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.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Mary Poppins is BACK!

I've just received my copy of this gorgeous new hardback edition of Mary Poppins, published just in time for the new film version, Mary Poppins Returns, coming to cinemas a few days before Christmas.

What an honour it was to play a part in the part in the making of this special gift edition; it's a classic, timeless story. With Julia Sarda's 2014 full colour illustrations inside, the cloth-bound, die-cut cornflower blue cover is embossed with my framing illustration and handsome title in silver foil. It positively sparkles - which it wouldn't wouldn't it - it's 'spick and span'! Art direction was by a regular  client, the energetic Phil at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who I previously worked with at Disney.

The work was created first in pencil then worked up in Mitsubishi's uniPin fineliners, in 3 widths. Once I'd thrashed out how fine and detailed this could or couldn't go (my first roughs were much too ornate) it was a simple job, with attention paid to line width and keeping the opposing sides a little different from each other, as I didn't want mirroring.

The somewhat ornery title was designed to look hand-crafted and imprecise, a little out of the ordinary and not too...pretty!

I'm fully intending to see the new film as I remember the original being a bit scary when I was little, and I want to squash those memories. The idea that two children weren't looked after by their own parents was scary and baffling in its own right, and Mary was just a bit..strange. As was Dick Van Dyke's London accent!

You can see little videos of the way the cover sparkles at

and you can get a copy of the book here

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Turnaway Girls

Published this week, the new novel by Hayley Chewins is a beautiful, rather stirring book about what happens when you try to silence girls' voices.

South African-based author Hayley set her novel in the fictional Blightsend, where singing is not allowed, so the girls (led by 12-year-old Delphernia) sing in secret. Outside, The Masters - men - make music. Indoors, the women and girls turn that music into gold - a process they called 'shimmering'. The bleak landscape of Blightsend (great name!) and the curling, far-reaching sounds of the girls' golden voices needed capturing for this cover, so a woven network of musical staves was created as a centrepiece in which Delphernia herself stands, arms to the moon and flanked by her 'marble' birds.

There were relatively few roughs got this cover - for me, anyway, since I usually send quite a few - which made the job of narrowing down easier. Working with art director Pam at Candlewick Press, we quickly established the bits we liked via a series of looser-than-usual thumbnails, with notes. This has proved a great way of getting all the ideas out quickly, without committing too many hours to a version which might not prove to be 'the one':

Once we'd dissected these ideas, I worked up a shortlist in more detail. At the core of this cover was to be the music, the birds, Delphernia herself, and the foreboding landscape. The music was realised through a tree-like structure made of staves, golden leaves pinging from each 'branch (we did not yet now we would be treated to gold foil!)

The winner was chosen, and thus began the process of working up the separate components. Though I sometimes create artwork 'in one take' - as a single piece of completed artwork - which I love - this is is my most common way of putting a cover together, due to the probability of having to make adjustments and micro-movements as we progress the cover, and the need to tweak background colours throughout, for optimised reproduction.

Watch the time-lapse of this bit happening! (go FULL SCREEN to enjoy)

All of the original artwork - now in the proud hands of the author Hayley - was created in acrylic-based drawing inks on thick cartridge for the most part; the stony buildings of Blightsend were probably my favourite bit to do though, on fat, knotty watercolour board. 
I got to completely make up a fictional landscape and gnarly sea! Spiky it is then...

My vast inky sky, made of five shades of blue ink on A2 paper, were added to anchor the details, with a collaged ink-wash-moon...

And, compiled in Photoshop over many hours and with countless (labelled) layers of all the ink work, is the completed cover - the US edition, and the very ethereal UK version due out in January.

Thank you to Candlewick press for inviting me to do this cover...and going all-out on the gold foiled cover! I hope Hayley is already writing a sequel...


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