The London-based AVA Publishing (headquarters in Switzerland), specialising in Art and Design books for a predominantly educational readership, has built up a series of interesting titles over the years. Among them Visual Research: An Introduction to Research Methodologies in Graphic Design by Ian Noble and Russel Bestley, Visible Signs and Left to Right: The cultural shift from words to pictures by David Crow, and Good: An introduction to Ethics in Graphic Design by Lucienne Robert. Last year AVA were purchased by Bloomsbury Publishing, London.
Shortly before the buy-out I was invited by Lucie Roberts (then Art Director at AVA) to design an upcoming book about Illustration, and later another one about Fashion and Textiles (published under the Bloomsbury name). Becoming a Successful Illustrator was released in June of this year, and Sourcing and Selecting Textiles for Fashion, already printed, will be out shortly.
These sorts of books always have a degree of complexity related to the range of text and information elements they carry, with the design of the navigation scheme of particular importance. Each one took six months to complete through a process of predefined production stages.
Designing the books was a prime example of 'working from a distance'. In the Fashion book – with me in Portugal – the editor was in London, the print manager in Hong Kong, and the author in New York – in today's world a common and largely unproblematic arrangement, although I remain curious about how physical meetings might influence the dynamic and the course of projects.
Below is the cover design I submitted for the illustration book. My only limitation was to follow a very simple template which specified the dimensions of a box for the title and the 'creative careers' identity on the top right corner. Rather than use the work of one illustrator on the cover, which seemed innappropriate considering the general nature of the book and the range of examples used inside, I decided to use a mix of work by different illustrators. In the end however, the publisher decided to commision an independent work by a freelance illustrator for the final cover design.
Below, the final cover with an illustration by Steve Simpson.
The Fashion and Textiles book also experienced a turn-around with regard to the cover. I had been asked by the editor to browse the Victoria & Albert Museum Photographic archive to see if I could find an image for the cover. I selected the one below because of it's dynamic composition, the fabric pattern, and the strong black shape of the umbrella which I could use to contain the title. The design was accepted but when it came to ordering the photo problems arose and a substitute image had to be found.
The final cover uses an image that in all honesty I would not have chosen for a range of reasons but as designers we don't always get the final word.
Images of the page layout will be posted in the portfolio section shortly.
Tochtli lives in a palace. He loves hats, samurai, guillotines, and dictionaries, and what he wants more than anything right now is a new pet for his private zoo: a pygmy hippopotamus from Liberia. But Tochtli is a child whose father is a drug baron on the verge of taking over a powerful cartel, and Tochtli is growing up in a luxury hideout that he shares with hit men, prostitutes, dealers, servants, and the odd corrupt politician or two.
This latest book from AHAB by Mexican Author Juan Pablo Vilalobos (entitled Down the Rabbit Hole in English) is described as a 'masterful and darkly comic first novel... a chronicle of a delirious journey to grant a child’s wish'.
An interesting challenge then for a book cover. And where to start? Well, in the usual place – looking at what other covers exist of the same book by other publishers. And this time there were quite a few – varying in approach and visual language.
Some (top row below) choose to use Mexican (style) iconography – decorative and pictorial.
Others (second row) chose to use one of the story's principle icons – the Hippo (also incorporated in the third cover of the top row), and one cover creates a heraldic 'Coat of Arms' incorporating gold machine guns as well as the beast. Another 'group' uses the boy as a central image. The bottom row examples are more disperse, with Tochtli's hat obsession being featured in the second example, and, in what looks like an Asian edition (difficult to see on the low-res image), an unexpected detail from a Hieronymus Bosch painting is used.
Never ignore the obvious I often say – usually a pretty good place to start. And so I went for the Hippo – who could resist! And it's only when you start looking at photos of Hippos that you realise that one's pre-imagined idea of a Hippo – the archetypal Hippo – is not that easy to find. What makes a Hippo a Hippo? From certain angles it becomes indistinctive. Trust me I've looked. Certain things need to be prominant – the big mouth (open), the teeth, the nostrils, the short legs. None of this really works from the front. And so I came up with my Hippo based on a cartoon I found. The cartoon was useful because cartoons are already graphic simplifications, and because it's the story of a child, with humour, albeit dark.
But after the Hippo I needed more. I needed lettering – of a particular kind – and some other visual references. I included a hat, some pistols, a cactus or two. And finally the colour scheme – simple but bright. It was my intention that the process of building the aesthetic would not stop here. The idea was to give the final design a rougher, almost lino-cut feel. I even went to the trouble of having a lino sheet laser cut so I could make prints which might have texture, which would then serve as the final artwork. But my old foe – time – defeated me again. Next time perhaps.
In a continued effort to keep the Editorial Course fees as low as possible we have been able, through a new partnership, to reduce the costs once again. Further reductions are unlikely.