Archive for July, 2007

Finding My Muse

Add comment July 21st, 2007

Big can o’ worms! Bigger than I could have imagined. Opened a world of shaky ground for myself when I stated with such certainty that my first rule of book design is to stand, more or less, in the shadows and simply bring the author’s work to the reader. My interior pages are merely receptacles for the author’s words and any illustrations—that has been my guiding principle for about fifteen years of design and layout work.

Pause … while I laugh and restrain myself from writing exactly the way I tend to speak—or tawk, as I was, after all, born and raised in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn—and ask myself out loud, using much less polite language: “Who on earth do you think you are, self, prattling on about making pages as if that were the same as discovering a cure for all cancers during a break from solving the problem of world poverty.

Okay, there, I’m back from making fun of just how serious I can sound about this jazz of book design.

So, like, Liz Tufte of Signature Bookworks has brought one David Carson to my attention. I have not yet checked out his book design work or anything he may have written on the subject. But Liz writes, commenting on a comment of mine in response to a blog entry of hers entitled What is Book Design?, that

Designer David Carson … isn’t interested in merely delivering the author’s message; he wants to be equal partners with the author.

And, like, that rather appeals to me. In fact, the way I put it in my last comment to her comments to my comment was:

God help me for being so egotistical—Lordy! How the notion of being “equal partners with the author” appeals to me!

There’s just a few tiny details to work out. First, what would such a partnership look like for me? I remember how when I first became aware of the expression “desktop publishing” years ago, and about when I got my first Macintosh and laser printer, I began to notice examples of a typesetting style, if you could call it that, where every variation of every font that the typesetter had on his or her computer was used—simply because they could. I see no danger of that for me. But, then, who knows what crazed way I might try to carve out my own territory in someone else’s book if I were to take that chance.

Better to take some more time reading some more background and then considering again what I mean to be accomplishing by my book design and layout work. I began a month or so back, re-reading Designing books: practice and theory. Then I picked up Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography. Next was Ellen Lupton’s thinking with type. This last one was an easy read, fun even. And after that, based on the mention by Jacqueline Simonds in her answers to my “Four Questions,” I read Colin Wheildon’s Type and Layout. She was right, by the way, that there’s a relation between the amount of laughter Wheildon draws out of you and your degree of book design geekiness.

I Know I Don’t Know

Add comment July 20th, 2007

Each of us realizes there are things we do not know. I mean, unless we fade to black when it comes to our own limitations. We may not even know what sorts of things we are ignorant about.

One of the beauties of the Internet, I think, is how it continually points out things that I do not know. Raises more questions altogether, some days, than answers.

Self-publishers, for instance—I’ve worked for a number of them. How does someone come to the decision to publish his or her own work? It’s possible a whole raft of reasons why exist. But I see two. First is simple: you have someone who refuses to share any of the proceeds from the sale of his or her book. Second reason is that an author cannot find a publisher for his or her book. Or, rather, no publisher will agree to publish it. Maybe the author is too close to the work and is incapable of seeing that the writing is not much good. Or maybe the author is the only one smart enough to see how good his or her book really is.

I keep poking around self-publishers to see whether I can discover the answer.

Another thing I wonder a lot about lately are the “social-slash-professionals” networking sites. They may be wonderful, filling a genuine need. But I come up empty trying to get a handle on what their point is.

The call to join speaks of the opportunity to become friends with other professionals. I accept, because—after all—it surely pays to have as many friends as possible in high places and, particularly, in publishing positions that might give me an “in” to more freelance book design work. Then the email invitations to network arrive, and they seem somehow enticing, treating me like a high school boy out to meet girls.

When I view postings on one of these sites, especially if it caters to publishing professionals, I feel as if I am reading advertising copy—even the ones not trying to sell a book or advice about selling books.

Thanks to the Internet, I can at least consider these things.

Idle Hands and All That

Add comment July 15th, 2007

Of course, I work in print. If I were one of those artists who could actually draw, I might not be so limited. But when I have no book in the hopper, its manuscript on my desk, or its textfiles on my machine, I usually spend my time online. I divide my attention between reading what others say about book design specifically and design in general and anything I can think of to uncover a publisher I might like to contact about freelance work.

With the television on in the background.

And three or four books on my desk—some combination of what I am currently reading, something I already read but still refer to occasionally, the next thing I think I want to read, and something I may just get around to reading.

Then, too, I have my legal pad out to scribble down anything that occurs to me while all this is going on. I never quite know what I intend to use for a blog entry.

My studio is off the kitchen, my desk angled so that I can see about seven-eighths of the television screen in the kitchen. Generally, I keep it on while I am in my studio, and it really is a surprising pleasure. Much more so than if I sit down in the living room for the purpose of watching some particular program or movie. I never know what will get my attention. In just the last half-hour or so, while I still dodged around from different blogs to publishers’ websites, two things got my attention.

First was a rerun of the original show in the CSI franchise, the one that takes place in Las Vegas. Whatever the murder they investigated was, it somewhere along the line involved a mime and a clown. Another mime, under interrogation spoke of some natural antipathy between clowns and mimes. He said something to the effect that having one of each in the same room is like having a snake and a mongoose at close quarters.

Nice image. In fact, if I could draw or paint, it might be fun to picture something like a cockfight scene, the audience chickens and, maybe, some breed of dogs that fight—only they make up the audience, watching a clown fight a mime.

The second thing that I enjoyed having break into my consciousness was an ad. No idea what the product is. But the ad warned me that I could never know when sludge from my engine would stop my car cold. To demonstrate, the car on the television screen, I guess it was driving merrily along, froze when a mass of what appeared to be oil glop dropped from the sky all over it.

See now why it’s better for me to always have a book to work on?

Thinking About Type

Add comment July 14th, 2007

Sitting down at the marina having lunch, something I’ve been doing solo lately, I squinted as the bright sunlight reflected off the white pages of the book I was trying to read. It took some effort, as distractions abounded. There were the seagulls, noisy as ever, and a raft of senior citizens lunching with each other and their grandkids. But mostly there was the glare of the white-hot sun on the white pages.

I opened the book, Eileen Lupton’s wise and witty thinking with type, to the page I was up to, somewhere in the middle. It turned out to be page 102 of 176. And I read from the book: “Paragraphs do not occur in nature.”

Paragraphs do not occur in nature?

I exploded with laughter. All the grandparents and their grandkids stared at me. I tried to remember when I had last heard something that came out sounding so funny. Forget the sense it made. I imagined a professorial voice explaining how commas were no longer found in the wild, either.

The point is that all we regard now as “the rules”: grammar, spelling, the dos and don’ts of typography are human constructs that gained some kind of agreed-upon legitimacy over time and by the consent of people who knew enough to make a call on what was to be regarded as the standard.

In the book I was reading over lunch the other day, that sentence I found so funny was a lead-in to some discussion and illustration of different ways that new paragraphs are set off from the ones preceding them. The two ways that we use most regularly these days are the indent and a line space between paragraphs. To see the others, you should just pick up a copy of thinking with type.

What stayed with me of what I read was the notion that one very important reason to learn the rules of an endeavor is so we can break them in a knowing and intelligent way. That, I decided, is the best explanation of why I am steeping myself in books on typography and page layout in what turns out to be a return to summer as the slowest season for freelance book design and page makeup work. Last summer proved an exception I had hoped would continue: in 2006 I was busy from May through December.

I kept going back to the book. But the bits and pieces of conversations that I overheard distracted me. Involuntarily I tried to hear in paragraphs. The only time I felt I succeeded was when I listened to two middle-aged me complain about a third. They spoke in short, angry outbursts, using creative obscenities. Each pronouncement detailing something else they disliked about the person they spoke of stood out alone, just fine, as a short, discrete paragraph. Natural, even.

Four (Sometimes Multi-Part) Questions for Book Designers

Add comment July 7th, 2007

With all apologies to Smashing Magazine

Smashing Magazine has posted the results of a survey they took, “35 Designers x 5 Questions”, that I found almost as helpful a piece to use as a starting point for brainstorming as any I have ever read. The one hitch is that it’s for web designers—although maybe not. When I find myself in a funk and don’t know where to start, it really makes no difference to me what creative endeavor I read about.

Nevertheless, I thought five such questions aimed specifically at book designers—and it would be helpful if respondents mentioned whether they were aspiring or actually have books they designed in print—might make for a goldmine of ideas for when any of us is stuck in a creative rut. As it happens, I stopped at four.

So, again, with all due apologies to  Smashing Magazine, here are my five—uh, four—(sometimes multi-part) questions for book designers, adapted from their own five for web designers:

  1. Name the first aspect of designing a book that you give priority to once you accept a project and sit down to start.
  2. Has InDesign proven to be the Quark killer for you; and, if so, what was the feature that did it; or do your clients determine which software you use?
  3. What”s the first font comes to mind for body text each time you begin a book design project; and do you usually stick with that choice or say something like, “Yes, I really like that font, but it”s time to work with something else”?
  4. Name one design-related book you highly recommend to book designers—please don”t suggest Tschichold’s The New Typography (Die neue Typographie) as I am just up to here with that book, as much of an earth-shaker as it was.

That”s all I have. Let”s see what you”ve got.


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