Cover Notes — April

Published:  April 22, 2013
Heath Killen
Cover Notes — April

Each month this year we’re going to be featuring a little more information about the design, printing, and concept of our magazine covers. Check out previous entries for February and March.

The cover image for our April issue (#292 – Who Are You?) was created by Melbourne based designer Jenny Grigg. Many readers may know Grigg as the art director of Meanjin, or you may be familiar with her ongoing collaborations with author Peter Carey. Jenny is profiled in the issue and among other things she talks about travelling around the country with her scientist parents, an experience which gave her a unique appreciation for Australia’s natural environment.

More than just a stunning graphic, the cover for this issue is also a textural delight – realised again by Avon Graphics.  The black ink of the leaves was printed by Desktop’s printer Souther Colour, who then sent it on to Avon for the finishing touches. Avon created a sculptured embossing plate, which was pressed into the cover to create a physical impression of the artwork – including the subtle details of overlapping leaves and spindly twigs. Once embossed, the image then had a clear foil printed on top. Rubbing your hand across the cover reveals the intricate details of the image. Jenny also included the scientifc name for the wattle in the artwork - Acacia Falcata - which has been added as a blind emboss.

For this cover Jenny presented two ideas, both part of a new series of prints that she has been working on.  Today we’re sharing her alternative design, as well as the process behind the series —

I like very graphic shapes and have worked with letterforms a lot to generate different abstract graphics. To try something else, I began printing native leaves instead of wood type, just with black ink to highlight their form. I was conscious of choosing native Australian leaves rather than rose petals, say, as our leaf shapes are a point of difference.

A Bunya Pine silhouette made by Jenny Grigg after returning from the land of silhouettes, Denmark.

While living in Denmark, I was really taken by their tradition of cutting silhouettes. They have long and pure graphic shapes in black. A friend there had a gorgeous cut silhouette of a tree framed on her wall. Simple, stark and very modern, although made traditionally and decades ago. My eyes went to it every time I visited. When I was back in Australia, I tried my own version. I chose a bunya pine, a massive Australian native pine with an incredible dome- shaped silhouette. There is nothing like living in another country to bring your Australianness into focus. Identity is all about comparing differences and similarities.

When I was asked to contribute some work on an issue that looked at ‘identity’ I thought these native flora graphic experiments would fit the brief. These images show the process of making my first Banksia test print. Before I took the idea too far I knew I wanted to make a relief print traditionally first, so I cut a large woodblock and made a simple hand print.

I tossed up between a wattle leaf print and a banksia print for the cover. In hindsight I prefer the banksia. The banksia leaf is my favourite shape. I could print with it for the rest of my life (maybe).

Jenny’s words bring up an interesting issue in design: choice. With any given project, we’re likely to travel down many paths and explore numerous options. So how do we decide which one to go with? What drives our choices? Do the same principles always apply, or are we reinventing our vetting method each time we need to employ it? Of course there’s a “due diligence” that usually takes place. Options are weighed up. Comparisons are made. But often a choice comes down to an emotional decision – an instinct.

Both of Jenny’s proposed covers were wonderful, and it was indeed very difficult to choose between them. They both have obvious similarities (from the subject matter to the process) and they both possess unique strengths. The banksia has a powerful, unmistakable shape – and one that is infrequently used. There are some beautiful textural details in there too. In contrast, the wattle is lighter and more delicate, however it is still an unusual and visually interesting shape. In the end we simply felt that this one fit (or perhaps set?) the tone of the issue perfectly. There was a particular energy created by leaves and their placement on the cover that just felt immediately appealing. It is interesting to consider our decision in light of Jenny’s comment that the shape of the banksia is her favourite, and that the design (in hindsight) was her preference. She obviously has a strong connection to the plant, and to me this highlights that much of the decision making process in design is driven (perhaps often subconsciously) by our experiences and personal associations.

I love this cover. It captures the raw natural beauty of Australian flora and is a gentle, contemplative way of addressing the issue’s theme of cultural identity. Native flora is also something that is rarely explored in contemporary Australian design and Grigg does this in such an clever way. The result of her process is bold yet fragile and, in her own words “unapologetically graphic”. These qualities simply felt like the right fit at the time.

Ultimately, our decision making is what makes us unique as designers. As an industry, we may all share many of the same qualities and interests, however it is our personal histories, our unique tastes, and those instincts we develop over time that set us apart from each-other.

I’d love to know though – which cover would you have chosen and why?

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