Today, I received the results of 2 years’ work: three volumes of poetry by Alan Stephens, edited by his son, Alan Archer Stephens. There are a few poems by Alan Stephens on the web here, and a beautiful website about the books is here at alanstephenspoems.com.
This book project was unusual in that we pursued excellence in a way that publishing ventures rarely do.
I centered the poems on the page for nearly 1000 pages of poems. Nobody is crazy enough to do that anymore. There are lots of complicated hierarchies of things — part titles, subtitles, part title epigrams, poem part titles, poem subtitles . . . lots of things to obsess over. And we did. By printing single books at LightningSource (now Ingram), we were able to make adjustments and perfect even more details.
Today I held those hardcovers for the first time. The book makes it possible for me to read the writing in a way I couldn’t while it was onscreen, or on single letter-size pages. I found I was reading, enjoying, and then had tucked the jacket flap in as a bookmark so I could read the poem again next time I opened the book. Books really are a wonderful technology.
We built these books to last, and I believe they have the qualities that will make them stay in book collections for a long time.
VJBScribe designed and composed the books. Dowitcher Press handled printing, fulfillment and marketing. Some information about ordering books is here.
Collected Poems: 1958–1998
Running at Hendrys: Sonnets
by Alan Stephens
Limited edition hardcovers available from Dowitcher Press
I was just asked about book design titles. Here are some that have stayed close to my desk:
Everything you need to know is in this book. This book is beautifully designed and printed. The books have a ribbon bookmark. Mine is set on the spread of ratios. At one time I worked through the math and proportions for every book I designed. Eventually, I had a body of experience that I could refer to — templates, notes, and printed results of my efforts. At this point, amazingly enough, some of it now part of my own body. That is, I can amaze myself by drawing boxes or choosing positions on the page that turn out to be in proportion if I check the math. I’ve absorbed the aesthetic.
This great book appears to be out of print. I have a copy that was issued by Chronicle Books in 1993. The process and methods in the book are pre-desktop computing. The book is richly illustrated with examples of book design from the 1960. Adrian Wilson worked at a time when comping was done by hand and the designer communicated their vision to various craftspeople who worked in other buildings or other towns. Those methods enforced a clarity of vision that we do not need in a world where we can create a visual faster than we can imagine it. Covers type, papers, binding, boxes for limited editions — I return to this book again and again for inspiration.
This one is out of print too. Guess that says a lot right there. This collection of essays covers typography and the materials of book production. I have a flag on the page about footnotes. Between Bringhurst and Tschichold, you can learn everything you need about setting beautiful type
Back in 1999 a designer friend of mine referred me to Rum & Reggae Guidebooks. At the time, R&R wanted to redesign their travel books focusing on countries with beaches. Their attitude was their brand: irreverent, witty, and informative.
I worked closely with author and editor Jonathan Runge. We went back and forth through several design approaches and in the end settled on a design with typography that rests on energetic and sophisticated Scala and bold and edgy Journal.
I developed a vocabulary of icons to aid readability and findability of the minutia of the restaurants and accommodations. I also developed a coding system for R&R to use on the editorial side. They provided styled Word docs with codes for icons. I translated the files with Torquemada and imported to Quark Xpress. The system reduced the cost of composition.
The books are graced by illustrations by Eric Orner. My favorite covers from the series have his vibrant and whimsical art.
When the economy crashed, R&R was hit hard, and like many businesses, and our work of 10 years together ended. I’m still dreaming of visiting the places in those guidebooks . . .
This week I had a birthday, and it is way past time to get this project going. I spent a few hours today dearchiving and pdf-ing and now have folder of portfolio images
This blog post, I’ll pick my favorites — covers that please my eye. All are covers done for Copper Canyon Press over about 1998 to present.
I showed my portfolio once and asked the art director her impression. She said “your covers are kind of quiet.” In the case of these covers for my longtime client Copper Canyon Press, that quiet is probably an intersection of my taste and Copper Canyon Press’s usual presentation of a strong image with understated typography.
I’ll talk more about these covers in future posts.
I welcome comments.