Design notes from Merwin’s Garden Time (Copper Canyon Press)

W.S. Merwin’s latest poetry from his palm sanctuary

W.S. Merwin turned 89 on September 30, 2016.

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Garden Time by W.S. Merwin, Copper Canyon Press, 2016, ISBN 978155659-499-1

The cover image, a copperplate photogravure by Gwen Arkin, shows the potting shed on the land where W.S. Merwin lives, writing and tending a forest of palm trees that he planted, turning clear cut land into a forest. Sarah Cavanaugh‘s photographs are on the endsheets and on the back of the jacket. Merwin’s Maui forest is now The Merwin Conservancy. 

Interior

Merwin’s poetry asks for a classic, minimal setting. MVB Verdigris is the text typeface, with display type set in Garamond 3. The Garamond siblings are a nod to Merwin’s years living in France if anyone were to ask me why I picked them. If you listen to that clip under the “living in France” link you’ll hear: warmth and erudition are in Merwin’s voice as well as in Verdigris’ letterforms.

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The real book is better than the pictures. 5.5 x 7.5 inches, soft to the touch, fits well in hand . . .

Cover and Jacket

The cover art led the way to an earthy, organic approach for the whole book package. For the forest photos by Sarah Cavanaugh, printing them in full color seemed too literal, and possibly overwhelming to the space of the poems. Instead those photos are presented in a muted green monotone. I used 4-color process for the green so I could attempt to make both greens match (the one printed on the creamier endsheet stock and the one printed on the white jacket stock). By pulling back the yellow a bit on the endsheet green, the result matches well enough.

The original cover concept was whisper spare. Just the simple author/title. No enhancement. Test prints and common-sense talk* from JB the seasoned marketer convinced me that we had to make it possible to read the author/title from a distance. I used an understated intervention, a brown rectangle made from the image of a palm leaf.

*actually a passionate plea

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Better choice?

Bloodaxe in Britain has released Garden Time in softcover. Their approach to the cover is a bit different, although they use the same image as a starting point.

Reviews:

Purchase directly from Copper Canyon Press.

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Design for Finding Them Gone

“The exquisite production quality of the book effectively highlights both his talents as translator and his vision as a travel writer.”—Justin Radland, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Finding Them Gone: Visiting China’s Poets of the Past by Bill Porter / Red Pine
400 pages, over 120 photos, 7 x 9 softcover
Finding Them Gone by Bill Porter/Red Pine

The book is organized around the story of Bill Porter’s Guggenheim award project. He traveled around China, visiting sites related to poets and offering libation to their spirits. It is a combination of travelogue, translation, and commentary where each chapter represents one of thirty days on a whirlwind tour.

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The title page spread suggests the dizzying array of gravestones, pagodas and memorial halls visited during the journey, as well as the impressive list of Bill Porter/Red Pine’s published works.

Pages include poems in English and Chinese, images and captions. Wayfinding consists of running feet that tell the day number of the current page and he poet discussed on the page.

We wanted a book that you could open at random and jump in. Read a poem, take up the story, enjoy a photo.

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From over 400 photos, Bill Porter and I culled down the lot. Layout of the book was done organically as I flowed the text and sized the photos into the five basic photo shapes I established within the design grid. All of the photos were adjusted for at least -10% in the shadow. Most photos required individual attention.

This book was unusual in that the design evolved as we developed first a single-chapter fundraiser and then adjusted that design to fit more lines on the page for the book. The book is printed on antique white rather than bright white stock, a choice that puts the words before the photos, and is consistent with other Copper Canyon Press titles.

fundraising sample and test of color for the cover

Finding Them Gone fundraising sample and 3 color proofs of the cover as I adjusted the final color.

You can order a copy of your own, direct from Copper Canyon Press.

Ben & Jerry’s Flavor

For the interior design of Ice Cream Social, Brad Edmondson’s history of Ben & Jerry’s, I asked, What makes Ben & Jerry’s visual flavor?

Title Page

Ice Cream Social Title Page

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Ice Cream Social: Table of Contents

Mr Natural. I bet he enjoys Ben and Jerry’s.

B&J’s packaging and clever/irreverent product names have their roots in the 1970s. The early designers must have had copies of U&lc in their offices, and the cartoon illustrations of Gilbert Shelton’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics, and the lighter side of R Crumb in their minds.

It turns out that Ben & Jerry’s style was created by hand, by illustrator and graphic designer Lyn Severance. Be sure to follow the link to see the scope of her work.

Since B&J’s original shop opened in 1978, I think it is safe to speculate that she was inspired in part by Joel Kaden and Tony Stan’s American Typewriter (1974), but when I consider that she did all the lettering herself, and eventually turned her designs into typefaces, to call her work anything other than original and trendsetting would be a mistake. She tapped into the youthfulness and enthusiasm for the handmade that was in the culture at the time and applied it with great success.

Ben & Jerry’s logo was here [fixing-vb]

ITC American Typewriter

So, for the major display type elements of the interior, American Typewriter Bold was an essential ingredient. Next, I needed to find a text face that would harmonize with the right amount of authority and formality. In this day an age, slab serifs have enjoyed a significant revival, and that would have been one direction to go. Instead, I let my instincts guide me, and reached back into my typesetter past. I remembered a typeface that was popular in the 70s and 80s, but hasn’t really made it into the 21st century digital culture, (aside from the fact that it you can buy the font in OpenType form): Stemple Schneidler.

Stemple Schneidler Book

To me, the typeface feels like the older, wiser, relative of the youthful American Typewriter. Why do I think it blends with American Typewriter? I suppose it is because of the emphasized serifs, and it could also be that it is a Venetian typeface reinterpreted in the 1930s. I’d argue that the B&J style also looks back to early animated cartoons and lettering styles from the 1930s. Stemple Schneidler has great legibility and earthy elegance.

You’ll see a bit of Shag Mystery (brought in from Irene Morris’s clever cover) as well as Ironwork and Berliner Grotesque to add crunch. The smooth creamy narrative flows in Stemple Schneidler with American Typewriter ripple (heads).

Chapter Opener

Chapter Opener

Photo page

Photo page

Ice Cream Social won a silver award for design in 2014 from Pub West.

Stonehouse Is in the House

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The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse, translation and commentary by Red Pine published by Copper Canyon Press.

Thinking of Eric Gill, and his background as a stonecutter, I set the book title with Gill’s beautiful Perpetua Titling capitals. I fell in love with the shapes of the letters, I admit.

Then, we found the image of the man in his simple hut, in the midst of dragon-shape pine trees. After acquiring the image rights, we learned that this scene was a detail from the  familiar painting, “The Thatched Hut of Dreaming an Immortal” by Tang Yin (late 16th C), the wide painting depicts a man hovering in space at the left side. The Immortal hovers just beyond the book cover too.

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The interior design balances the vertical lines of Chinese and the dense commentary on the verso pages with the poem number and translation on the recto page. All along, we wanted to keep the attention on the poems, with no more than 2 poem per spread.

I selected Minion for the text, as the sections of commentary can be long and we had limited space. Minion is slightly condensed so fits more words on the page than Bembo (another face I considered). Why not Perpetua for the text? Aside from the problem of fitting commentary, I don’t use Perpetua anymore for text because it falls apart when printed POD, and even though this book was printed on web press (at McNaughton and Gunn), you never know how the text may be printed in future.

The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse

Copious notes and commentary are part of what make Red Pine’s books so great.

The Mountain Poems of Stonehouse: spread 2

Stonehouse: The page has to work with less text, too.

Multilingual books are always full of puzzles to solve. In this case the poems contain some archaic characters, so we relied on a compositor in Taiwan to compose the Chinese. Delivered as a PDF, each page contained several poems. I placed the PDF and cropped out the other poems. Midway through, the Chinese compositor changed the spacing and organization of the source pdf changed. Aargh! I had to relink and check and recrop all those text boxes. What are blogs for if not for complaining, right?

I’ll end with one of my favorite poems from this collection:

Poem 13, by Stonehouse

Poem 13 by Stonehouse, translated by Red Pine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To buy a copy of the book, buy direct from Copper Canyon Press, or browse your local bookseller.

 

Paris Was a Woman

In 2013, Counterpoint Press asked me to design the reissue of Andrea Weiss’ richly illustrated history of the Paris cultural scene in the 1920s and 30s.

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About the design

The book includes many illustration in the form of photographs and documents. I was grateful for the previous editions as they provided a plot to follow for the sequence of the illustrations. The trim size was different from the previous, and the schedule was short. I knew I had to accomplish the best layout on the first page proof as there wasn’t time to rework. I chose a 5 column grid for a lively asymmetry.

To approach the text design, I did some research.  As usage lags invention, typography from the Belle Epoque and were still used in signage and publications from the time covered by the book, so I included those influences in my type palette. I used Fontshop’s FontBook app to browse typefaces designed in the 1910-1940 period.

For the text I chose Stemple Garamond, a beautiful Garamond (Stemple, 1924). I like to think that the date a typeface is created has some of the DNA of its time. For the display type, I chose Handle Oldstyle (1917), designed by a rare woman typographer. Handle pairs nicely with the letterforms of the Garamond.

For subheads and running feet I chose Cooper Oldstyle Italic, a stalwart of advertising of the time period, and Quadraat. Quadraat Sans has a bit of deco in it and a bit of warmth.

Stemple Garamond
Handle Oldstyle
Quadraat Sans Semibold
Cooper Oldstyle Italic

Many of the photos were scanned from books, or rough scans from the photos and so needed attention to adjust the gray tones and bring details out of the shadows.

This is a wonderful book. While I was familiar with Gertrude Stein and Shakespeare Books, there were many other women, such as Janet Flanner and Djuna Barnes, who contributed to the cultural milieu that was expat Paris in the 1930s.

Here’s a link to the author’s website, where there is a link to purchase the book:
andreaweiss.net/books/paris-was-a-woman/

Travel book design for Rum & Reggae Guidebooks

Rum & Reggae's Caribbean Page from Rum & Reggae style guide
Page from Rum & Reggae style guide Page from Rum & Reggae style guide

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 . . .