Galileo & Mick Brownfield

A lunar eclipse occurs when Sun, Earth and Moon are in a perfect alignment, right? Well three things came together recently and there is some fugitive sendipity, some tangential connection between them so I thought I would take out my iQuill and see if I can resolve them.

You know the way that sometimes history can brush your soul for a moment as you realise a major figure from the past stood where just where you are now standing? It doesn’t always happen. My history teacher at school certainly never prompted it. David Starkey doesn’t do it for me either. Mary Beard and Joann Fletcher can. I digress . . .

There was a glorious full moon on Dartmoor recently. It was huge and heavy. My wife, Sandy and I stared at it, in the garden and in awe. By chance, a day or so later, I came across this sketch by Galileo.

I adore it. So now I must try not to gush but aside from the simple beauty of the page was the impact of the likeness – we see the exact same moon as Galileo Galilei, 1564 – 1642. Today we often see science portrayed as a sterile, cold activity (and The Man in the White Suit is a favourite film of mine) yet there is something in this sketch that speaks of simple humanity, curiosity and wonder. It’s moving. OK, I gushed. Blame the phase of the moon.

The second body to share my orbit was just last week when Mick Brownfield appeared on Facebook out of the blue. We have worked together a couple of times. He is a big cheese (like the moon). Remember those great Heinken ads? Advertising boys and girls love his work just as much as editorial does. His work is amongst the best contemporary illustration and has, well, just always been there. He seems full of that blend of youthful enthusiasm and slight melancholy I feel like that myself on many a day. The coincidence? Well you might ask. The talented Mr Brownfield’s work graced the first Pan paperback of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in it’s modest beginings. Neither of us has a copy of it – anyone? Mick has a host a utterly fab visual references to space and sci-fi in his mighty portfolio. (I wish now I had given him a more open brief. Sorry Mick.) In particular he has great affinity for the lighter-side of SF and popular culture. The wide-eyed optimism of the public appetite for early space travel, the comic-book super-powered heroes – the fun. And we share a pleasure in the space tin-toy. That mad clash between leading edge technology reproduced in gaudy print on feeble materials driven by clockwork. And, curse it, he has a collection that puts my minor shelf to shame. And Brownfield artwork now brightens up my Facebook stream. Which is nice.

And the third body? Well it was this. Last Thursday I visited the lively exhibition of 1st and 2nd year Illustration students at Plymouth University where I teach. I had a good chat with David Smart about research amongst University staff. I had often thought, just on the back-burner, that the research for Visual Communication/Graphics/Illustration was Fine Art. In some ways maybe it is but I was interested to learn that effectively it is a commitment to continuing education/exploration by staff and the sharing of that knowledge. I must admit it got me thinking. Over the hot weekend, as I mowed our grass, I found myself joining the dots from Galileo’s sketches of the moon back to Egyptian portrayals of the Sun and Moon. To romantic painters’ emotional use of Moon and Stars. The sinister symbolism of the necromancers. To Georges Méliès‘ chaotic film predictions. To Dan Dare and the paintings of Chesley Bonestell that exited me so much as a boy (and still do). The paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. And on to Hubble and digital photography and Star Trek and a creeping, lingering question of whether the power of the illustrators’ imaginings of the heavens will be lost? Replaced by photographic images of such high resolution they raise questions about time itself. Does regular exposure to CGI mean we will lose our sense of wonder? I already have with films that hire scriptwriters who do not match the scope of Asimov, Alfred Bester, Ursula le Guinn and Philip K. Dick. Art Directors need great writers.

Will all those young illustration students find the opportunities they need for their work? Do we celebrate our wealth of living illustration talent enough? Where are the retrospective exhibitions of Mick Brownfield, Chris Moore, Ian Miller, Chris Foss, Brian Sanders? A list I shall abort and leave it for a dissertation one day – it can only lead me into trouble here! And they all do way more than sci-fi. The Leyendecker and Rockwell‘s of out time?

Time for a major exhibition of the artists who have excited our imaginations and envisioned our futures? And we too, like Galileo, can look at the stars. And wonder.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

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.

H&H-for-my-website

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!

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.

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.

 

Gabriel García Márquez

 
 

A very sad message landed on Sunday’s doorstep. “The Nobel prizewinning author Gabriel García Márquez is suffering from senile dementia and can no longer write, his brother has revealed.” Age takes us all and the Columbian writer is 85. Yet it seems a particularly cruel irony that a mind should fade that once created the magic of One Hundred Years of SolitudeLove in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. A stunning talent that emanates from a country more often in the news for the havoc caused by crops of mind-altering drugs. If only the appetite for literature were as rapacious to western tastes.

But perhaps that bitter observation is too harsh. Márquez is widely read and has received many plaudits including a Nobel prize in 1982. His writing is rich with the spicy marinade of his homeland that so often only an exile can concoct. He worked mostly in Paris, New York, Barcelona and Mexico. I regret that I never met him. But his work was a key part of  the Picador stable so I had the pleasure of applying design to his work. The cover of his best known work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was designed by David Larkin. Subsequent cover designs under my art direction were aimed at simplicity and character. An attempt to create a sense of expectation. A title such as Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which opens with an anonymous note slid under a door is magic, is a gift. The trick is to recognise it. The illustration by Gary McCarver brings the image to vivid life. Graphic elaboration or over-worked visuals would add little to this potent combination.

So, sadly I cannot tell you of our meeting, of his traits or personality. No jokes, no first-hand insights. Just a recommendation that you read his glorious work. I feel moved to mention that I have friends and acquaintances who are dealing with senility in parents. The tragedy of seeing a mind slip away, perhaps not recognising their own children, whilst physically still present and active. So hard. I find myself hoping that if the mind is in ‘another place’ that it may be a place of contentment not torment. Great art is one of the lasting legacies available to a precious few. One is Gabriel García Márquez. I hope he is in a place as good as he put my mind as a reader.

David Loftus

 

I have cooked before now you know. My delicious wife, Sandy Nightingale, was working on a rather splendid book, with Sandi Toksvig, called “Heroines & Harridans”. For months she worked late into the night on the illustrations while I worked my way through some of the Delia Smith recipes (and broke the food budget on kitchen accessories). Some time later we got an Aga. A beautiful black, shiny beast that’s a real feast for the eye. But a total mystery to this erratic, novice cook. After all you can’t see anything. Well not in the bottom bit. And I was always a bit of a one-pot cowboy. Cooking stalled. My excuses brought gently to the boil and simmering.

I tell you this because this week I needed to step up to the hot-plate and take on the iron Aga beauty. Why? Because Sandy put her back out. Sandy also has a looming deadline for her next book with Sandi Toksvig. All about Great Women in history. (It’s going to be a hoot but it is under wraps – the subject of a future post.) Anyway I stepped into the breach and took over cooking duties. On, and more worryingly in, the Aga.

I considered these coincidences as I chopped. Wondered how it is that women multi-task so well while I whisked. Mused on how some men are multi-disciplined as I mixed and mashed.

  

Now those are very handsome cover designs, Gary, but what have they got to do with cooking, I hear you demand? Well they are by a very successful illustrator who assembled an amazing collection of printed ephemera. From this treasure trove he created a lot exquisite collage work. Some of it, like these two examples, for me. Then he stopped. Just like that. And took up photography. And then cooked up a storm in that discipline too. His name is David. And he popped into my mind as I leant on the Aga rail and wondered if my burnt offerings would look as good as one of David Loftus’ photographs when they emerged from the belly of that Black Hole of kitchen engineering.

 

I chuckled to myself as I remembered of picture, on Facebook, of cheeky David in a Djellaba with his long-time collaborator Jamie Oliver. Now world renown for his work behind the camera there is real chemistry in the way he works as Oliver’s prefered photographer. What a great symbiosis is at work there – two terrific guys (O, by the way, bollocks to Jamie’s detractors, I like his cooking, I like his style and he gives a lot of himself to getting kids better fed.). And have to say I felt warm towards David (no, it wasn’t the meal burning and I’ve never met Jamie) and how many of us don’t make one great career – let alone two. He even has a Hipstamatic lens to his name that you groovy people out there can obtain. Good on him for changing tack right at the top of his game in illustration. Not as easy at the time as it might now seem in hindsight.

But, of course, David has not really got two great talents. He now has three. His own cookbook has recently been published to much acclaim. I should go right off him at this point. But I haven’t. The boy done good.

How many of us have the courage to turn away from sure success and take a risk? Who do you know that that has more than one string to their bow? Many of you have that potential. So what stops you?

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Art Students, Plymouth 2012


Regular readers may recall I visited Plymouth University as an Associate Lecturer last year. A two week stint running a Type & Layout workshop with First Year Illustration. There were 45 in the group and it was busy, fun and the Uni has a good feel to it. So I was pleased when Ashley Potter asked me back this year.
 

O, just one thing, Gary. There are 69 students this time” Muttering darkly under my breath I cheerily assured my Course Leader that would be no problem. Half as many again? Oo, er.

First up was a personal introduction in the lecture theatre called ‘Who is this Bloke?‘. Serried rows of gimlet eyes peering through the dim light. Elevated baked seating like the Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium. Without the football. Or the numbers. Or the noise. And it was Plymouth. Some smart questions which is always a good sign. Second part, ‘What is Type‘ – to give them an introduction for the project. Attention can wander after too long so this became a fairly rapid-fire exercise knowing that I had the images on my iPad and would be able to refer back to them through the coming weeks. A great teaching tool. (Not me, the iPad).

Back in the studio with 69 students. They all had good space to work but rounding them up took forever as small groups milled about like grazing wildebeest. Getting their attention meant raising my voice too much and disturbing Year Two across the partition. Fix required. So that evening I rummaged in the workshop for a ball of string and two clamps to bisect the room. Once my side of the string they began to coalesce into a group and we could talk normally. The novelty broke the ice and registration became String Time. Certainly the closest I’ll ever get to any comprehension of String Theory anyway.

It may sound amusing, in fact a little humour is often the best way to tackle a problem, but imagine the extra strain on the course with so many – marshalling groups, timetables, paperwork, logistics etc. With University fees restructured no doubt there has been a surge intake with students’ natural desire to beat fees hike. Some even by-passed a Foundation Year. Ducking under the fiscal string . . .

 

Work time, sleeves rolled up. Ashley rallied round and called in the delightful Claire Harper whose help was invaluable. Groups of six students at a time and I made as much one-on-one time as I could. So much to share, so little time.

Initially they seemed to struggle with what was expected and, to be fair, it is not easy to explore  with type when you are new to it – remember these are illustration students. There is a decent work ethic in the group and the desire to meet expectations maybe inhibited them at times. At one point I was concerned that vitality shown in layout was a bit lost in final pieces. Yet by the end they produced great first-year work. Some by natural talent, some by graft, some too timid, some really stretching themselves and a few by epic escapology! Have a look at the work they produced here.

Will 69 complete the course? Will 69 well rounded happy young adults emerge? Will all become professional illustrators and be making a good living in a few years time? From what I have seen, probably a few more than you might think. But in the end, how long is a piece of string?

What do you think?

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.

Funny-Money002

 

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.

last-cuppa-scaled500-300x269

 

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.

watch-it-come-down-scaled1000-241x300

 

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

SaveSave

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.

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.
 


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.

 
 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 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.



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?

 

SaveSave

Salman Rushdie

But there was trouble again for the author.

It turned out that Director Deepa Mehta chose the island location over India or Pakistan, where the story is set, to avoid religious protests. Iran had objected to Sri Lanka’s Premier and filming came to an abrupt halt. You will recall Iran’s former leader Ayatollah Kohmeini was the source of the misguided (potty) Fatwa on Rushie for The Satanic Verses. I have never believed the author sought controversy or intended offence. He is an exceptional writer who sets his work in complex societies he knows well. He was a soft target for zealotry.

I leave this well-worn topic and return to more innocent times, at Stanley Studios, London SW10, as I set about designing the original paperback cover for Midnight’s Children. Not for the first time Pan’s commitment to the significance of the book was to be reflected in the point-size of the typeface. The trouble with a brief of ‘Big Author + Big Title’ is that it can be a typographical blunt instrument. But Sonny Mehta‘s unerring literary judgement had picked another great. In fact he saw it as a possible Booker Prize winner. So the task was to work with it and bring some character to bear. Devouring the tome hungrily in my West London flat I found there was a feast on offer. I was particularly struck by the doctor who when visiting a young woman is confronted by female family members protecting her modesty with a sheet. The sheet has a carefully placed hole through which only local examination of the immediate medical problem is possible. Over time the various local areas build an overall picture for the doctor who has gradually fallen in love with her. The film-maker’s must have had a such an amazing time with such rich narrative.

Potential bestsellers on the mass-market list at Pan Books (parent to the Picador imprint) endured relentless pressure, in cover briefs, to parade 70s film-poster style collages of heroes and helicopters exploding or some such chaos. It was clearly dated even then and I fought the good fight for better graphics where I could. On Picador we worked to develop ways to set the mood and entice interest with the visuals in subtler, but no less effective ways. Midnight’s Children was seen to have huge sales potential yet its target audience is inclined to more nuanced sensibilities. (Read between the lines people, work with me here) As some scribbled notes on the inside of the hardback edition reveal (just unearthed from a box emptied to fill yet another new bookshelf) the ‘just before midnight’ clock hands were my first idea but survived scrutiny. The execution would provide the character. I would handle the type differently now but remain happy with my apparently perverse choice of Ian Pollock to create for me the pealing paint/ faded opulence wall. He was widely celebrated for his brilliantly bizarre, idiosyncratic characters at that time. And we incorporated one big peel in case it won the Booker Prize. In that space I could announce its triumph and avoid a Daz-style corner flash. And if it didn’t, well it’s a peeling bit. The illustrator gave me the original painting (shown) and that recently emerged from another box.

I keep reading that blog posts should be kept short. Shame. Because coincidentaly that was the title of his next novel. I took the painted wall route again with the cover. This time with ‘Shame‘ as graffiti, in Urdu I recall and Salman popped in to Stanley Studios to write it for me. Hard to imagine within a few years he would be in hiding.

Sonny Mehta left London for New York. I left Pan (well it was important for me!). Salman Rushdie went to Penguin with The Satanic Verses. Midnight’s Childen went on to win the ‘Booker of Bookers’ in 1993. Time sure keeps moving after midnight . . .

Can’t wait to see the film of Midnight’s Children. Or whatever else turns up in boxes come to think of it.

 

 

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.

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 . . .

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!

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?