Monday, February 18, 2019

A Chocolate Hiatus.


When we first did Solid Egg in 2012 as a one-off, inspired by a mate’s casual observation about childhood Easter disappointment, we went from amusing idea to fully-branded, ready-to-roll product in just a few weeks.

A creative project by Leigh and I, it was only ever intended to be for excited friends and a few keen clients and colleagues - the word ‘profit’ wasn’t even in the brief we wrote for ourselves!

But to our surprise, it proved so popular it sold out in a couple of weeks. The next year, encouraged by fans of gluttony we made triple - and sold out again. Then we doubled production again - and sold out once more. We changed the packaging every year, to keep it fresh - and collectible. We did gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, organic; we did vegan, we did pralines, peanut butter and ethical chocolate, and our packaging was 100% recyclable. As the range, the girth of the eggs and our bellies expanded, word spread, and the eggs kept selling out. Bought by chocolate lovers as far-flung as Japan, LA, New York, Korea, New Zealand and Australia, we had a cracking time hatching as many egg puns as it’s possible to find.

For three months of the year, running Solid Egg is like having a second full-time job - so we stopped calling it a Side Project a long time ago. But as creative projects go, it's been great; providing outlets for flexing some packaging muscle, trying out advertising ideas, getting our marketing heads on for something other than illustration, and talking to keen chocolate fans, connoisseurs and suppliers the world over. But in the last couple of years, we’ve had elements of our hand-drawn logo poached, our advertising copy ‘borrowed’, our authenticity challenged, and had eggs thrown at us on social media by puzzlingly furious trolls questioning our motives and ethics; quite the learning curve - but not what we started Solid Egg for. 

We have a lot on the agenda this year, and we can only give our best to so many things - so, more than the brief spell of trolling or the dubious copying, this was really more about being honest with ourselves around where we want and need to put our energies. So we've parked Solid Egg for 2019. Already we're getting lovely emails and messages across social media expressing disappointment but absolute positivity about the product - so we're not saying 'it's over', more...we shall see.

Over the last 6 years we know we’ve made a lot of people very happy (and possibly a bit fatter), so we want to thank all our eggcited fans, loyal customers and supporters who came back year after year. You made our daft project a lot of fun!

Here's to narrower waistlines,*
Leigh + Sarah x

(*genuinely - we actually do put weight on while we're running the project. We think it's because of the ever-present smell of chocolate...)

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Mole Playlist: Contrary January



Well it has been hasn’t it? Grim, chilly, all self-denial and sobriety; the B-word and T-word boring and scaring us in equal measure. Now it’s snowing! And my first collection of chunes for 2019 is ready to listen to.
I've been doing monthly playlists since July. I've compiled them for a few years, one here and one there when the mood seized me, a way of trying to manhandle a gargantuan, messy, five-figure iPod/iTunes collection while keeping abreast of the avalanche of marvellous new gear that's released every week. For a while there was a period where we felt ourselves in suspended animation as crate-digging hovered between trawling the record shops for The New Hot Shit, hurling cash over the counter for a record on which only one of the tracks was 'the one' and taking risks on things you might not like by the time you got home, and developing systems to keep track of the glut of new, easily-missed releases online. (As record shop after record shop closed we feared the worst, but what followed, of course, was a well-documented vinyl resurgence the likes of which no-one could have predicted.)
And just like my 13 year old self, I get to draw the artwork for each one.
So. Strictly not a mix - more like the kind of radio set we used to do on our pirate radio stations, all gusto, 3am chips and endless tea - this is a two-C90-tape (or three ish hour!) collection of loosely-assembled new discoveries, electronic soothers, 4-to-the-floors - and a minor bangathon in the middle. 
There's Bicep, Fourtet, Leon Vynehall, Bawrut, UNKLE, Planningtorock, Thundercat, Max Cooper, Clouds, Fontaines D.C., Orbital, slowthai, Cid Rim - and a heavy contingent of women: Kelly Moran, Holly Walker, Róisín Murphy, Karen O, Junior, Ninna Lundberg, Otha, Julia Jacklin. And more, because there's always more!
There'll be another one in February, and I know that because I've already started it!
👉Listen on iTunes 👉 OR, if you haven’t got Apple Music, you can listen to this one *here* on Mixcloud 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

If You Could See Me Now, And 499 Other Novels




My accounts lady is currently logging all the ISBN numbers on every book I’ve illustrated, for a report I need to file in Feb. It’s  no small feat, as we’re getting close to 500 *insert surprised emoji face*


What’s been really nice as she goes through the shelves is rediscovering books I haven’t looked at for ages, and of course the majority pre-date Instagram. A few years ago I rebranded every Cecelia Ahern novel for Harpercollins UK - a task I was mega pleased about. I even went down to their office for a meeting about them  - coffee and biscuits and everything - which is fairly unusual now! 

At the time, this kind of organic hand-lettering was still fairly unusual, but was starting to make its way onto more covers here and in the US thanks to my own increasing forays into lettering-based ads, editorial work and book covers, and those of my colleagues Ruth Rowland, Stephen Raw, Jill Calder and Marion Deuchars. Now, you can download a free or cheap font version of something similar to all of these - more on that later - but these were created as individual pieces of hand-inked lettering integrated with the little illustrations for each cover. Although you'd have to tear my Apple Pencil from my cold dead hands, I still prefer to create my type-based work in ink, or at least originate it there.

It’s really nice to see these again; and I don't think I blogged them at the time. They’ve been re-designed since and she’s written plenty more books, but I reckon these have stood the test of time!

This was from the brief, showing what the Harper art team had identified about my work which led them to me for this job:



MANY versions were tried out for each cover:



















Tuesday, January 22, 2019

All the blue inks and crayons.





One of my new book covers out today is 'August Isle' by Ali Standish.

*Actual* crayons were used in the creation of this cover for Harpercollins USA, which was almost a collage (physical and digital) of many parts inked and pencilled in to create the deep sea and the island, before becoming a one-take ink-wash illustration.

The images show the finished book and some of the cover ideas generated along the way to the final - I was very much in favour of the geometric look, with straight lines and clean cuts to the collage - the lighthouse along the way was first of brutalist design, then concrete - but the softer look was preferred for the age group, and I'm very happy with the way it turned out. That lettering was flung straight onto the cover completely untouched! Which is always a joy.

A  much softer island and its greenery won out in the end, with what's become my current trademark (which means I'll have to retire it soon!) - a 'statement moon' - and my age-old bleach-technique stars pecking a threatening sky. The little girl and boat were drawn in ink and pencil, and cast into shadow for the final, wraparound cover.


And look! I drew a turtle without embarrassing myself!

Thanks to Joel Tippie for superb art direction on this one.














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!









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