Last night I went to a fantastic event at the British Library, in association with The Folio Society and House of Illustration. Focusing on the importance of illustration in all fiction, not just children’s books, there were three illustrators in conversation about their work and, in particular, their work for The Folio Society.

The Folio Society are an inspiring publishing firm, dedicated to publishing incredibly beautiful illustrated books; their philosophy, ‘Great books should be outstanding not only in literary content but also in their physical form.’ Really – what’s not to love ! Have a look at their website here – their books are really too lovely and varied for me to do justice to !

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Illustrator Peter Bailey was there chatting about his work on Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials. Peter’s work is very fine, with a definite etching quality to them. The three covers (above) he worked the illustrations in negative, giving them such a beautiful, yet slightly haunting quality. I unfortunately haven’t read the trilogy, but from friends who love it – this is very apt. I really love the evocative nature that the simplicity of line can produce. There was a brilliant write up in The Guardian a few years ago on his work which is definitely worth a read here.

Peter had some really interesting points on working within the field of book illustration, particularly the daunting task of bringing to life a story, and in particular its characters, that the reader themselves can – and usually does – interpret in their own way. The third illustrator, Alexander Wells also touched on this point – giving an amusing anecdote about illustrating a character with curly hair before going back into the text only to find out the character had been described as bald with a beard !

I particularly loved the work of the second illustrator, Sara Ogilvie and, of course, could not resist purchasing the book she illustrated for The Folio Society, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ! She, like a lot of us I imagine, knows the movie inside out, but has never read the book – so had the daunting task of illustrating something that has, in a sense, it’s own very concrete visual reference. To help with this, she researched everything she could that had visually come before in this famous tale – the movie, theatre productions, foreign editions and even some Oz graffiti. I did a little research myself on some of the book covers that have come before …

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Sara then tried to understand the story from her own point of view. The cover is a beautiful piece of book design – reminding us what the book, as an object, has over it’s electronic counterparts ! Inspired by Athenian vases where the figures exist in a three diminutional journey around the vase, so too do the Oz characters journey around the cover and slipcase – as you pull the book from it’s case the characters journey continues to Oz – hopefully my photo’s, although not exactly doing it justice, illustrate this effect. The book cover itself, with the lion intertwined with OZ is a tribute the W.W. Denslow’s original title page.

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Illustrating a whole book is challenging and fascinating process for illustrators. A key point all three illustrators reiterated was the skill – and challenge – in having to choose key events to illustrate that not only carry the narrative through, but are also regularly positioned throughout. They also discussed, what I thought was particularly interesting, when designing the book cover only they would given just a synopsis of the book as opposed to the complete manuscript. I wonder how restricting this is for illustrators? I know myself, often after designing the complete interior of a book (admittedly I design only non-fiction), the cover designs before and after designing the interior, can be very different and usually a lot more informed and successful after.

They also all agreed that the computer is a fantastic tool but, for them, the initial hand drawing is essential – it doesn’t matter how good your computer skills are, if the original drawing isn’t up to it, it’ll never quite work. So true ! Well – true in my own approach, it is far too easy and distracting to go straight to Indesign and start ‘playing’ with layout/grid/fonts. Far better to find a cafe somewhere, sketch book and brief in hand, to ponder the essence of the book you’re about to ‘sculpt’ into shape …

A brilliant evening that has left lots to ponder – not least of all how exactly am I going to house all the beautiful Portfolio Society editions I want to buy ?!

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I went to see Metamorphosis at the Lyric Theatre last night. A surreal, dark and at sometimes very comic play, it is based on the short story by Franz Kafka about an ordinary family whose lives get turned upside down when their son Gregor wakes up one morning having inexplicably been turned into a giant, monstrous insect.

The set design by Börkur Jónsson, an Icelandic stage designer, is both fantastic and appropriately fantastical. The upper half of the split-level design is Gregor’s bedroom is viewed from a bird’s eye perspective, literally turning our perspective upside down. The clever placement of props and fixtures allows Gregor to climb all over his room in an incredible display of bug-like acrobatics.

LyricMetamorphosis was first published in Germany in 1915, considered one of the seminal works of fiction in the twentieth century, it has been translated into many languages and been reprinted many times. As it is always interesting to see different design approaches to a similar theme, I thought I would collect together a few of the numerous jacket designs I found…

Metamorphosis Franz Kafka

I particularly love Christos Kourtoglou‘s illustration (top, second from left). An illustrator based in Athens Greece, he used scraps of paper to create this cover to beautiful effect.

I also like Ben Rothery‘s illustration (bottom, second from right) for Penguin, seen below in full

Ben_RotheryKafka wrote Metamorphosis in the height of the German Expressionist movement, which spanned the 1920s and 30s, and this cover is very evocative of the woodcuts by artists such as Ernst Barlach, Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Beckmann. The German Expressionist movement is one of my favourites and definitely deserves a blog post all of its own …

I've just discovered the beautiful work of book designer Louise Fili (married to the amazing Steven Heller) while listening to her interview with Debbie Millman on Design Matters. Her typography is exquisite, her grandparents were originally from Italy, a country which still influences her - the food and the design - which I think is very evident in her work. She also now designs a lot of restaurant identities and food packaging. This is the cover of her monograph, Elegantissima - which I might just have to put on expenses… See more of her work at here

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It was a very exciting day for lizzie b design yesterday as we had our first official press launch for Jasper Morris’s Inside Burgundy: Cote de Beane and The Annual Report 2012/13 eBooks, published by BB&R Press and created by me in Apple software iBooks Author. Guardian journalist Stuart Dredge was also at the launch and had some very nice things to say about our work – click here to read his article.

iBooks Author is a straight-forward piece of software designed to easily produce a basic enhanced eBook for iPad – but with a little more time, care and consideration it is possible to create something unique and bespoke. As a book designer who had more experience of ink and paper than code and platforms, it has been an invaluable resource that has allowed me to easily translate my book design skills to create beautiful eBooks, fit for purpose, that enhance the reader’s experience while still maintaining their spirit as a book. Because I have control over the whole process, without having to worry about code or negotiate with coders, it gives me the freedom to concentrate on the content and design and allows me to work in an organic manner – going back and forward between iBooks Author and iPad, testing and tweaking, to create something that is beautiful, immersive and informative.

Best of all – it has been incredibly fun to design ! Available now on iTunes …

We all have a treasured book that has been ruined by its adaptation to the big screen – but, personally, worse is when they ruin a beautiful, intriguing jacket with a still from the movie. Why ?!

There are, obviously, many ‘rules’ about what consitutes a great jacket design – but if we leave aside the pure design considerations for now (hard to do I know) – to me a great jacket design should echo the theme of the book – oh so subtly – but leave the rest up to your own imaingation.

Putting something so descriptive takes away the power from you, the reader, to interpret your own reading. The Road – Cormac CcCarthy’s incredible narrative – follows two unnamed protaganists and their journey through a post-apocalyptic world. The ambiguity of the original jacket captures this beautifully. The movie jacket? Not so much.

How beautiful are these dust jackets ! Penguin have published these sumptuous editions of F.Scott Fitzgeralds work to mark the 70th anniversary of his death. Art Deco is one of my favourite movements so these particularly resonate with me. And you can’t beat a bit of gold foiling …..

Check out all five here

This is a beautiful piece of book design from Stockholm Design Lab, part of the visual identity they designed for the Venice Biennale this year. To communicate the concept, Making Worlds, they combined visual elements of flags from around the world. I love the graphic simplicity and variation of the jackets shown here. It reminds me of the work of the Russian constructivists – the interior spread shown even definitely reminds me of Alexander Rodchenko’s work.

See more of the book and identity they designed here