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  • Writer's pictureBill Hollingsworth

Books undercover.

Updated: Jun 27, 2018

A couple of years ago I knew nothing about books. Now I design and produce them.

Ok, I knew what a book was, but nothing about the rules of layout and how to produce one effectively. The rules, can be ignored of course, but on the whole they just make the experience better for the reader - and are effectively invisible. A lot of the design for books is best when it’s invisible. I think a book design shouldn’t intrude or get in the way. Yes it should look well but I don’t think the design should be the hero. It should be the conduit for enjoyable consumption of the book.

That’s particularly true when working with fine art. I like to think of the book as the frame which contains the artwork. It shouldn’t overpower like a grotesque, baroque, gold-leaf frame. It should present the work as hero, holding it in place stylishly and effectively invisible.

There may be dragons.

Often in a commercial exhibition, the individual works of art will be sold and spread to the four winds, and the exhibition may be the last time the collection will be seen together, so quality of reproduction is hugely important. One of the beauties of books is that design moves from the predictable sterility of the digital world into an organic tactile world. But that’s a world of unknown unknowns.

The challenge is perfect reproduction, in quantity, on paper, in CMYK, of images that may have been produced in oils, pastels, charcoal or mixed media.

I learnt a valuable lesson from a former production manager when we were trying to match a colour. We found the perfect colour swatch, then he walked around the room bringing it into the sunlight of the window, holding it under darkened corners under tables. It was still the perfect colour, but the perception of it changed depending on the environment. So two factors contribute to perfect image reproduction

  1. Take all the variables and unknowns you can out of the process: from professional calibrated photography, to the best way to interpret that into print-ready artwork, to taking as many variables as possible out of the actual printing by producing ‘wet proofs’ - printing same-size proofs in advance using the exact same press the book will be printed, on using a variety of papers and finishes.

  2. Perception is vital: I’ve been lucky enough to be joined on press for the book printing by some of the artists. They realise that their work and a printed book, are very different mediums, so while you may achieve perfect reproduction, the correct perception of the printed image is the key.

When OystercatcherTF started, I thought I’d continue doing what I normally did; advertising design for TV and print, but was pleasantly surprised to be asked to design a book. Then one book led to another. And another. Of course, I still love doing all the other stuff, but books are anchoring, grounding, sensuous and ‘slow design’. There are a couple more in the pipeline right now and I can’t wait to dive in.

Books shown: “Weather Gauge” by Donald Teskey and “Jack B. Yeats and Paul Henry. Contrasting Visions of Ireland.” for the Hunt Museum. “A History of Ashton School” by Dr. Alicia St. Leger for Ashton School in Cork. “Ten Night Paintings” by Colin Davidson; “Excavations” by Hughie O’Donoghue; “Old Anatomy” by Jason Ellis and “In Residence II” for the Oliver Sears Gallery. Shot in and around my workplace at The Tara Building, Dublin.

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