Faber senior designer Miriam Rosenbloom on the Faber Poetry Hardback Collections, produced together with British printmakers, and published in May 2010.
Print-design has long been a key component of the look of Faber books, and has also always been one of my favourite media. My fascination with it began the first time I gouged into a potato aged five and sailed right up until my late-20s when I realised I was never going to be as good at it as I wanted to be. At that time I decided that rather than being mediocre at something I could channel my passion for printmaking into working with people who are brilliant at the very same thing.
This new set of books is based around a collection of some of our best-loved poet’s first published editions with Faber. My brief for the series was for the covers to look like ‘cousins’ rather than ‘siblings’ to the first set. I took this to mean more colour than the mainly monochrome initial series. After considering design ideas for a few weeks and with a vague panic setting in, I was lucky enough to stumble across a book at the Oxford Fine Press Fair that set me on my way.
The inspiration was this book of Frances Cornford’s poems from 1960, illustrated with prints designed by her son Christopher. The book used two- and three-colour prints with unusual colour combinations such as light grey with rust red and an inky purple with caramel and lime. Many of the prints used black ink to provide detail and pattern while the coloured layer provided texture and depth. This got me thinking about colour and how we could use it in a more dramatic way in the new series.
I usually don’t begin designs projects with a colour palette but I did for this poetry series. I set up a group of six Pantone colours which I then broke down further into three sets of two. I had decided that I wanted to have contrasting endpapers and covers, so each pair of colours would be used twice in the series, once as a cover and once as an endpaper.
The next stage was finding artists to work on the series. After a lot of gallery trawling and internet dawdling I pulled together a list of artists I wanted to work with. Following this, I spent some time with one of our Poetry editors matching the style and tone of each printmaker to that of each poet. Surprisingly this was one of the simplest parts of the job as most of the matches were instinctively clear and we quickly sorted each poet’s colours this way as well. So now we had the poets, the printmakers and a set of pantone chips, it was time to get going.
For this series I worked with Peter Clayton (for Simon Armitage’s Kid), Jonathan Gibbs (Alice Oswald’s Dart), Michael Kirkman (Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings), Ed Kluz (Wendy Cope’s Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis), Charles Shearer (Don Paterson’s Nil Nil) and Sarah Young (Sylvia Plath’s Ariel). All the printmakers provided roughs that were then approved by the poets or their estates as well as in-house at Faber before we got to the printing stage. These roughs were intriguing insights into the artists’ differing printmaking techniques with some very closely resembling the finished prints while others were much looser evocations.
It was also interesting to see the different approaches the printmakers used to engage with the subject matter. For example the stunning graphic spareness of Charles Shearer’s relatively low-fi collographs reflected the immediacy of Don Paterson’s work, while the intricate wood-engravings of Jonathan Gibbs were ideal for Alice Oswald’s beautifully nuanced depictions of the natural world.
The unique endpapers added an extra dimension to the series. And I was really happy with the way the slightly unusual colour combinations worked together with the prints.
As the series was to be printed in Pantone colours all printmakers had to deliver their work as separations in the form of two black prints—the traditional way of supplying artwork. All prints were professionally scanned and made print-ready in Photoshop—a very low-tech/high-tech way of working which was strangely satisfying. We really wanted this series to use an uncoated stock to reflect the tactile nature of the printmaking but the large areas of white made this really tricky as marking was a potentially serious problem. Our production team worked extremely hard to find a new printing method to give the books their rough feel and provide enough protection for the paper at the same time. The arrival of the printed finished set in all its glorious Pantone colour with the stunning prints perfectly matched to the paper stock was proof that this was well worth the effort. This series was a joy to work on and also, I hope, a testament to the enormously talented British printmakers currently working.
Find the Faber Poetry Hardback Collections at faber.co.uk.