We talked to Creative Director Donna Payne about the process of designing the cover art for Jenny Uglow’s beautiful Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense.
A Jenny Uglow cover commission is always a delight, with the brief for Mr Lear no exception. When you think ‘Edward Lear’ it is more often his line work illustrating wonderfully witty verse that springs to mind. With ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ one his most popular pieces. Initially, it was this piece and others that provided a strong steer for the cover. Something instantly recognisable that took in both the ‘Art and Nonsense’ of the subtitle.
However reading the available text and exploring the wealth of visual material selected for the insides, I chose to look at Lear’s birds; paintings that are technically brilliant whilst retaining his trademark wit. Not using this wonderfully lush material felt like a missed opportunity. Bold colour work combined with the title proved an element of surprise and certainly covered the Art , with line illustration work on the back jacket providing the ‘nonsense’.
Publishing in the Autumn and a natural gift purchase. I was keen to consider high production values as part of the brief. Quarter binding felt right for a book of this heft but I was left concerned that it looked too formal and had lost some of the playfulness.
It was at this point I began to consider the sketchbook work. The smudgy paint tests and notes to self are utterly charming, allowing us to include Lear’s process in a satisfying and immediate way.
The final package. A stark contrast between the playful imagery and formal binding: