The Art of the Cover

Featured

 

DSC06649

When the race has been run and my brushes and pencils have been set down, my output of book covers is going to be very small in comparison to that of any commercial illustrator. I pick and choose very carefully from the offers that come in, and I spend incalculable amounts of time reading manuscripts and making notes and developmental sketches. I care with a passion about what I make.

IMG_8647

IMG_8648

Below: for Charis in the World of Wonders Ignatius took the unusual step of allowing me to design their publishing imprint for the front cover. Interestingly because the imprint is now so integral to the narrative imagery of Charis’s story, it has a much stronger presence on the cover than it might otherwise have had, though the publisher can’t have known that when granting me permission.

Version 2

Though things are different now, in the past I underwrote the time it took me to make book covers with the income from my work as an easel artist. I did it because I simply love books. I love the art of the book. I love the way that a cover can reach someone who may never walk into a gallery to look at art.

IMG_8045

These Our Monsters_Covers A (2)

I work with publishers I’m comfortable with and who are comfortable with me as we all progress toward the desired conclusion. I don’t make covers for books I don’t like, or for authors I’m not convinced by or for publishers who haven’t taken the trouble to discover how I think and work. I don’t have the time to make those kinds of errors.

To date I’ve made more covers for Marly Youmans than I have for any other author. She was the first to suggest I might come up with a cover image for a book. Until then publishers had asked only for permissions to use my paintings – or details from them –  for covers, and with mixed results. So the idea of making a cover from scratch was an attractive one. The first book for Marly was her novella Val/Orson, and I’ve been been working with her ever since. Thinking about it, I see a pattern emerges, and at the heart of it is the certainty that I don’t want to make banal covers. All the authors I enjoy working with create layers of mysteries and ambiguities in their writings, and those qualities give me the space to grow images that interest me. If I’m not interested, I don’t want to make the cover.

Below: the front and back wrap-cover for Val/Orson (PS Publishing, 2009), before the title and author were added. It was a hardback without a dust-wrapper, which is quite unusual.

DSC01978.JPG

Below: front and back wrap-cover for The Book of the Red King. (Phoenicia Publishing, 2019) After Val/Orson I began to include title and author to the cover artwork of all my books for Marly, the better to integrate words with images. It’s a practice that whenever possible I’ve held to with other authors.

72309736_10158613550177289_5159389658286653440_o

Since becoming the artist most associated with the published works of Marly Youmans, other writers have approached me with requests to make covers for their books: Damian Walford Davies, Mary-Ann Constantine and most recently Simon Armitage, who wanted not just a cover, but my entire suite of fourteen Penfold Press Sir Gawain and The Green Knight screen prints to illustrate the Faber & Faber revision of his translation of the medieval poem. Simon and I have since produced Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes for Design for Today, and I’m currently working with him on a yet-to-be announced book.

Below: Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes (2018, Design for Today) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2018, Faber & Faber)

PastedGraphic-1 (14)

IMG_5483

I’ve been in love with books all my life. Because as a child I read prolifically and precociously, from the moment I was allowed out by myself I could be found in book shops where wall-to-wall paperback covers offered endless visual stimulation. I was gazing raptly at the covers of novels long before I experienced art in galleries. To begin with it was the covers that led my reading. At best the book cover can be an invitation to a new realm, but it needs to catch your attention or it’ll remain unexplored. When opportunities allow for an image to wrap to the back cover, I enjoy the possibilities of springing a surprise. The front cover for Judas (see below) only offers a part of the picture. The spine runs a centimetre or two to the left of the title, and so it’s only when the book is flipped in the hand that the monstrousness of the distorted animal becomes apparent.

DSC05883

Whenever I begin making a cover, the guiding principle is to make it catch the eye of a passer by. I will never deceive, but there has to be an element of the sideshow barker calling attention to the tent and the wonders within. All I have to do is get the punter to the tent-flap, to lift it and to look inside. Thereafter it’s all down to the author.

DSCF9310

DSC04514 - Version 3

Charis in the World of Wonders by Marly Youmans and with cover artwork and interior decorations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, is due out from Ignatius in the US in the Spring of 2020.

Charis Vignette 1

Gentle Charis and her Friends at Ignatius Publishing

Featured

 

Charis Vignette 10.jpg

We live in a world where there is so much by way of argumentative dialogues, endless competitiveness, jostling for pole positions, public crowing and an unwillingness to listen to others, that when creative endeavours are conducted with kindness and gentleness, it’s a blessed relief from what we’ve all had to become more accustomed to.

Marly Youmans and I have long been friends who like to collaborate. She is a wonderful friend, but also a poet and novelist greatly admired. I first came across Marly when I saw her name signed to a comment on a blog where she was defending me as an artist, though we’d never met or had any previous contact. I wrote to thank her and we became e-correspondents. Later she came to Wales to stay with us at Ty Isaf. She’s the narrator of a short documentary about my maquettes, a contributing author to the 2011 Lund Humpries monograph about my work and she was present at the Gregynog Gallery of The National Library of Wales for the opening of my sixtieth birthday retrospective of paintings. We’ve been working together almost from the start of our friendship. I make her book covers and when time and budget allow, the chapter headings and decorations too.

In part Marly moved from her previous publisher because of me. I’d decided I no longer wanted to work there, though I hadn’t expected my leaving would precipitate Marly’s departure. I had thought there would simply be a change to another artist, but I had not taken into account that though Marly is the gentlest woman, she is nonetheless stubborn about the things that matter most and her loyalties are fierce. I was rather shaken by the events, but though I repeatedly said that she should stay, she quietly went about doing things her own way.

Ignatius are the publishers of Charis in the World of Wonders. Marly gently brokered an arrangement that her editor there would look at my work, and if the Ignatius team were confident that Marly and I were a good match, then we would all proceed together. From the outset the mood has been collegiate. Everything discussed with thoughtfulness, everyone with eyes on the goal to make a beautiful book. I doff my cap to Roxanne Lum who guided me through the way things are done at Ignatius and who was so receptive to my ideas, and to Diane Erikson who has worked so hard to make Charis in the World of Wonders the lovely edition that it is going to be.

This week Marly and I saw the almost finished page layouts, with my drawings in place making the announcements to the eleven chapters. The matching of images to chapters was done at Ignatius. I offered no guidance and as it happened neither did Marly. Both of us agree that whoever made the matches did so with great care. Marly writes:

“Diane,
Well, I shall let Clive be the arbiter of images! But we are both entirely pleased with the care for clarity and detail, as well as the beautiful spacing that really gives the pictures so much more presence. And I have to say that I’m happy that Ignatius is so responsive and also so polite in working with a visual artist. That made me glad, as Clive is dear to me.
Just now I went through the list, and I do suspect that somebody has thought carefully about placement, where possible. It is absolutely right that the horse begins and the ewe (so many good symbolic sheep associations) ends the story. I especially liked the amusing placement of the rabbit for Wedlock (preceded by the ancient emblem of married constancy, the swan), the owl for a chapter of wild wanderings, and the open-mouthed dog for the “frampled” household chapter. Some were logical, like the bird at a chapter with birds, or the various domestic animals scattered in chapters set in villages. Somehow I really like the luminous peacock–the most mystical thing in the group–as an image representing “Path in the Dark.” The squirrel with his little acorn bag (I know it’s not that, really, but it looks that way, accompanied by Far-faring!) is another that amuses me. And the cockerel crowing out the news of the epilogue…
So yes, I do think that we are happy and content. Thanks to all who helped to make us feel so pleased with the way the book-to-be appears: well dressed and lovely.
In good cheer,
Marly”
(Forgive me Marly for sharing the e-mail. I think it illuminating to show how well things may be done when a team toward the best outcome. This has been the most positive experience. I’ve been extremely lucky with all my book commissions throughout 2019, for Design for Today, English Heritage and Phoenicia Publishing, every one of which has been a pleasure.)
IMG_8702.jpg
Above: sketch from my project book of the Ignatius imprint for the cover.

The Laurel Prize

Featured

 

Laurel_Prize_Logo_500px

I’m both honoured and very happy to have been asked by Simon Armitage to create the logo of his ‘Laurel Prize’ for eco-poetry, an annual award that’s been launched today by Sally Carruthers, executive director of the Poetry School.

My early sketches had included a stash of drawings of an ark, its rainbow replaced with arching branches of laurel.

IMG_8782 (1).jpg

 

IMG_8788 (1).jpg

 

IMG_8789 (1).jpg

But at the last minute I roughed out a single sketch of a paper boat adrift on rough water. Simon wrote back:

IMG_8897.jpg

“A strange synchronicity for me: I’ve often described the act of writing a poem being like making a paper boat and putting it into the river – you don’t know if it will make it across the ocean or sink before the first bend. 
To me it symbolises hope, fragile hope, the traditional art of writing and doing so against rising sea levels. I also think it’s no bad thing to move away from the direct “ark” idea since the ark is more particularly connected with the olive tree, as far as my memory of bible stories tells. So in a sense we’re creating our own symbolism. S”

So the paper boat was given the go-ahead by the organising team and several trial versions later –

IMG_8946.jpg

IMG_8916.jpg

Laurel Prize 4. (400dpi) (1).jpg

– the finished render was agreed that has become the symbol of the new award.

Laurel_Prize_Logo_500px

Simon writes in today’s Guardian newspaper:

Ted Hughes was often seen as being unfashionable for his nature writing and it was something he doggedly persevered with, to the point where he was a campaigner as well at low levels. It’s interesting to me that poetry has been able to swing back in the direction of nature; it didn’t fit in with a lot of the psychologies of the 60s and 70s and 80s, it wasn’t metropolitan, and maybe attached itself to the Romantics – Wordworth and Coleridge and particularly John Clare. Now nature has very much come back into the centre of what poetry can, and should, be dealing with.”

Afterword

Sometimes here at the Artlog, the most interesting things get written not in the posts but in the comments. ‘Keviniz’ wrote to me: “Love seeing the development of your finished piece. Thinking through your changes was like choosing words and images in poetry. Wonderful!”

I replied:

“Kevin, it was a happy process. These days Simon is a busy man but he nevertheless found time to answer questions and offer observations. To me it was crucial that the image should have personal resonance for him. We’ve worked together quite a bit now and I figured he’d asked me because he believed I’d have connection and insight. But it also had to be a masthead that made sense to anyone coming to The Laurel Prize for the first time.

Logos are sometimes abstract, more of a visual aesthetic than a figurative representation of a product or organisation. The Laurel Prize logo, while stylised, is figurative. It offers clues as to what idea it represents. During my research I looked at examples of icons that have lasted the test of time and have been robust and flexible inasmuch as they’ve been regularly re-designed without losing their recognition factors. The Lloyds Bank ‘black horse’ and Penguin’s penguin have magnificently lasted the course. Because Simon’s brainchild is The Laurel Award, we had to work out how ‘the laurel’ might figure in it. The difficulty is that the intact ‘laurel wreath’ has become the signifier of excellence for film, and so I almost immediately discarded any notion of a laurel crown. For the longest time I toyed with an open book to represent poetry, and I tried in every way to incorporate it to the point where I had it transforming into other elements.

I have clumsy sketches in my project book of an ark with its pitched roof formed from a book. There are drawings of an open book beneath an ark, and others where the shape of the upward facing open book is one of the waves keeping the ark afloat. The more you try to pull off these weird transformations, the further away you get from a simple, graphic solution. Nevertheless you have to try many ideas just to be sure of what works and what doesn’t. The book in one form or another stayed in my drawings for a long time, first with the ark and afterwards with the paper boat, before it gradually dawned on the team that in terms of meaning, it had become redundant to the image. We went at a stroke from four elements – a book, a paper-boat, water and laurel sprigs, to three. And that’s how it stayed to the conclusion. We had storm-tossed seas and calm seas, a placidly sailing paper boat and one being thrown about in a tempest. Laurel sprigs arced like rainbows or arose sparkling from the water like Esther Williams in one of those super-kitsch Hollywood musicals. In one of my favourite drawings a pair of laurel sprigs curved upwards either side of the paper boat like unfurling wings. But in the end we wanted the dynamic of movement, too, and so the laurels were detached from boat and waves to be added as sprigs blowing around to suggest blustery weather. Climate change is implied, though without turning the image into anything overly apocalyptic.

In a way I had to very thoroughly over-think the brief before coming back to something so simple that it doesn’t seem as though much thought at all has gone into it. But that’s probably the way many simple solutions are arrived at. The destination is not so very far from the starting-point, but we travel to it not as the crow flies, directly, but by a tortuously circuitous route that ensures we take in all the landmarks along the way. Just in case any one of them might give us the solution.

I filled a project book exploring ideas for The Laurel Prize, and then made ten fully finished versions for the team to select from. It was quite an adventure and makes me appreciate even more than I usually do the convoluted processes that have to be gone through to arrive at an effective, simple result.”

Bernie wrote: Wonderful, it also reminded me of the points of a star.
B xxx

 

I replied:

“I keep on thinking what a nice animation might one day be made showing the wind of climate change tearing the pages from an open notebook, one of which blows through an open window and onto the desk of a poet who writes a poem on it that gets snatched away by a thieving magpie before dropping onto a beach where it’s found, folded into a paper boat and set upon the waves by a child!”

Frances and the Paper made of Iris and Reed

Featured

 

IMG_8923

Frances McDowall, who died on Friday morning, has been much on my mind. Twenty years ago Frances played a significant role in bringing the Old Stile Press edition of Richard Barnfield’s The Affectionate Shepherd to fruition. Every time I open my copy of the book Frances is present in it, our work together literally bonded into the pages.

Nicolas McDowall had been taken by examples he’d seen of the printmaking technique known as Heliography, and asked me to produce images for the Barnfield project by those means. He felt the process might be an interesting way to capture much of what he’d been so attracted to in my drawings. As I proceeded with the work I discovered there were endless difficulties that Nicolas hadn’t identified at the outset, and as I struggled to originate drawings by his suggested technique of scratching into emulsion-coated sheets of glass, Frances began the epic task of making the paper for the entire edition of 200 books.

Below: a surviving fragment of a glass plate and the image as it appears in the book.

dscf9615.jpg

IMG_8926 (1)

 

IMG_8922

Frances was heroic. It took forever to complete the vast amount of papers required and the processes were painstaking and physically exhausting. Later Nicolas too ran into problems at the press, so it might be fair to say that on The Affectionate Shepherd we all three suffered for our arts. (For a couple of years I was never without elastoplasted fingers because the thin glass plates persistently shattered under the pressure of my styluses. By the end of the project I had broken approximately eight glass plates for every one brought to completion.)

IMG_8925.jpg

Though the journey was fraught with problems at every stage and it’s a fact that we never again made a book in that particular way, somewhere along the pathways of agonising frustration, wrong turns and undependable techniques, the magic began to happen. Today when I look at the book, Frances’ ravishing sheets, striated and wrinkled and patterned with the marks of the organic ingredients and the drying processes, make a wonderful ground to the meanderings of my lines impressed into their surfaces. In a raking light the marks of my hand and her craft merge into a book the like of which I’ve never seen before or since. Sometimes the ink lines look almost like dark hairs looped and curved and trapped into the paper.

IMG_8930

In the colophon at the back of the book, the paper is described thus – perhaps by Nicolas or perhaps by Frances:

“All the paper used in this edition (including the endpapers) was made by Frances McDowall. The furnish used consisted of a mixture of Abaca and Jute, with an admixture of reeds and irises for the endpapers.”

IMG_8921.jpg

It’s a crisp and matter-of-fact account of a process that was fuelled by energy, passion and the overwhelming imperative by all of us to create something beautiful to frame Barnfield’s poem. Published originally in 1594, the only surviving copy of the first edition of The Affectionate Shepherd available in the UK to view is at the British Library, which is where I went at the outset to examine it. ( I had an alarming encounter there that nearly scuppered the entire enterprise and that you can read about here: https://clivehicksjenkins.wordpress.com/…/…/10/birthday-boy/ )

To my knowledge the Old Stile Press book published in 1998 is the only illustrated edition of the poem.

 

IMG_8928

Below: pencil study made in preparation for The Affectionate Shepherd

IMG_0003 (1).jpg

‘The odds are high in the making of any book: here the choices entailed a far greater than usual amount of experiment and work by the artist, paper-maker and printer. The result of their collaboration is a triumph.’

Jeremy Greenwood for Parenthesis Magazine.  1998.

DSCF4021.jpg

Kevin and the Blackbird

Featured

This screen-print of Kevin and the Blackbird was begun back when Dan Bugg of Penfold Press and I were galloping to the finishing line of our fourteen-print series of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in time for it to be used to illustrate the 2018 Faber & Faber edition of Simon Armitage’s translation of the poem. As a result we set Kevin aside and agreed to return to the print when time allowed. It took two years, but now it’s done.

Kevin and the Blackbird by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.jpg

Kevin and the Blackbird

Screenprint signed by the artist. Edition size: 90, print size: 35 x 35cm, paper size: 45 x 44cm. 

This week Dan and I met up at the halfway geographical point between his home in Yorkshire and mine in Wales in order for me to sign and number the edition. Kevin and the Blackbird is available, either directly from the Penfold Press online store, or if you’d like to see it in person before deciding, there are copies at the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff available for viewing and purchase.

 

Reinventing Gawain at the National Library of Wales

FullSizeRender (54)

My thanks to the many who on Saturday afternoon filled the lecture theatre at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, to hear me speak. It was the first time since its publication in October that I’ve talked about my collaboration with Simon Armitage to make an illustrated edition of his translation of the medieval poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and it was a happy occasion for me to reminisce at a comfortable distance from all the hard work and exhaustion that went into the project. Good too, to place the lion’s share of credit at the feet of Dan Bugg, who facilitated the entire adventure at his Penfold Press Studio in Selby, Yorkshire, and who guided this artist so completely inexperienced in the alchemy of screen-printing, safely through the labyrinth and back out again.

IMG_2986

My thanks to Stuart Evans of Aberystwyth Printmakers, who arranged the Library event, and to all at the National Library who were warmly welcoming and made the occasion such a pleasure.

IMG_2030.jpg

IMG_2982 (1)

 

IMG_5483

The Book of the Red King

rk-cover-500.jpg

Praise for THE BOOK OF THE RED KING

“Marly Youmans is brilliant, perhaps a genius. Her poems tell a story, offering us a vision of, well, I would say the Trinity, but that is only one possible interpretation. After a difficult and sometimes dangerous journey, a Red King, a Fool, and Precious Wentletrap converge into one, a resurrection that is heavenly. Is it true, or is it fable or fairytale? “When I want to write a new book,” she has said, “I run across the land and leap off the edge of the known world.” Her formal poems are impeccable and include sestinas, villanelles, rondels, rhyming schemes she may have invented, and perfect metrical patterns. Every poet can learn from this poet, and the reader—the reader will be spellbound.”

–Kelly Cherry, poet, novelist, and former Poet Laureate of Virginia

marly-shell

“The Book of the Red King by Marly Youmans is an ambitious, magical book about the nature of power and language.  The Red King and the Fool, while they control different realms, make us consider whether it is better to rule on earth or in one’s imagination. In these gorgeous poems, Youmans makes the case for both.  Whatever side we take, Youmans reminds us of the paradox in each.  Even if we side with the Fool in this world of “hurt joy,” we are left with the realm of poetry.   It is not a bad trade.  For those who love well-formed poems and for those who love fantasy, this is a must-read and a distinctive, evocative voice. There is no one like Marly Youmans.”

–Kim Bridgford, celebrated poet, editor, and director of the global conference, Poetry by the Sea

marly-shell

“Marly Youmans occupies an imaginative space that straddles both the present and the mythological past. It is the territory of Yeats and Tolkien, and Youmans shares not only a taste for primal imagery with these great poets, but also their love of rhyme, rhythm and sound.”

–A. M. Juster, award-winning poet and translator

marly-shell

The Book of the Red King by Marly Youmans, is published by Phoenicia Publishing. Cover art and illustrations by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Designed by Beth Adams. Copies may be purchased directly from the publisher:

HERE

IMG_7465.jpg