The Art of Storytelling

Marika Maijala, based in Helsinki, Finland, has always loved books. In fact, she says that reading helped her survive her “tough teenage years.” It wasn’t until later, though, that she discovered that she could make a living illustrating stories. Fortunately, her love of reading has helped her succeed in her career as an illustrator, because it’s one of the most important functions of the job—getting a feel for the characters and their thoughts and actions. “I usually read the manuscript a few times and then let it live in my head a while, before starting to sketch the images,” Maijala explains. “I trust my intuition, so oftentimes the number of the spreads and the outline of the story come quite naturally. I somehow see the story like a film inside my head.” She often tries different adaptations and approaches when it comes to composition, color, and even characters, but finds that the first iteration is usually the way to go.

Of course, before getting too far on any project, Maijala must get approval on her creative output from the publisher and author. She notes that in many instances once the initial direction is approved, she’s free to continue in that direction for the remainder of the project with little input. But that’s not always the case. “For the first book for Etana Editions, Piano Karkaa (The Great Escape), I made many versions of the storyboard and the illustrations. We initially prepared the book for the Bologna Book Fair, and from feedback we received, we made changes both in the story and the visuals. I learned a lot with that project,” she says, adding that she prefers some back and forth with editors and art directors, because it usually results in a better book.

For Miljoona biljoona joulupukkia (Million, Billion Santa Clauses), by Hiroko Motai, Maijala had to rethink her illustration style. “I loved Hiroko’s style of writing—you rarely get to read such a minimalistic and poetic text, perfect for a picture book. But I also immediately felt that any of my previous styles wouldn’t fit this story, so I decided to develop a new style,” she explains. “But funnily, it came quite naturally. I just tried to follow the light, child-like tone of her writing. It was a very important project for me, because it allowed me to be more free and impressionistic with my pictures.”

Color is a huge consideration in Maijala’s work, but it’s often challenging to specify the right color when transferring handmade art to the desktop. “I see the color in my head, but making sure it prints that way, is another thing. For the Piano Karkaa and Kissa Katoaa (The Lost Cat), I manually marked the CMYK values of each color in each image on the proofs, and then art director Jenni Erkintalo made the change in the design files,” she explains. “When using this system, you really will see the end result only in the final printed book, especially when using the fifth Pantone color, as we did. I have certain color palettes that I love, but I like to challenge them as well, not to get stuck with one palette.”

And there have been times when she’s been disappointed with the final outcome. “For me, it is always difficult to see the final printed product for the first time. There have been books that I have been able to look at properly only after months after publication. That’s telling about the process: If the process was difficult, I have mixed feelings about the result,” Maijala notes. “One time the paper had been changed at the printer, and I was severely disappointed. I was worried that people would think I was the one who chose that unpleasant material for the book.”

Maijala is lucky in that not only does she work for publishers, but she also collaborates and creates with author Juha Virta. “We create the story together, and then Juha writes the text and I make illustrations, and we both comment on each other’s work, throw ideas and make changes, if something isn’t working. I really like the process of working this way,” she notes. They have done five books together.

Trendspotting 2018: Editorial Design

Whether you’re designing for a print or online publication, many rules are the same with the goal being legibility. If users can’t read it or don’t understand the hierarchy, you’re going to lose them. Trends in editorial design have run the gamut from over-the-top imagery and graphics, to sparsely inhabited pages of floating type in a sea of white space. And what works for one publication doesn’t work for another, so it’s completely subjective.

Designers Xavier Schoebel and Amélie Lecocq have plenty of experience working in publication design in France for cultural institutions like the Louvre and Pompidou Center. Both teach graphic design—Xavier at LISAA, Institute of Applied Arts in Strasbourg, and Amelie at the Fine Arts of the University of Strasbourg. “Much of our work in editorial design revolves around cultural subjects, where we use illustrated charts and graphs to depict the information. For instance, what works for a children’s book, will not work in a fashion magazine,” Xavier explains.

Here, the duo, who also run their studio Collectif Ça va 2 Paire, share their predictions for five editorial design trends to watch for in 2018—many of which are tried and true.

  1. Typography: Mix it Up

The old type rules about using only two or three type styles in editorial design are no longer relevant. In fact, it’s fun to mix and fuse different fonts to create a particular mood. “We like the mix between old historic fonts and modern fonts, that are more flexible,” Amelie notes. “Creating contemporary typographic design sometimes means combining old and new to create a timeless vibe.”

  1. Color: Bright is Right

Bright, high contrasting colors can make the difference between a hum-drum layout and something that speaks to the masses. Xavier says, “Pairing a bright color with a pastel or gray tone, is a simple way to create depth and intrigue, similar to how vintage album covers were portrayed in the ’70s. There was a tendency to have bright illustrations or letters over less chromatic or black and white photos.” Oftentimes, the contrast contributed to the album’s narrative and intrigue.

  1. Images: Original vs. Stock

Stock photos are fine if you’re in a hurry or on a very tight budget, but original art is always best, and that’s a trend that’s never going to change—which is great for artists and photographers. Illustrators can take a story to a whole new level with their interpretation of the narrative. “It’s also fun to add headlines or drawings on top of photos—just be sure to get the photographer’s permission to do this if you’re not buying exclusive rights,” Amelie notes. “These graphic additions, can really add drama and perspective.” Of course, if you buy stock images, you don’t need permission to do that.

  1. Composition: Balancing text and images

Grids are always a starting point for any publication designer. Setting up the page, determining the width of columns, and how headlines will look on the page. “Oftentimes, designers will deconstruct a gird to create dynamism in a composition,” Xavier says. “For example, there is a tendency to use more space in the margins to put different types of information like a small photo that serves as a reference to the larger image found later in a publication.”

  1. Print vs. Online publications

We’ve been hearing it for years: “Print is dead.” Well, it’s not. Granted, the number of print publications has drastically dwindled in the last decade, but people—especially artists and designers—crave the tactile experience when it comes to flipping through a magazine or newspaper. “For us, digital editions can not replace print, but it’s a great complement,” Amelie notes. For instance, if you’re doing a limited print run, try using heavier sheets or different printing techniques, and then explain the process in the digital edition. Make them co-exist and work together.

Many of these trends aren’t new, but editorial design can be very experimental depending on your audience. As Xavier says, “It’s about finding a balance between different levels of text, photographs, and illustrations to create new visual conversations.”

Fili & Thorn & Charles : Legends, Swans, & Dorks

Spencer Charles was hand-lettering signs at a Whole Foods in Salt Lake City when he heard Louise Fili Ltd was hiring. She invited him to New York for an interview. Fili and Charles clicked. A month later he was living in Brooklyn.

It was 2012 when Charles began working for the legendary Louise Fili, whose New York design studio specializes in book design, restaurant identities, food packaging, and “all things Italian.”

Including, apparently, amore. For Charles, landing a job at Fili’s studio was a dream come true … but that was just the beginning of his dreams come true. While working there, he’d meet Kelly Thorn … and marry her.

Meanwhile, Kelly Thorn was finishing at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia. She, too, had heard Fili Ltd was hiring. “I lugged my giant portfolio case to her studio, and that’s when I met both her and the guy who’d become my favorite dork, Spencer.”

As their work relationship grew romantic in 2014, Charles left Fili to freelance. By 2015, Charles and Thorn were married and working together as Charles&Thorn.

Based in Brooklyn, they have a studio at The Pencil Factory, a creative coworking space, where they work for a host of clients including Barnes & Noble, Knock Knock, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. In fact, they’ve done a series of book cover illustrations for classic titles for Barnes & Noble. Initially, Charles designed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and then his client asked if he knew anyone who would be a good fit for Jane Austen’s seven novels. “A prerequisite was that they had to enjoy drawing flowers and letters, which suits me perfectly,” says Thorn. They have subsequently illustrated dozens of titles for the publisher. “Now, depending on the title, they decide for us who is right for each job,” she adds.

When collaborating with your life partner, it can get tricky deciding who does what, but this duo has figured out a system that works for them. “It really depends on the project and who is more excited about doing it and, frankly, who is better suited for it. We’ve learned to delegate and be honest with each other about the type of work we want, and that’s made a big difference,” Thorn notes. And then, there’s question of spending so much time with one person—is it too much of a good thing? “Of course, and this is something we check ourselves on regularly. We’ve learned to voice when we need alone time, when we need to consciously NOT talk about work,” she says, adding, “separating work and life is tricky, especially when you love your work.”

But the two, who admit that their favorite project to date, was designing their wedding invitation, wouldn’t have it any other way. The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives. “We take work home all the time. I think it’s better for us to kind of accept that the two worlds permeate one another. It’s unavoidable, and we don’t really mind.”

Gael Towey: A life in stories beyond Martha Stewart Living

After spending nearly 22 years at the creative helm of Martha Stewart Living, Gael Towey left in late 2012 to pursue something different, though she didn’t know what that would be at the time. She and Martha had practically invented the DIY revolution, encouraging their readers to craft their own lives, from cooking to sewing to entertaining. Towey led the brand strategy for everything Martha, including magazines, books, and products.

She took a much needed hiatus for six months, traveling, spending time with family and friends, and pondering her next move. Since Towey is so adept at storytelling, she decided to do documentary shorts, thus she started her next venture, Portraits in Creativity, which features artists and artisans doing what they do best. It’s an intimate look at the creative journey, through the experiences of the makers.

Here we talk to her about the creative journey from Martha Stewart Living to now, and the inherent challenges and benefits of being so intimately linked to a brand everyone identifies with.

Was it hard going out on your own after being at Martha Stewart Living for so long?

It was time to go. I knew that they were going to downsize and start closing magazines, and I didn’t really want to stick around for that. It was the end of 2012, I had just turned 60, and I thought, I’m still young and energetic and have lots of ideas, I need to have time for myself so that I can do something that’s really from my heart.

I’m so glad that I had the nerve to think that I could do something for myself. When I left, I didn’t know what I was going to do.

I knew I wanted to keep working but I gave myself six months to just decompress, travel, get together with friends who I had not seen in a long time. I almost never had time go out to lunch with friends for 22 years! That’s a slight exaggeration, but being able to do that opened a world of building relationships, and reconnecting and networking, which is good. I needed that.

I had amazing experiences at Martha Stewart. I was there for all the inventions and creativity and I feel enormously lucky. I learned so much and I was exposed to so much. Some of my happiest days at Martha Stewart Living were out shooting stories around the country: flowers and gardens, profiles of farmers, chefs and entertainers. Whether it was shooting peonies in Illinois or cheese making in Vermont or a new chef in Colorado, the opportunity to get around America and learn about makers and growers was enormously gratifying. I worked with incredible photographers, editors, and stylists to create our iconic photographs and tell stories in visually stunning ways.

At Martha Stewart I learned about creative, visually seductive storytelling. I bring that sensibility into my Portraits in Creativity series, where I have tried to capture the essence of a person in a profile that is only eight to twelve minutes long.

Read the rest of the interview at Moxie Sozo here.

 

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Josh Friedland, aka Ruth Bourdain, on the Absurdities in Food Culture

In 2010, a new voice hit the Twitterverse, and had everyone guessing who it was. @RuthBourdain was born—a sardonic mash up of food critic Ruth Reichl and CNN’s Parts Unknown bad boy, Anthony Bourdain.

More than 66,000 people followed @RuthBourdain, as she delivered her ridiculously tawdry, yet chirpy Haikus, such as this gem: “The birds are louder than fuck this morning. Breakfast of black beans, tortillas, and salsa causing fragrant, ozone-destroying flatulence.” Still, no one knew “her” true identity, until the creator himself, food writer Josh Friedland, came out to The New York Times in 2013, much to his relief.

Here we talk to Friedland, creator of The Food Section and author of Comfort Me with Offal (as Ruth Bourdain) and Eatymology, about food terms, critics, and what it was like living in a paradoxical universe.

How did you come up with the idea to do a mash-up of Ruth Reichl and Anthony Bourdain?

I had been reading Ruth Reichl’s tweets — her haiku-like poems about breakfast in upstate New York and other meals — and I felt they were just asking to be spoofed. At the same time, Anthony Bourdain was broadcasting a short-run radio show on satellite radio where he read them on-air as beat poetry. I took the next logical step and combined their two personas into one scary gastronomical beast. Read the rest of the interview here.

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Timothy Goodman & Jessica Walsh: Being Vulnerable on a Public Platform

What happens when two designers set out to do a social experiment that reveals their vulnerabilities and insecurities? They publish a book, get tons of media coverage, and Hollywood comes calling with a movie deal. Then they start over with a new experiment.

Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman are well respected designers who have plenty on their professional plates already—Walsh as partner of famed Sagmeister & Walsh, and Goodman as a prominent designer, illustrator and art director. Both are based in New York city, and they teach at School of Visual Arts, as well. In 2013, 40 Days of Dating started as a personal exploration where Walsh and Goodman exclusively dated each other for 40 days, following a set of self-imposed guidelines including attending couples therapy, an entire day of holding hands (even in the bathroom), and a romantic weekend get-away. The entire experience was documented daily, with each recording their thoughts about each other and what they were feeling each day. This was the most real, reality program we’ve ever witnessed, and highly addictive. During the experiment, Goodman was asked by a friend why he was doing this, and he said, “I really believe it’s testing my capacity for intimacy.” That intimacy was ultimately viewed by more than 15 million people worldwide. The two didn’t become a couple, but they have remained close confidants and co-conspirators, and Walsh found her happily-ever-after with someone else.

Their latest project, 12 Kinds of Kindness, again took them way out of their comfort zone as they explored their own personal struggles in the past and how they dealt with them—and are still dealing with them—as well as how they respond to unwanted behaviors in others. The description on the site, says, “Two self-centered New Yorkers, often focused on what’s ahead instead of what’s around them, created a series of 12 steps as a way to become kinder, more empathetic people. As a resolution, they practiced this for 12 months.” Here, we talk to Goodman and Walsh about their motivations with each project, why they keep doing them, and how they feel about publicly revealing such personal experiences. Read the rest here.

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From Vacation to Vocation

It started in 2010 with a crate of figs, some fetuccine, butter and balsamic vinegar.  The next thing they knew, they had spawned a community of food and illustrations around the word. Salli S. Swindell and her brother Nate Padavick of Studio SSS—were on vacation.

“Nate was cooking fettuccine with figs in butter balsamic sauce—sounds amazing, right?” recall Salli.  “While he was cooking, I was at the counter drawing the crate of fresh figs and sipping wine. It was an ‘Aha!’ moment. Drawing food is fun! I told Nate we needed to find more food illustration jobs.”

They Draw and Cook first began as a printed book of illustrated recipes they’d give away to friends, family, and clients. Nate had the idea to invite other  friends to contribute to the book. Weeks and months passed. While awaiting one submission for the book,  Nate grew impatient. On a whim, he posted eight of the illustrated recipes to a blog he and Salli decided to brand They Draw and Cook.

Word spread. Others began submitting illustrated recipes. In a short time, they had hundreds. Then thousands: more than 250,000 follow the blog on Facebook; more than 40,000 follow it on Instagram. Schools are using these sites for classroom assignments. “Some of our finest illustrated recipes are from students attending MICA, CCAD, and SCAD,” adds Salli. “We welcome a range of styles and skill level, and especially like it when we see an artist improve their skills one recipe or map at a time.”

The site’s popularity has inspired Nate and Salli to think of fresh ideas to unite illustration and personal interests. The compiled a list of “They Draw and …” variations.  Nate’s love of travel includes an interest in map design. The brother and sister added a map feature to their site to enable visitors to find other illustrators around the world.  Then they created They Draw and Travel—a companion site that is just as fun as their food site.

Although these started as a whim, the sites take up quite a chunk of time each week. Salli manages the cooking site and Nate the travel site, and each spend 15 to 20 hours a week. With so much effort devoted to the sites, Nate and Salli try to offset the costs with sponsorships that won’t clutter the site, such as illustrated recipe contests. Salli explains, “In the past, companies such as Glad, Kraft, UPPERCASE magazine and The Food Network have sponsored contests and offered cash prizes of up to $5,000. Contests are super fun and create a ton of buzz. We don’t have any planned right now, but would love to! Anyone? Anyone?”

They also have published several books as offshoots of the sites that help pay for website development. Cookbooks ranging from cocktails, vegan, fig and holiday recipes are available on their online shop, and Nate just published his first illustrated map book, titled The Draw and Travel, 100 Illustrated Maps of American Places by Artists Around the World.

The best part about both sites is the collaborative nature and it has actually helped many artists secure new clients. “We’ve made so many new friends and have discovered new food and adventure with every recipe and map,” Salli explains. “What started out as a way for nine of us to meet a few new clients, turned into a way for thousands of artists to connect with art directors all around the world. Every week or so we hear from an artist telling us that they were contacted by an art director who spotted their work on one of our sites. It doesn’t get any better than that!”

But don’t be surprised to see amateur artists featured alongside pros on the sites. They only turn art away if it isn’t the correct size or format. “Quite a few schools use our sites for classroom assignments. Some of our finest illustrated recipes are from students attending MICA, CCAD and SCAD. We like the range of styles and skill level and we especially like when we see an artist improve their skills one recipe or map at a time!”

I Love My Hair!

Andrea Pippins’ eclectic, and joyous new coloring book celebrates the natural beauty of the afro. But the book has a more important message: Embrace your own identity. Celebrate who you are.

For years, Andrea Pippins’ embrace of her natural locks has demonstrated to her friends and admirers that the natural afro is the way to go. Fun, frilly, doodles, and intricate coils blended into words in funky letters are the key ingredients to this joyful celebration of individuality her new coloring book. The book is a concept that has been marinating in her mind for many years. It is much more than your off-the-shelf doodle book: It delivers a visual and powerful statement about why women of color should embrace their identity by celebrating those things that make them unique.

Pippins’ idea for this book began while working on her MFA graphic design thesis at Temple University. “Our thesis topic was Social Awareness,” she recalls. “This inspired me to focus on the revival of the natural hair movement at the time. I was intrigued by the black beauty industry and the amount of money black women worldwide spend on hair care. My book grew from this fascination and my research into the subject.”

At that moment, Pippins had been natural for seven years, and she loved it. She wondered how the hair products industry would change if more black women embraced their natural coils and went natural as well. How would product makers respond to demand? How would they market natural beauty to African American women? How would that affect the perception of African American women and afro wearers everywhere?

Pippins began to explore these questions visually, and soon after, elements of her work became art prints and T-shirts that she made available on her website. There were many buyers. Random House published the coloring book  I Love My Hair this past November. Read the rest of the article here.

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Five Drawing Books For People Who Don’t (Necessarily) Draw

It’s that time of year when it starts to get dark at 4:00 p.m., and the thought of starting a new project is more likely to incite a yawn than enthusiasm. Sometimes we just need a kick in the pants—or in this case, a good book or two to get those creative juices flowing. Step away from your monitor, pick up a pencil or pen, and have some fun with these drawing books from Quarto Books. Read the story here.

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An exercise from Salli S. Swindell’s new book, Change Your Life One Doodle at a Time.

Andrea D’Aquino on Illustrating Alice in Wonderland

Andrea D’Aquino’s illustrative ramblings run the gamut from watercolor to collage to everything in between, and it’s perhaps because of this cataclysmic range that she was chosen to illustrate this fantastic tale of two worlds for Rockport Publishers for its Classics Reimagined series. We go down the Rabbit Hole with D’Aquino, as she talks about the challenges of reinterpreting this classic through her eyes.

Is this a story you’ve always wanted to illustrate?

 It’s my favorite book, but by no means had I ever considered illustrating it, nor would it ever have entered my mind. The idea to tackle such a classic text, would’ve struck me as almost preposterous after artists from Dali’ to Disney, to Tim Burton—to the definitive Tenniel illustrations—have already been imprinted onto such a wide swath of our collective minds. How would I follow up on such a thing?

But, when I was asked to illustrate it, I didn’t hesitate for a second. I know a great opportunity when it hits me over the head! I did really worry for a week or two, wondering how I would ever approach it, and make it fresh. It’s full of classic scenes that so many of us have preconceived images. Read the rest of the interview here.

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