Posts filed under 'Uncategorized'

Sometimes Things Don’t Work

Add comment May 12th, 2019

My email is on the fritz, so if anyone is interested in contacting me, do it via LinkedIn, FaceBook, or Twitter.

Thank you.

The Management

New Chapter

Add comment November 26th, 2016

First time in months where the perfect confluence of events—something to say and the time to say it—are in the house.

Speaking of the house, we’re in a new one … and so is my studio. I’m told that the room my studio is in now is actually smaller than the one I had in our last home. But I shared that one with my wife and here workstation. Now she’s got her workstation in another room and I have a sofa in place of it.

The other thing that I find makes my new studio so much more conducive to working well is that behind me are sliders leading to a deck that overlooks the golf course we now live on. And as golf, like book design, captivates me, I am thrilled.

But the move slowed down work prematurely this year. I stopped promoting and looking for new projects once we knew we were selling the old and serious about finding the next. Just the same, it was all I could do to finish projects I had in house.

Interestingly, even with no new work coming in since mid-summer, my usual by-Christmas-business–is-dead song need not be sung yet, as it looks like I’m still on target for two new books to start before the year ends: the third in a four-book children’s series and a book of music criticism on the works of Beethoven.

And I am poised to pick up again on the book I began writing some time ago about using the open-source page layout program Scribus for book design and layout. To celebrate I’ll be doing this on a new computer, a much faster, 27-inch iMac (still with the second monitor, the 23-inch Cinema Display I’ve had for some years now), running under the new Macintosh OS, Sierra.

I am doing my best to continue with the software I’ve been using for some years now. While I apparently have not reach an expiration date on that older version of Adobe’s Creative Studio, CS5.5, as well as QuarkXPress 2015, I am preparing for a time when I may just have to hold my nose and subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Studio to continue using InDesign and Photoshop.

None of the above is to say that I am over my anger at Adobe’s “pay-in-perpetuity” plan, but there is a high degree of comfort I will admit to when it comes to working in the Adobe suite. Nevertheless, writing the book will give me a better feel for alternatives. And there is still Quark, which, contrary to many I’ve heard from, remains a viable and improved program with tools for making ebooks that offer further value.

So things couldn’t be much better. Thanksgiving arrived at a particularly appropriate point this year. I hope everyone else is feeling the same and events are proceeding just as happily and successfully for all.

Jules Feiffer at the Parrish Art Museum

Add comment April 18th, 2015

We just got back from the Parrish Art Museum a while ago. We went to hear Jules Feiffer speak about his new graphic novel, Kill My Mother and to have him sign the two copies we bought.

First off, the man’s in his eighties and, baby, can he still draw! Pen-and-ink outlines filled in with watercolor, he old my wife when she asked about his method. I found it interesting that he hand-lettered on another layer, maybe vellum—this was no computer-generated book—and, if I understood correctly, the lettering was turned into a font. That’s after each page of art was digitized (I presume by scanning). Even so, he said something to the effect that, at his age, he used none of today’s technology.

My takeaway was that I really do let myself skate just a bit when I number myself, as a book designer, among artists. I mean, I don’t draw or paint, and I definitely feel lacking those skills makes me less than. On the other hand, and I guess it was foolish of me to try to convey it to Mr. Feiffer in ten words or less as he signed—especially after I heard him say he had no use for the high-tech tools available—that if it wasn’t for computers (my Macintoshes, Postscript, and various software packages over the years), I would not be a book designer.

What Goes Around, Come Around … Maybe

Add comment March 19th, 2015

Curious thing. Or maybe just what goes around, come around. I mentioned that I was considering–I admit it had actually progressed a little farther than just considering; I was very strongly leaning in favor and giving that impression–a pro bono project. Then something in the way the contact person spoke about having spent previously on the e-version rubbed me wrong. Like they’d pay for some stuff but not for others. Then I switched gears on a dime and tried suggesting an alternate pay method, a royalty on each copy sold. And that was not acceptable. So I wished them well.

What made it easy to walk away from a book I’d really like to have been associated with–just not for free–was that someone contacted me yesterday afternoon, saying she’d been eying me (that is, my work) for some time. As the book sounded interesting, I was pretty happy it had shown up. We still had to come to an agreement and arrive at a price, but I figured that would come—this time I would show more than just a little flexibility if necessary—after I got a look at some of the material.

One of the problems with the first book that the author-publisher wanted done for free or a barter was that there were tons of photos in a non-print format that would have to be opened and changed, in addition to any necessary editing. So the new one would create a username and password for me on the cloud storage service she used and I would be able to have a look at everything in order to put together my proposal including price and milestones. Last night I emailed a reminder that I was waiting for the username and password.

This morning I received an email that things had changed. Her usual “formatter” was now available and would not cost anything, so, of course, she would use him in the first instance.

Now, sure, I was bummed. But this kind of thing happens, I told myself. In fact, I had just kind of done that same thing: pulling up stakes after seeming to be on board with a project. Then I noticed that, although the second potential had an address in one western state, her cellphone area code was not so far from the one I had turned tail on.

A coincidence, I am sure. But maybe it’s the universe sending me a message.

This Is the Year That Was

2 comments December 31st, 2013

2013 was an odd year. I felt very busy a good part of it, but looking back, it was really just a pair of long, long projects and the tiniest, last snippet of finishing one leftover from 2012.

Speaking of 2012 … Now there was a busy year. And 2011, even more so. This year felt like a lot of wheel spinning. I believe I discussed more big book projects than ever before. But for one reason or another—mostly the confusion many self-publishers have about the need to budget beyond nickel-and-dime, DIY values—most of them fell through.

I always feel great disappointment when a book design-and-layout I put a bid in on does not go my way. Years ago, when I knew it was because the potential client simply was unwilling to meet my price, I always considered lowering what I would accept. And then when I decided not, too, I had great angst, fearing I might never work again.

Needless to say, I grew out of the feeling angst over rejection. If I had not, I don’t see how I could have survived in this business.

But things have changed for me one again. Ebooks, epubs, Kindle versions—all that—change everything. I can see very clearly that a new pricing paradigm is shaping up. At least insofar as e-versions are concerned. Oddly. The fact that ebooks are—or will be, once I am totally comfortable with the new workflow—much quicker to knock out is no comfort.

The stems mostly from the unavoidable fact that design, in the aesthetic sense, is not so important with ebooks. It turns out that the ability for the human reader to adjust how ebooks look on their e-readers, while certainly great for the human reader (taking into account typefaces and sizes that are easiest on his or her eyes), takes the art out of making ebooks. And fixed layout ebooks sound good in theory, but the small devices they can be read on, don’t necessarily lend themselves to the viewing of books as an artform.

Be interesting to see how this continues to play out in 2014. Stay tuned.

The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design Companion, Part II Advertising

Add comment January 2nd, 2013

I must admit to kind of a natural bias against advertising. As a business, as an art, my instinctive tendency that advertising is hucksterism wants to overwhelm at every chance. When I began looking for freelance design work almost twenty years ago, I started by perusing every Sunday’s New York Times classified ads for graphic design employment opportunities I might apply for on an off-site freelance basis. I shied from the ones in advertising: I did not want to become a salesman.

So I waited uncomfortably for the first advertising piece to turn up, as I worked my way through the Archive. Oddly, I was well into the box—viewing/reading through in chronological order—before the first such piece turned up. From the very first one, for Pelikan Ink by El Lissitzky, Phaidon blew my prejudice out of the water. Some examples …


In reading Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography and about Tschichold himself, again and again I read about the Bauhaus, Constructivism, and (among other designers and artists) El Lissitzky. The first and last of these were easy for me to comprehend in the simplest way: the Bauhaus was a school and El Lissitzky was a Russian artist and designer. Constructivism—a concept, a style of art—was tougher to grasp. By now I know what constructivism is. But for a student, or perhaps just a dabbler reading art history, the Pelikan Ink piece ably demonstrates, quickly, that constructivism is a style of art based on fairly strict organization of elements—and the accompanying text explains it a bit.

One of the beauties of The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design is how a single piece can bring home such a concept with such ease.

More of the Russian/German modernism of the early twentieth century came into focus with the work of the English designer Ashley Havinden for the American automaker Chrysler. Again underlining the value of the Archive as a learning tool, the piece has art deco leanings. It actually reminded me of the art deco architecture of New York’s Chrysler Building. The common thread of art deco style is instructive as to how a theme may be made to run through various expressions of a brand.


Another Bauhaus veteran—though he left the school for advertising and eventually emigrated to the U.S.—was Herbert Bayer. Interestingly, his ad for Adrianol Emulsion, a hay fever remedy, does not scream Bauhaus.


Rather it takes the Archive on a bit of a fantastical turn and actually reminds me of something Dali might create. But this is part of the task of being, it seems to me, a survey of graphic design. And, really, the wider the survey, the more useful it can be to the designer poking around for inspiration. Not to steal, or even borrow, as Picasso famously quipped, but to light a fire under one’s imagination.

The Year Just Past

Add comment December 31st, 2012

2011 was a boom year. 2012 not so much. Not to say that I was not busy. In fact, I worked pretty much throughout the year. I worked on a couple of long-term book projects—interior design and layout on one; cover design and execution and interior design and layout on another—longish books with stringent creative requirements that stretched through from one year to the next. These two books actually made up the lion’s share of my work. There were other books as well, but, overall, though I worked steadily, the year was not so profitable as the one before.

Entering 2012 my optimism was on the wane. It simply seemed to me that I could not expect it to be as financially rewarding as 2011. Of course, I always worry about self-fulfilling prophecies and giving myself excuses for failing. But 2011 had been head and shoulders financially better than any other year I had ever worked as a freelance book designer/layout artist. The way the rest of the American economy suffered, I could not imagine that freelancing in the publishing arts would continue to fare so much better.

This was also the year in which my promotional skills took a step forward. I don’t pretend to know any more or any different than people who, for instance, make social media their main field of play, but I have finally coordinated my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog presences. The result is that I have been contacted through each of those venues by prospective clients. This last quarter of the year has seen a number of exciting propositions materialize.

First, I managed to line up three new books to begin in January. And second, I have opened a new avenue  to promote my services, beginning to review big, new books on design on my blog. The first appeared about a month ago and was about Stephen Coles’ The Anatomy of Type. The second is being done as a series, the first of which appeared just a couple of days ago, on Phaidon’s boxed set, The Archive of Graphic Design. (The latter will resume next time I post to the blog after the instant piece.)

And so it goes. I am set up for the biggest start to a new year that I have ever had!

Who Wants to Receive My HTML Email Newsletter?

4 comments May 23rd, 2012

I know unsolicited email annoys the hell out of a lot of people. Just like old-fashioned, snail mailed junk mail. But I’ve always figured the press of the delete button was so easy, it was the less offensive way to try to make potential clients, traditional publishers, aware of my book design and page comp/layout services.

So, since about 1998, every six months—more or less—I’ve sent out a cold email to every publisher I could find an email address for in the current year’s edition of Writer’s Market. Most of the time, I would attach my résumé and some samples of my work in a short, clean PDF. Whenever possible I directed this email to the director of production or some such title; by name if I could find one.

On the one hand, the overwhelming majority of recipients simply ignored it. One, single time someone, a man, at the University of Alaska Press, immediately emailed me back and harangued me about unsolicited email. I emailed back to apologize and received another answering email, this time from a woman, the production manager at the Press telling me not to worry about it, that the guy who’d raked me over the coals was a curmudgeon, not the one who hired freelancers, and, in fact, no longer worked there. So she was surprised I even got an email from the guy.

Never have received work from the University of Alaska Press, however.

But the tiny percentage of people who responded to express some interest in my services, most of them just to say they would keep my information on file should a need for a freelancer to do book design and/or layout work present itself, made my efforts worthwhile. In one instance, I worked for a small press for about three years, doing fair-paying layout work on seven or eight books of their own design. It took seven years before I heard from this particular press in any way whatsoever, but it paid off.

I’m left with thinking that for all the people who ignored me and the one person who may have (unofficially) been angry with me, the unsolicited email contact was not a bad thing to do. I do not believe I would have grown my book design practice to the point I have without such attempts at contact on my part.

Now I am planning an HTML email newsletter. Short, to be sure, but with pictures of a few of the books I’m most pleased to have worked on and with how they look and maybe just a bit of narrative about how my approach to making books has evolved. Again, however, I am concerned about sending unsolicited email.

So what is the protocol? Is it okay to send out one edition of an HTML newsletter unsolicited as long as I include a “send no more” option in the email? I mean, it is the 21st century, professional people should have wider bandwidth and larger mailboxes, no? We should all be sophisticated enough by now to just delete unwanted email and move on, no?


R.I.P. Steve

Add comment October 7th, 2011

You could say I would not be the person I am today if not for Steve Jobs. You can certainly say that I would not be a book designer if not for his work and the company he co-founded, shaped, and re-shaped.

The first computer I owned—I got it in 1985—was an Apple IIe. I got it because I liked the way it was styled, not really for anything it could do. I really had no clue what I would do with my Apple IIe, though I began to learn the computer programming language basic. After noodling in basic, I realized there would be no moving on to serious programming languages and actual software development.

My next computer was an Apple IIgs, kind of midway between my old IIe and the original Macintosh (although the Macintosh had appeared already). The firt few models of Macintosh did not appeal to me. I was not enamored of the small screen; I emphatically did not like the all-in-one design. Then someone showed me output from his ImageWriter dot matrix printer and Macintosh. It was far better than what my Apple IIgs produced with my ImageWriter. My friend’s output looked like type, not the dots mine produced. The difference was Macintosh’s ability to “speak” Postscript, the language that brought typesetting and what Steve Jobs had learned about letterforms to desktop computers from that calligraphy class he famously sat in on at Reed College after dropping out.

I know most of what I wrote above is about me, not Steve Jobs, but he made that me possible. So far I have done design and/or layout on about 80 books. He made that possible.

He made this me possible. I thank him and wish him well in this new insanely great moment he just began.

Another Anniversary Approaches

12 comments September 24th, 2009

The twenty year mark from when I bought my first Macintosh computer in November of 1989, a IIx, approaches. Before that, from 1985 on, I had been an Apple Computer fan, but I belonged to the family of Apple II users—at first on a IIe and then a IIgs. At that point all I knew was that computers fascinated me, I wanted a personal computer of my own, and I desperately wanted to do something using computers.

Initially, I thought I might learn to program. I fancied the idea that I could imagine and then create some cool program that would be marketable and earn me a living. But gradually it dawned on me that—to borrow from the writer’s canon—I should do something I knew. That led me to thinking about books and publishing. I had been a copy editor and proofreader for some years before and enjoyed a fair idea of how words on the printed page ought to look.

Coincidentally, a friend from my civil service day career, showed me something he had printed on an ImageWriter II dot matrix printer from his Mac Plus. He got remarkably better-looking type than I did from the same printer on my Apple IIgs. My print looked, well … like what it was: dot matrix print. His, thanks to the miracle of Postscript and the Macintosh OS looked very, very nice.

So I got myself the Macintosh IIx, LaserWriter IInt, and began to play with some garage-sale software—Microsoft Word, Excel, and PageMaker. For Christmas that year, I treated myself to full versions of QuarkXPress, Adobe Illustrator and PageMaker, and Adobe Garamond and Futura typeface families. This was before I discovered mail-order software houses and their discounted prices; consequently, I paid noticeably more than necessary.

It took three years before I actually got my first book to lay out. Still more time passed before I jumped from production to design. Now I prefer to lay out books that I design—covers and interiors—so that the vision of a book’s appearance that I execute is my own.

And in all the years since, as my tools and skills improved, a handful of constants grew clear to me.

First, the book designer and the layout artist have one job: to bring the author’s words and any pictures to the reader. Anything else is gravy for the designer, maybe unnecessary, and sometimes a distraction that proves the designer incompetent—no matter how great the book looks.

I often wonder whether anyone can argue this point. Is there a book designer who believes that a book becomes about the designer and less the author once the design process begins.

Next, at least half the occupation of the freelance book designer/layout artist is finding that next paying project.

Does anyone know a way around this? I mean, besides becoming a Chip Kidd or David Carson.

Finally, there is always one more great and interesting book—perhaps saying new things, more likely revisiting things I learned previously and read before—that I will enjoy leafing through and reading.

Anyone who read this blog before my site and everything else was hacked into, costing me my archive—so far—knows the books I rave about: Bringhurst, Hochuli/Kinross, Hendel, and the rest. Anyone name a book I have never mentioned?

* * *

Here’s the thing: I obviously jumped the gun with this 20th anniversary thing. Mostly because I want to get my readership back. So I am giving away my copy of Andrew Haslam’s Bookdesign, a book that can be something of a textbook about making books or a source of inspiration when starting out on a book design and not having an idea with which to begin.

All you need to do is comment on this blog, or answer one of the questions above, or ask one of your own, from now through Halloween. Around November 1 I will pick someone from the commenters/answererers/askers and send him or her the book. (First I’ll contact the winner for his or her address.)

A mirror image of my desktop now

A mirror image of my desktop now

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