Wednesday, January 09, 2019

The Book With No Name

At the time of starting work on this cover, the book didn't even have a name!

Sometimes that can be an asset, sometimes it makes things difficult. But I'd worked on Tonya Bolden's previous novel, Crossing Ebenezer Creek, so I knew something of what to expect. Inventing Victoria, as it was eventually titled, is another book in a long series of Young Adult Fiction books I've been working on with race, poverty, class and black social history as one or more of its themes. 

The series, which has happened quite organically, started with To Kill A Mockingbird and has since included its prequel Go Set A Watchman, and includes Sharon M. Draper's 'Stella By Starlight', 'Crossing Ebenezer Creek' by the author of Inventing Victoria, Alice Hoffman's 'Nightbird', 'It All Comes Down To This' by Karen English, Linda Williams Jackson's 'Midnight Without A Moon' and 'Sky Full Of Stars', Dana L. Davis' 'Seven Days Of Stone' (since re-titled 'Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now'), Lauren Wolk's 'Wolf Hollow', and I'm currently working on a new one which isn't published till 2020! 

Some of the covers have required both harrowing research (including, fore example, Emmett Till, lynchings, slavery, the American Civil War and the two World Wars) and a sensitive approach to incorporating those histories. Why I've attracted such a large collection of works on this theme may have something to do with the Mockingbird start, and the art directors I've worked with have talked about an ability to create a lot of atmosphere on a cover - other than that, I'm not sure why these books have come specifically to me - but I know that I've really loved doing them all, and learning some history on the way. 

Essie is a young girl in 1880s Savannah, USA. From The School Library Journal, who sum it up better than I could:

"Fourteen-year-old Essie Mirth is ashamed of her prostitute mother, Praline, and the house of repute on Minis Street in 1880s Savannah (Forest City). She has a protector in storytelling caretaker Ma Clara, and earns a housekeeping position at Abby Bowfield's boarding house, where she makes her only friend, Binah, and meets a mysterious boarder named Dorcas Vashon. She is taken under Dorcas's wing, leaves her humble beginnings behind, and reinvents herself in Baltimore as Victoria Vashon, the niece of Dorcas. 

She receives strict education and etiquette training from Agnes Hardwick; soon welcomed by the black middle class and black aristocracy in Washington, DC. The teen struggles with her newfound socialite status. and is disturbed by the obnoxious, class-conscious and colour-struck attitudes of the other society ladies. Courted by insurance entrepreneur Wyatt Riddle, she is faced with a blast from the past whose presence threatens her new life. Bolden makes this YA novel promising and enjoyable with a combined weaving of history and fiction. It is poetic, breathtaking, descriptive and fast-paced."

Research for this book was, in fact, lovely: satin party gowns in jewel-like colours, period jewellery, hairstyles of the 1880s, beautiful young black women, historical Washington and antique lace. While the book remained untitled there were SO many versions - but I worked with the elements of transformation; the dress, the hair, the profile which needed to suggest pride turned haughtiness, and wealth.

See the different ink-drawn elements below and the many suggested covers I created for the book both before and after it was given a title. 

For the final, antique lace integrating a horse-drawn carriage, china tea cups and flowers was created to frame our storyteller, with a loosely-drawn cityscape anchoring the cover beneath a summer moon:

Essie/Victoria herself was drawn in coloured inks on paper, but was smoothed over a little where the ink was rather too 'organic'. Getting her skin tone *just* right was important - she had to match exactly the author's own Essie/Victoria, he one who lives in her imagination, not mine. See also the evolution of the hand-drawn title lettering on the final to get the legibility 'spot on'.

Thank you to Donna Mark at Bloomsbury for asking me to create this cover for them!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mole Loves Christmas - a 2xC90 tape marathon!

The last monthly Molemix of 2018 is not a mix actually, but a three and a half hour (or two-tape) Christmas sesh with a heavy emphasis on the non-traditional...though there's a bit of that in there - of course there is! 

I've been doing monthly mixes since July (though they're really just collections - despite having run a radio station or two and owning 6000 records, a pair of decks and a mixer for the last 20 years neither of can actually 'mix') but this one is the one I was looking forward to the most. Despite not 'mixing' the chunes, it's quite a job to source and assemble them in an order that makes sense and create a journey - especially when, on this occasion, there are so many to choose from. And to remember to add those ones that pop into your head in the middle of a working day!

Some of the tracks don't exist digitally so needed to be recorded by me from my 7" vinyl copy and artwork added - Nathan Fake's beautiful version of Silent Night, for example, and Kate Bush's December Will Be Magic Again.

I love Christmas and the cheesy old classics (except the Pogues because it upsets me, ditto Wizzard, behind which there lurks the tragic story of a new talking Palitoy dolly who died on Christmas morning and had to go back AFTER CHRISTMAS) but electronics are closest to my cold aluminium musical heart, so you'll find many twinkles, bleeps and sparkles are made by machines in this set.

Interspersed with those are sweeping film soundtrack excerpts (from one of my favourite Christmas films ever, the sob-inducing gothfest Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas), new re-interpretations from the rich canon of classic Christmas music, little narrations and realistic sounds as the C90 tape turns over and clocks off at the end.

Enjoy Sufjan Stevens, Aphex Twin, Arvo Part, Kate Bush, Nathan Fake, Low, Marvin Gaye, Bat For Lashes, The Strokes, Plaid Kurtis Blow, Isaac Hayes, The Leisure Society, The Knife, 47Trees, LCD Soundsystem, Fleet Foxes, Amina, The Shirelles...and LOADS more.

Listen on Apple Music

or listen on Mixcloud

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Together We Can Do So Much

This lovely Christmas campaign from 1973ltd has an animated Helen Keller quote drawn by me.

Inkymole's company charity of choice for the last ten years has been Mind, so I couldn't have been happier to help out with this project!

I was put forward for the job by a long-time client, Jamie MacDow, who used to work for AFishInSea (who doesn't love a good pun?) who now works with 1973ltd. Alison and Tom there asked me to create a hand-lettered interpretation of Helen Keller's quote 'Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much'.

Due to the fast turnaround (Christmas isn't it!) I decided to create this piece using my Apple Pencil and Procreate, which would allow for fast changes, additions and fidgets. As it was, very few of those were required - I sent five options, and one was chosen with virtually no changes, just a little polishing here and there.

Here's the progress from blank screen to final; you can see where I've used a clock face to get a good circle, since I can't draw freehand circles very well!

To read the full text from the campaign go here:

Thanks to Tom and Alison at 1973ltd for inviting me to work with them on this! And should you wish to contribute to Mind, you can do that here.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Christmas Radio Times Cover

Every illustrator of a certain age knows that a Radio Times cover is up there among the traditional bucket-list jobs - along with an album cover, a Royal Mail stamp or maybe a cover for a book by your favourite author. 

I've done the stamp and the album cover and the novels, but I'd never done an RT Christmas. I've got colleagues who've done them - Mick Brownfield being the most marvellous and prolific! - and once upon a 2015, I almost did too.

In 2016 I created the festive page headers for the Christmas RT, and a nice big bit of cover type and a hand-lettered DPS for the July edition too. 

But, before both of those, the 2015 Christmas RT almost had a dramatic, type-led cover bursting with stars (astronomically and celebrity-wise), over a night-time snowy horizon. It was different, for sure - but just a little too different for the audience. The art director and I were mega-keen, but sadly, in the end, the senior decision makers went with tradition and a beautiful image of a Briggsian snowman. And who can argue with that, albeit reluctantly?

These sketches are as far as it went and have lain hidden in my archive ever since, but I thought it was time they saw daylight - I like this idea that, maybe, this job will one day head back over Mole's way.

Who knows! After all...more unlikely things have happened after throwing a little cosmic ordering into the air...

Merry Christmas Telly to all!


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Will Ink For Whisky

Back in the summertime I spent two weeks at the Glenmorangie headquarters in Edinburgh, hand-inking a total of over 3000 labels and certificates for the legendary whisky company.

The iconic whisky makers had asked me to go there to hand-number the labels of two very limited edition whiskies due to be released to collectors. One marked the 175th anniversary of the company's Highland single malt: a spectacular 16 year-old single malt available only in Glenmorangie's distillery shop at a glass-clinking £650.

The second release was a 30 year old, £1890 Oloroso sherry-casked whisky, sold again only in the distillery, and both whiskies were the handiwork of head distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden.

It was a strange job which, due to the apparent security and secrecy around the products, had to be carried out on site. Although mildly inconvenient at first - a full ten days out of the studio can be problematic! - it meant two lovely stays in Edinburgh city centre, a few weeks apart. Thank goodness for my iPad, as I worked all day at Glenmorangie, bought a picnic-style Sainsbury's dinner then worked in my hotel room for the night!

But before I even left the studio, an ink had to be chosen for the labels and certificates - 3 for each bottle - that was archival - that is to say, it wouldn't fade, run or smudge. My friend the inkmaker sent a couple of samples for trying out, and a suite of labels were written on in assorted variations of the style the company had suggested, running the gamut from loose and mildly ornery to neat and almost school-writing standard.

At the same time, a variety of pens - coded for ease of reference for the client - were tried out on the label samples. I didn't want to confuse the client with pen names and types - there were many - instead choosing a simple letter and number system. That way, they couldn't be influenced by what might cost less, or how quick and easy the pens were to use (for example a handle and nib would at least double the time taken); rather, they'd make a selection based only on what was most effective.


The samples were posted to HQ, and sent for testing by their Testing Department - subjected to Climatic Tests wherein the inked labels were exposed to moisture, cold, heat and contact.

With all ink options having passed the tests, the client in the end chose an inexpensive and reliable option - the 0.2mm UniPin; a water and fade proof pigment ink fineliner with a neat tip perfect for fitting into the very small spaces I had to work in. So 20 were ordered, and off I flew to Edinburgh! (note: I still have an unresolved complaint logged with Birmingham Airport Security. I don't recommend the airport one bit! But that's another, much longer story.)

Photographing the work itself wasn't permitted again due to the security around the project (chiefly concerns over the risk of counterfeiting) but I managed some snaps of the beautiful gold-edged printing, of both the labels and certificates that went into each box.

And my office for the duration had pretty breathtaking views over some nice old parts of the city centre!

After some tense print delays, very long days writing with plenty of yoga moves and regular hand and arm exercises, the work was done. Although I never got to see the finished product - yep, again down to security! - the two very special editions looked a little bit like this, and they apparently sold out very, very quickly.

So much subterfuge, and SO much writing...and do you know what? Not a snifter of the good stuff.
I even forgot to buy myself one when I eventually did get to a bar! Mole, you are a fool.

Read about the 16 year old whisky here, and the 30 year old Oloroso sherry cask whisky here.


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