I hamstring my own sales efforts in so doing? Arrrgghh! The Demon Doubt again. Fact is you are not there to apply the same cool-headed objectivity that is your normal daily stock in trade. You are trying to deftly negotiate that minefield of hopes and fears. Alone. With Arvo Pårt doing his level best to be a calming voice through the speakers.

So you try to be as objective as you can and ask other people’s opinions. And listen. Then act on what seems the best advice to you. I am grateful for advice from Joanne Jacobs in particular.

I have worked with a lot of great people and the site shows a good selection. And I have kept it simple. It is tailored to the iPad – that seems the way to go. I am working on a WordPress bridge between the website and this blog. That will have a database where you can search by client/author/title etc.

Could I have your help too? I would love it if you would leave comments/feedback below.

Have a look here: www.day-ellison.com

What do you think?

Italo Calvino

Brian Eno

Not quite like the posts so far. Not a linear tale, which given, the exquisitely non-conventional nature of the subject, is probably apt.

Art School, Brighton. Student. Main-lining music without frontiers. Captain Beefheart, Joni Mitchell, Velvet Underground, Dylan, Roxy Music, Bowie, Frank Zappa, Toots. But finding gold in the crevices. Peter Tosh, Brian Eno, Winston Rodney, The J.B.s, Lee Perry, Fela Kuti. I loved the line, “The matchless privacy of the obscure.” Now I can’t remember if it was Peake or Joyce.

Nigh-time DJ for Soul Society and Friday Night Club in The Basement. Playing Funk not Disco and clearing the dancefloor with a compulsive obsession with Dub Reggae that I used to buy in a record shop in Brixton Market that was the size of a phone booth. Putting Stevie Wonder on to get them back dancing. I hated Glam Rock. They were all a bunch of over-weight Kwik-Fit fitters in glitter. But Bowie and Eno, they were the real deal. Exotic explorers.

And there I was one day with performance artist, Charlie Hooker, listening to Eno’s solo album “Here Come the Warm Jets” and I was away. Unusual, pioneering and no big fan base intruding in my private pleasure. “Taking Tiger Mountain“, “Before and After Science“, the playful, determined, occasionally bonkers vocal albums. It seemed most people just sniggered when I went on about it. And, clutching the purist badge of the completist, I took to the early Ambient Work. 

Blissful, straining, serene, epic emotional landscape . . .

Brian Eno

Anyway, back on earth I am to be found later working for a living at Pan Books. The logo (called a ‘colophon’, in Publishing) was a hairy-legged fellow with a flute. To me it was Pan as in Panorama. Breadth, Scope. Jackie Collins’ “Hollywood Wives” in the morning and Samuel Beckett in the afternoon. The Becketts, and many other design projects were collaborations with my 80s soul-mate Russell Mills. More of that another time. But the initial bonding with Russell was music (and Guinness). He was the first person since Charlie Hooker that ‘got it’ with the Brian Eno thing.

Excuse the fan bit here but Eno’s music was ubiquitous for me. “On Land” in particular seemed to just be around, like breathing. It influenced me in haunting ways. When I could escape meetings and the cacophony of studio days, I would slip into my office and listen on the Walkman as I worked. Shifting between Eno, John Hassell, Harold Budd, mixed in with Ennio Morricone, I worked on my personal passion, and challenge, on the Pan Catalogue – Picador.

I struggle to relate this without sounding a bit of a tosser. If you think that, tough. This my story and my truth, so blame the writing not the wiring. So there.

A new writer to Picador. Graham Swift. Publisher, Sonny Mehta and editor, Tim Binding had impressed on me how highly they rated his new novel “Waterland“. You become immune to pressure. It doesn’t produce results with Literary Fiction in the same way as it does for Mass-Market Properties. Great writers have a unique voice. I had to ‘feel it’, become attuned to it. There was an elusive atmosphere to this novel I was struggling to identify. Frequently attempting, with Picador cover designs, to avoid the graphic mini-poster of the mainstream. Seeking the sense of expectation as the house-lights go down and the curtain rises . . .

waterland

With “Waterland” I found the muse in music. In an early morning black-bean soup of a fog, driving at a snails-pace, “On Land” loud and all-pervasive on the stereo, all the windows open in the BMW320 with my future wife, Sandy and Russell & Annie Mills, off for a weekend in Norfolk. This atmospheric moment was the inspiration I needed and I commissioned photographer, Charlie Waite. Murphy’s Law stepped in and Charlie had the misfortune of beautiful weather. We had to grossly over-enlarge a detail for one shot to get the effect we needed. Charlie is one gracious gent and he went along with it. The result was  a piece of work that pleased the author and sold very successfully. That year, at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Graham Swift referred to me a the ‘genius who produced his cover’. And I nearly died with pride. Good times. 

Later, I was able to feature Brian Eno’s installation work on the Picador catalogue above, and I went on to design the original Opal Records branding, for Brian, which Russell Mills developed beautifully. Graham Swift’s writing continues to be true ‘genius’.

If you design book covers don’t look at other book covers for inspiration. Look outside.

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films (I)

The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films (Part One)

What do you think of when I say “The Lord of the Rings“? Hobbits or Uruk-hai? Viggo Mortensen or Cate Blanchett? Epic story-telling or dippy-hippy myths?

I think craftsmanship. 

As a shuffling youth, I read Tolkein’s Trilogy utterly disinterested in folklore and daunted by a book 3 inches thick. I was hooked in a few chapters. Good vs Evil, but many-layered and a complex weave of characters, cultures . . . Enough. You know about it and you don’t need my summary. My point is that it was the skills of the writer that made it work for me. Made it plausible. Gave it vitality.

So it is with The Lord of the Rings Movies. Peter Jackson and his team were so thoroughly committed to the project. They totally immersed themselves and that, in turn, generated a totally immersive movie-going experience.

Alan Lee, concept artist on all three movies, once told me that each actor in the Elvish army had an individual spell, in Elvish, painted on the inside of their breast-plate, over the heart, for protection in battle. No-one saw it. And that is the point. The suspension of disbelief is total. And that carries all the way through to the audience. Keeps it real.

I get poked that, “All designers love special effects”. Nope. On their own they are just pyrotechincs. Flashy ephemera. Movie-makers often throw cash at CGI and high production values and ignore the script. The script is the content. Book, Film, Music, Products, Services, (dare I say Social Media) – Content matters. Content is the core, the essence. With my graphics, I try to take its pulse. Get that right and you can reflect it with visual communication. Without it you are left with, well decoration.

Yes, I’d rather watch The Wire than Transformers any day. But it’s not an elitist thing. Give me a good story, well-told and art direction/special effects that bring it to life and I am all there. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Twelve Monkeys, Apocalypse Now . . . Brill! Bring on the popcorn. And nothing gets the juices going more than a great soundtrack. Imagine Psycho without the violins. The Dollar films without Sergio Leone. Southern Comfort without Ry Cooder. I’d better stop or this will be one long list. But I’d love to see your favourites in the ‘comments’ box at the end of this post . . .

Before I get lost in enthusiasm (that happens). I want to change tack to technology. I am under a publishers’ embargo not to show The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films yet. Must respect that. Hence the wee teaser image above. Maybe more about the design in a later Post. Back story: In 2009 the book design (anon) had been completed. Then they binned it. Totally. In the name of quality. Blimey. No pressure then.

What’s that got to do with technology?

This ambitious book’s author Doug Adams lives/teaches/performs/writes in Chicago. He took on the task of finding a new art director for the project. After a very long trawl, a Google search  found my website. Tolkien found calendars and diaries. Classical Music found my time at Decca Records. And serendipity found Douglas Adams, his namesake. So far, so good. Then he used LinkedIn, which provided my bona fides and the all-important references. E-mail contact was made. 

Wrongly, I used to associate technology with an icey hand – cold, impersonal. Language can defeat that assumption. In a flurry of e-mails dialogue began. Howe Records in New York. A few phone-calls followed. We exchanged thoughts, discussed theories, developed an understanding. I was hired. Time-difference just became part of the process. I worked up designs in the morning. Sent PDFs to Doug in Chicago early morning (which we dubbed Javatime). We discussed/revised and sent to NY as they got to the office one hour later. The book is 416 pages + a rarities CD. There were a phenomenal amount of PDFs, e-mails, Skype calls, Twitter pokes et al. Nancy Starkman, Print Broker on the East Coast. Printers in South Korea. But, because of our wonderful language, we built trust, developed our relationship, crafted nuance. Made a book. And met deadlines.

We have still not met. Hi, Doug! I have yet to meet the guys in New York office, Joe Augustine and Alan Frey. Artists, Alan Lee and John Howe are in New Zealand, their pencils kissing paper in the making of The Hobbit. We will all meet for the first time when finished books are launched at a Howard Shore/LOTR concert at The Royal Albert Hall this September.

The author is now my friend. Yesterday I received a Hand-Written letter of thanks from Howard Shore for my work. Wow!

LikeMinds stimulated my interest in Social Media in May. Now I write this new Blog. I will Tweet it to a growing bunch of good folk who follow me. I will meet many of them for the first time at TheMeet 140, in Bristol, next week.

Technology today is impressive. The range of media amazing. The power of language in a 416 pp book or a 140 character Tweet is extraordinary. With great content the potential is limitless.

By the way, I am a Londoner living on Dartmoor, Devon, in England. I travel.

(. . . continued in Part Two)