“To Evelyn”: An Interview about People, Book Design, and Layout

"To Evelyn": An Interview about People, Book Design, and Layout

“To Evelyn, Posters From The Stars” showcases gig posters from a pub in a small British town. The designer and editor spoke with us about book design.

Every so often, a book comes along with the right combination of whimsy, aspiration, local-ness, and a respectful appreciation for a time and place that no longer exists — or perhaps never did. The latest in this trend is To Evelyn, Posters From the Stars.

From the publisher’s website:

“To Evelyn” is a collection of local entertainers posters from a working mens club in a small Yorkshire pit village. Originally collected in the 1990s by local personality Evelyn Short and now assembled by her grandson David, the posters are a celebration of a bygone era.

The book is full of pictures of local gig posters. What’s so special about the collection is that all these performances happened in one little place, and a single person did all the archiving based on her personal experience. Most of the posters are made out to her — Evelyn.

Discovering this book made me want some insight into creating books: their planning, design, layout, and production techniques. How you can share relationships among the different tasks or break them out to different people. I was also curious about how to treat subject matter like this, which could easily become mockery.

I reached out to Patrick Fry, of CentreCentre, the book’s publisher in London. CentreCentre’s offerings are very British, very image heavy, and very high quality. In Fry’s words, they are “unusual collections of design and printed matter.” Perfecto. To Evelyn falls squarely within their expertise, and I can think of few publishers, big or small, who could really honor a project like this.

Here’s what  I learned.

Aaron White: How was the idea for the project born, and who contacted whom about producing and publishing the collection?

Patrick Fry: David Short, Evelyn’s grandson approached CentreCentre about the book. He needed to find a publisher who understood the collection, why it was important, and why it needed to be treated carefully. To Evelyn fit right in with CentreCentre’s focus on unusual collections of design and printed matter.

AW: Did production require any special equipment or processes, or did you hire a service for the volume of work? Was there a person in charge of controlling or overseeing the quality, or making sure that the scans were accurate?

PF: Actually they were not scanned, they were photographed. We wanted to reproduce the posters not just as images but as objects so complete with all the light and texture that would disappear in a flat scan. The process took a few days of shooting — it was all done by Evelyn’s grandson who is a photographer: David Short. Although he specializes in portrait photography, the posters were reproduced immaculately with careful attention to light and texture that made the job look so easy.

AW: Did you use a grid structure for the project? It seems that the pages all fit nicely together, even if they’re not hosting images of the same dimensions. If you weren’t using a grid, how did you lay out the pages? Was it by sight on an individual basis?

PF: Yes the layout is all set on a simple 6 column grid but instead of taking a completely systematic approach we wanted the combinations and size hierarchy to feel natural — like the images had fallen into place. This meant that we had a selection of set sizes, but the rules were broken when the spread called for it. The images were ordered to create a gentle sense of pace, using color and theme grouping to create interesting combinations.

AW: Did you use InDesign or another layout program? Any plug-ins or anything? What about any processes or obstacles to laying out a large book primarily of images, such as file sizes, file handling, organization, and anything production-focused.

PF: The book was all created in InDesign and didn’t require anything unusual. Our images did require some careful attention as we were reproducing printed matter from a variety of sources, which means a variety of dot sizes in the images. This could have resulted in a terrible moire mess — so we had to look at each image individually to asses the dot size and apply a few adjustments. Namely the images needed to be carefully blurred according to the dot size and then resharpened. We applied this effect in varying measures before getting proofs made to determine the lowest level of adjustment possible.

AW: Were there any printing issues, or was this a smooth operation? What are some experiential lessons you learned about book design and production?

PF: See above. Working with great printers is a must. This book was printed by Albe de Coker, a Belgian printer, who have a great eye for detail, so we were in safe hands. Reproducing the intense colors in the posters was a must, so we printed on a UV press, which dries the ink immediately after printing. The cover material as provided by Winter and Company, it’s a dark blue cloth embedded with sparkly glitter pieces which is a nice introduction to the showbiz sparkle found inside.

AW: The general presentation and copy has a very respectful tone. In the age of post-irony, it can be really easy to poke fun at outdated haircuts and the like, but I don’t feel as if this project goes there. How was respect for the subjects as real people maintained?

PF: Yes, this was a consideration from the start. The goal was to create something that honored the posters and their idiosyncratic styling but absolutely did not have fun at their expense. These are real people who bravely put themselves out there and we wanted to show respect for that.

AW: Have you been in contact with any of the subjects in the book’s posters since publishing? Was there any contact beforehand for permission, or just goodwill?

PF: We did contact the club who held all these acts, they found the idea of the project pretty bemusing! I hope that if any of the acts from the book have stumbled upon it they are happy to have been included — it was certainly an honor to work with their wild posters.

AW: Does any information exist about who designed these original posters? Was it a single person or from various people?

PF: We know very little about who designed and shot them actually. They were certainly envisioned by the acts themselves; I believe you can really see personal touch in each design and art direction choice.

All images courtesy of CentreCentre.

For more great interviews with designers about production techniques, check out these articles:

Aaron Draplin on Life, Design, and Taking the Work Home
Insight from the Freelance Designer and Digital Nomad Behind Walking Designs
The Rise of Zine Culture and the Power of Women in the Arts
Using the Creativity in Naive Art for Your Design Style
7 Tips for Finishing and Refining Your Design Work

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