Posts filed under 'Uncategorized'
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.
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!
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?
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.
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
June 15th, 2009
I cannot say it enough times: Fully half of a freelancer’s work is finding work. At least before one has enough work to be self-sufficient or, at least, satisfied with the activity level. If you’re me, the next question would be, So when are you satisfied enough that you stop looking for work, stop marketing yourself?
The answer, only coincidentally cribbed from an old New Yorker cartoon, is: “How about never?”
Originally, going back seventeen years now, I did not have an Internet connection. I pursued freelance work by poring through the classified ads in the Sunday newspapers—in my case that meant the New York Times and Newsday. Any ad that remotely mentioned graphic design and publishing, not advertising, I answered, making sure to mention that I was looking to freelance from my own studio. I got only the tiniest number of responses from this method, and an even tinier percentage resulted in interviews. In retrospect, I suppose the project of trekking into Manhattan from home on Long Island was more than an inconvenience, so it was a thrill to take my job search online.
As I have mentioned in this blog before, once I found the Internet my marketing efforts took the form of twice-yearly, cold emails to every publisher in the current year’s Writer’s Market. I alternated between attaching a compressed archive of work samples. I still go thru this process. It sometimes takes years before I get a response and the offer of a project. Parenthetically, that is the reason I periodically repeat this whole message recounting my history of promotion.
The last two years, I have also sent out postcards. After noticing that some people swear by direct mail, and with my own preference for email, I elect to do both. In fact, I just began sending the latest postcard out about three or four weeks ago, before taking a vacation trip. So far 125 postcards have been mailed. Two have been returned for bad addresses—out of 2009’s Writer’s Market.
Now, back from my trip, I’ll continue sending postcards out to the publishers on my list. And wait for the offers to pour in. (Here’s the point where a winking emoticon would be appropriate.)