Author: John Waters
Designer: Eric Hanson
Art Director: Susan Mitchell
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Typefaces: Hand lettered
Illustration: Eric Hanson
Photos of the book by Jennifer Carrow and Eric Hanson
Pencil drawing on white with hand lettered type. Simple and beautiful. I love this cover. The pop of green in John's socks and the quirkiness of the illustration is perfect for Waters. Well done Eric and thank you for sharing. —Charles
I have always been an admirer of well designed books, the book covers and dust jackets. I am one of those people who actually looks at the back flyleaf to see who designed the cover. Even before I look at the first page of the text. I remember the designers' names like most people follow ballplayers.
I don't like reading a book when I dislike the design. This probably sounds superficial, but design affects the experience. I suppose there are some authors I like reading just because I like how their books look. I got hooked on Anthony Powell's 12 volume Dance to the Music of Time partly because of the Mark Boxer drawings on the covers. (In some ways Boxer is superior to Poussin.)
I like the thingness of a book when it's well designed. It doesn't even need to be lavish. I collect early Penguins and Albatross paperbacks. They were the original cheap editions, but their uniformity was really well designed. Sometimes with a neat black and white illustration under the title. I like seeing shelves of Penguins in the backgrounds of films about wartime London. Book designers become curators of our literature, in a way.
I'm not actually a designer; I'm an illustrator. I love design, but it's kind of a mystery to me. Although I guess I am designing when I organize the elements in an illustration, choosing to put things on a white background in a flat perspective or using a framing device, when I am putting hand lettering and art together or cutting and editing bits of old photography into a collage. I am thinking about how the type will arrange itself around the art. Leaving white space in an illustration is a design decision. A familiarity with good design informs how I do my art, and my art always looks a lot better when the design around it is good. And the inverse is also true. Which is why I memorize the names of designers I like. I've been sending things to Susan Mitchell (Art Director at Farrar Straus & Giroux) for years, hoping I'd get the chance to work with her.
Susan Mitchell is responsible for how beautiful this book looks. She art directed it. She organized and managed the process. She took a loose pencil drawing and made it look elegant. Going with pencil for the final image is what makes the cover so intriguing.
If you look at my website you see that most of my work is in watercolor. Even the black and white line art is painted in watercolor, with a brush, not a pen. I've used pencil occasionally. Used with watercolor it results in a quieter image, almost vaporous. But there were limitations. This project has revived my interest in pencil as a finished medium. It gives me one more style that I can use. Invention keeps the work fresh.
I decided to have Waters seated in a chair with his legs suavely crossed and put the framed pictures of his various role models around him and extended these frames across the spine onto the back, then I threw some loose penmanship across the front, author and title. There was a vacuum at the top of the back so I put a light bulb there, and they seemed to like that.
The way I created his pose reminds me of some things I've seen and no doubt borrowed before from painters like Raphael Soyer and Alice Neel, a sort of graceful awkwardness. But it has a little bit of Noel Coward or Ivor Novello in it too. This is somebody whose life is informed by seeing Private Lives and watching Fred Astaire movies.
This was probably the twentieth pencil.Most of the way, the process was fairly typical. I sent drawings out and got comments back. “More this, less that. Try this.” Some of them he liked, and I'd try more in that direction; Waters was directly involved in all of this.
Usually once a pencil is approved I go ahead and paint a finished illustration, and that's what I did here. I painted two of them, just to be sure. And Waters said he liked the pencil better. So I went back and redrew the pencil without the messiness and the double lines and the erasures, and Waters said he liked the messier one better, so that's what was used.
This happened to me once before: I was doing a promotional mailer with Sharon Werner and it included a very carefully drawn address cartouche, a vaguely Moorish frame, with minarets and palm trees, to print the address inside of on the front of the envelope. When I mailed the art to her I drew a very loose version of the cartouche on the outside of the envelope, and she used the looser one. The one I dashed off in three seconds. She liked it better.
There is something to be said for the spontaneous, unrehearsed line. It's closer to the original thought. It's more sincere and original, it's more inventive. It's like the candid photographs that are always more interesting than the carefully posed ones. Over the years I've gravitated away from meticulous and toward the spontaneous line. My drawing heroes now are Ludwig Bemelmans and David Stone Martin and Ben Shahn and Mark Boxer and Saul Steinberg, also Ronald Searle. Because I didn't go to art school, they were my professors. They taught me to take chances and to exploit accidents. My most interesting ideas emerge by accident.
To give the pencil line more gravity we darkened it. I do sketches with a #2 pencil on plain paper. Dark enough, but still gray. Darkening it to black gave the line a more lithographic quality, like a charcoal pencil almost. I've been doing the same thing since with other drawings. Sometimes the smudges and erasures emerge giving the art a greater depth, almost like a palimpsest. I've found it especially useful in Op-Ed work for the New York Times and LA Times where I'm trying to invent metaphors for the complex ideas and conundrums in the adjacent text. It's a nimble and suggestive medium for me and I'm glad that I've figured out how to give it the necessary finish to insert it into print design. As I said, pencil is closer to the original thought, and it's more forthright than the carefully painted line I use most of the time.
The one element Waters insisted on was that the cover have a portrait of him on it. I don't consider myself a very good portraitist, but given an interesting face and enough sheets of paper I manage all right. It helped that I was trying to figure out the composition before I tried to nail the likeness, and the better likenesses emerged as I drew and redrew. And not trying too hard. I drew his head coming into the frame from below and leaning in from the right, elbow cocked, resting his chin on his hand, on two hands clasped. I did one with him seated on a picnic blanket together with a few of his significant role models (the actress from The Bad Seed, Margaret Hamilton, Johnny Mathis) arranged to look like Manet's Dejeuner sur l'herbe, with Hamilton seated in the nude's position. Very campy. But the final drawing isn't campy. Considering that he is supposed to be the Pope of Trash, it's quite tasteful. Almost soigné. But as he said on Colbert last week, it kind of looks as if it was drawn by a neurotic eight year-old. Maybe that's what makes it so engaging. We are all neurotic eight year-olds.
Some of Eric's Clients:
The New York Times, the New Yorker, Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazine, Torpedo (Melbourne), Spy, WigWag, Vanity Fair, Oprah, Outside, Time, Town & Country, Travel & Leisure, McSweeney's, the Believer, Aesthetic Apparatus, Atlantic Records, Rolling Stone, Farrar Straus, Knopf, Chronicle, Random House, NYRB, Duffy, Werner Design Werks, Louise Fili, Lucy Sisman, Robert Valentine, NothingSomething, Tolleson, Landor, Fallon, Borders Perrin, Carmichael Lynch, McCann London, Razorfish, GlobalWorks, Coca Cola, Honda, Herman Miller, Target, Nieman Marcus, Nordstrom, Barneys, Williams Sonoma and many others.
Eric is also the author of the book A Book of Ages-an Eccentric Miscellany of Great and Offbeat Moments in the Lives of the Famous & Infamous, Ages 1 to 100 (Harmony/2008, Three Rivers Press/2010)
7.15.10 // Jim Tierney said:Mentioned by name on the Daily Show... Might be a first for a book designer, congrats!