Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Body Image Book for Girls

This is another job that came my way around 12 months ago. It should have been published in the spring, but was held back due to Covid19.

It’s very different to the kind of academic books I usually get to work on, so it made for a lovely refreshing change.

I started with the cover design. They wanted a typographic cover, but with hand drawn type, something similar to Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, which is a book I had picked up and admired in a bookshop once when browsing for Christmas presents. This got me very excited as I’d been messing around with hand lettering for some time, never expecting to get the chance to use my new found skills on an actual paid job. It was just something I did for fun.

I did two different designs, one of which included some doodles around a silhouette outline of a girls figure. In the end I kind of blended the two designs together into a third, dropping the figure but keeping the doodles, and then we went through a few variations in colour scheme before settling on the final version.

Then came the page layouts. Page layouts are normally pretty straightforward and follow a fairly standard route for most of the books I work on. But, as I said, this is a very different book. So to begin with I spent half a day browsing the bookshops for similar books, or books aimed at a similar market (girls aged 9-15) and I took as many photos with my phone as I could.

Straight away I decided to use as much colour as possible, following the colour palette from the cover, and also taking the doodles through into the page design to make them lively and fun. I had wanted to also incorporate some hand lettering, but eventually decided to use hand lettered fonts instead for consistency. Once I had a few of the illustrations it was just a matter of putting it all together into a design, which thankfully went down well from the off.

Usually I would design a few page spreads, maybe a whole chapter, a few pages from the start and end of the book, all marked up with notes and measurements along with a typespec which gives full specification details to the typesetter. With this one, we bypassed the typesetters and I set out the whole book in InDesign. It was a lot of work, but it meant I could be more freely creative with the layouts, adding coloured pages here and there, doodles wherever I fancied, dropping in the illustrations where it felt best to fill the space.

So all in all it was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward now to working on the boys version. Watch this space!


TED talks on creativity

I came across a blog posting which lists the top 20 talks on TED, and started off with this one above. I think the rest of the world has seen this before me, but if you haven’t it’s worth a watch.

I so agree with him. Creativity was not something that was admired, rewarded or celebrated at my secondary school. With the exception of my art teacher, my decision to go on to art college after school was scoffed at by most of my teachers, especially my English teacher who wanted me to stay on to do A level English. When I told her quite firmly that I was going to college to do art, she pretty much waved her hand at me and I was dismissed. Luckily I didn’t care. I had as much respect for some of those teachers as they did for my career plans, and I knew, sure as day, where I was heading. Nothing would have stopped me.

What a dysfunctional place we’d all live in, if we all chose to do intellectual academic degrees, and yet that’s all the school system seems to be interested in. Creativity and being able to think in a creative way, is so important to so many jobs, that absolutely it should be taught and encouraged at the same level as maths and science.

My years at art school unleashed my creative side in abundance. It was like it had been locked up, suppressed, waiting for the freedom to do whatever I wanted, and not what I was told to do. I soared. I started to see things in a completely different way, my eyes were opened to a whole new world, and I lapped it up. I sometimes wish I could go back and have some fun for a couple of years more to recapture that fearless feeling of diving into a project head first and not caring how it turned out. Just experimenting, trying new things, seeing what happens when you turn everything on its head. Not sticking to any rules or conformity. That’s what art college taught me. To really go for it, because there is no right or wrong. Think outside of the box, put the obvious solution to one side and walk on, as you never know what more interesting things you might find.

When you start working for clients who like to dictate exactly what they want, you put all of that stuff back in the box, and go back to doing as you’re told. But it’s important to never let go of that experience and bring it out occasionally, if you don’t push those boundaries who will?

And as for education, I really hope that creativity is better respected in schools in the future, we need creative people in industry and I can’t bear to think of children’s wonderful imaginations being squashed by stuffy education systems.

Page designs

Sorry for the lack of posts of late. I’ve been waist deep in typesetters specifications and page layouts. I’m normally more of a cover designer, just because it’s my comfort area, and it’s always easier to stick to what you know. The creative side of my brain works better than the technical side, and I’m sure there’s more technicality than creativity in designing text layouts.


However, after agreeing to do the page designs for a horticultural book, these jobs have increased in volume. I’d like to say this is down to my brilliant designs, but I wonder if it’s because there are fewer designers doing them.

It’s a skill that you might learn if you’re lucky enough to work in-house for a publishing company. It’s something you pick up along the way. To start with, any manuscripts landing in my in-tray were very quickly passed on to the safe hands of the nearest passing freelancer. It was like being given responsibility for a new born baby that you had no idea even which way up to hold. I just knew I could trust the freelancers (ex in-house themselves) to know what to do with them. They would come back packaged up with a beautifully written type spec and marked up pages, all ready to send off to the typesetters. Phew!


But over time I learnt to decipher the specification instructions, like learning a new language. I studied each one that passed under my nose, and came to understand them. When you start out, the simple instruction, 24pts LF to b/l of RH, u&lc, full out, makes as much sense as a modern day teenager’s text message. Even when you work out what all the abbreviations stand for, and what they actually mean, you have to know how to set out a good grid, and how to arrange all of the information in a clear, usable and legible way to fulfil the functions of the book, while still looking attractive. All the usual design principles you would apply to a cover, but allowing for several hundred pages of information of varying complexity.


It took some time for me to have the confidence to tackle my first manuscript  (I think I was eventually pushed into the deep end) and even now I have much more confidence in designing the covers of books, and I bow down to those more experienced designers who I learnt from. But I’m privileged to have had the opportunity to learn what I did, and it’s like anything in life, the more you do something, the more you learn and the better you get.

It’s good to step out of your comfort zone once in a while.

Move away from the computer! (after you’ve read this)

If only more of our British pubs employed typography artists for their chalkboards. If only they could afford to and weren’t closing by the dozen every day, but that’s another story.

This is the work of New York designer Dana Tanamachi. Have a look at more of her work here. She makes me want to paint one wall of my office with chalkboard paint and practice my hand lettering skills. It’s a thought! I have often bored my other half while sitting in pubs and criticising the chalkboards, so maybe I should step up to the mark.

Dana used to work for Louise Fili Ltd., who’s blog I have been following. Her studio produces some wonderful designs (see the link in my blog roll) anyone trained under her (see also Jessica Hische) is inspiring to me. And her book on Scripts – Elegant Lettering from Designs Golden Age, was a welcome Christmas present, and a wonderful source of inspiration.

As is this recent purchase:

Typographic Sketchbooks by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico. It’s a collection of private sketchbook pages from leading typographers from around the world. I love sketchbooks and these really take me back to my college days when we were encouraged to keep sketchbooks and scrapbooks like this. Particularly just for type. I had boxes of them by the time I graduated from uni, but I’ve not really kept sketchbooks since. This has inspired me to start one again.

I’ve developed a real passion just lately for hand-rendered type. It has a unique quality and personality to it. It’s amazing how many of the designers in this book claim to be ‘moving away from the computer’. Or at least only using a computer in the final stages, which is how I always used to work, and sometimes still do. Sketching your ideas out by hand is important I think, as you’re more relaxed and loose and able to work ideas through. But I actually think there’s a lot to be said for no computer involvement at all, as Dana’s work shows.

A bit of typographic art

This is one of my favourite design quotes, which I have designed and framed to hang in my office, as a little reminder.

I did a similar typographic art/design for a reading which I did at my brothers wedding recently. I set it out and framed it for a wedding gift, as I wanted it to be kept as a momento, rather than just read out and forgotten, and it inspired me to produce this.

There seems to be a trend for typographic art just lately, ever since the ‘Keep Calm … ‘ posters became popular. A quick search on Etsy (or similar sites) will throw up pages and pages of them. Some are pretty lame (people trying to make easy money) but there are some beautiful ones. Usually the better ones are hand rendered or screen printed, or even better, printed on an old fashioned letter press. I’m all in favour.