Drop cap cover project – Flaubert

Madame Bovary

On the odd occasions that my flow of work slows down to a trickle, I find it helps to set up my own projects. I am a little lost without a project. It’s not so much work in general that keeps me going, but having a creative challenge ticking over in my brain. So, although it takes more discipline to stick to one that doesn’t have a client, a deadline or a paying fee attached to it, it’s still better than thumb twiddling and checking my email every 5 minutes. Then if work does come through, it can easily be shelved and picked back up another time.

One of the benefits of having a little extra time on my hands, is I can do more creative research, keep up with what’s happening in the rest of the design world, and hopefully discover new things that I’d been blinkered to in my head-down-working state. And so it was that I recently discovered the website and app Skillshare, which is a series of training videos from professional people in a variety of industries. There are lots of creative people on there, and you can choose to follow those subjects that interest you, and hopefully learn something new. Some are quite short and sweet, other require a little more time investment.

The first tutorial for me had to be one from letterer Jessica Hische. I have been a fan of hers for a number of years, I love her drop caps series, I have these in a set of postcards which are dotted around my office (probably mentioned in previous post), and her tutorial was a joy to watch. I love how nerdy she gets about the minor details of type, and plotting vector points correctly. I learnt quite a bit, but was also reassured by a few working similarities. That’s a downside from not working in a team of other designers, you never know whether you are using programmes in the right or best way.

In her tutorial she sets you up with a project to design a typographic solution as the cover for your favourite or a recently read book. Jessica’s drop cap style lettering was commissioned for a Penguin classics series, using the first letter of the authors surname. After looking back through a reading list which I started in January 2014, I picked out Madame Bovary which I read that spring. The story has stuck with me and is full of content which I decided would be perfect for this project. So for the author Flaubert, I needed to design a letter F.

After numerous brainstorms, sketches, drafts, critiques with my other half, I finally produced the design above. It represents her downfall through the imagery of flowers which feature a lot throughout the book. The daisy in the centre is representative of her love affair, and the anguish over whether her love is requited – he loves me, he loves me not – as the petals come away they fall to the ground and slowly wither and die. The thorny stem as the cross bar represents the idea of something delicate and beautiful like a rose having a dangerous edge that can also damage you if you’re not careful. And the blue background is the blue of old poison bottles, with a subtle tangle of thorny stems in the background.

I found I had to be careful not to just use a letter F and then decorate it with imagery from the book, but instead to make the whole form of the letter relevant to the story. I’m not sure I fully achieved this. I think I may have tried a little bit too hard and it could have been much simpler. But I enjoyed the process involved and I might pick out some other classic novels that I have read and enjoyed and do some more of these, if time allows.

PS: I am aware that Jessica also designed a cover for Madame Bovary as part of the Penguin classics. I tried very hard not to be influenced by this!

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