Interview: Marian Bantjes – I Wonder

Published:  April 8, 2011
Interview: Marian Bantjes –  I Wonder

I Wonder is a hypnotic object – from the intricate gold and silver foiling on the black cloth cover to the painstakingly detailed borders that lace every page, it is a delight to behold. World-renowned typographic illustrator Marian Bantjes has compiled a collection of observations and musings on visual culture that are thoughtful, inspiring and occasionally very funny. We ask her about the process of creating this gorgeous edition.

In the introduction, you describe your surprise at discovering some of the essays that had previously been published online were “not nearly ready” for print, and that the web and printed page afford different styles in writing and presentation. Could you describe how you went about ‘rewriting’ these existing essays for the printed page?
The first issue was research and factual errors, so those articles that contained facts, references or anything outside common knowledge needed to be checked and re-researched, some of them fairly extensively. The second was my tone, which can be overly taunting. The web versions were written to be provocative and to start discussion, but in a book there is no discussion, so I had to take back the jibes and the teasing. And the third was just structure, logic, grammar and all those details that make something well-written.

Book designers/illustrators are usually brought in after the author has almost finished writing the content. In this book, you enjoyed the rare opportunity to write, illustrate and design the whole package from scratch. You discuss your intention to ‘illustrate without illustrating’, to make a “fully integrated document where the words and images are interdependent, neither able to fully survive without the other”. How did you approach this task?
Mostly the words came first, but, as the graphics came into it, the writing evolved and changed – it became a mutually dependent process. The most radical example is in ‘1 sign 4 all’, where I rewrote paragraph text into the language of signs, and visually made it look like signs. Smaller details are in the ‘ye olde graphic designer’ chapter, where I rewrote the copy to fit into those tiny corners of the text block. It couldn’t have been done any other way.

Could you describe both your workspace and the process of creating this book?
I took 15 months off from commissioned work to do the book, but still there was travel and a certain amount of goofing off in that time. When I started at the beginning of 2009, I made up a little schedule of how I was going to organise my time day by day… A schedule I kept to for about two days, if that! The writing was by far the hardest part and I spent more time on that than the graphics – it caused me far more grief. In comparison, the graphics were easy. I don’t record my time, so I don’t know how long each border took.

I work from home in my studio upstairs. I live on an island and it’s fairly rural, so it’s quiet, with few interruptions. There’s a lot of wood in my house, so the whole space has a warm glow. When I’m drawing I can listen to podcasts. When I’m on the computer I listen to music, but when I’m writing I have to have complete silence… It takes all my concentration. I don’t have set hours. I was working all the time, but also not working sometimes. I tend to be most productive from early afternoon until sometime after midnight… one or two am.

And, finally, talk to us about the delicious pasta borders. Did you actually make all those frames?
Yes, I actually made each one, each taking about a day, working directly on a white surface, without sketches and without gluing anything down, then shooting the final, and after making sure I got the shot, destroying it and starting another.

Several years back, I was interviewed for a magazine, and they asked me to make the heading for the piece, ‘creativity’, which seemed rather a loaded word to illustrate. So in a way of kind of taking the piss out of it I made it in macaroni, after which I had the idea to do something more elaborate. I stored the idea, and then brought it out for the book. It seemed perfect for this chapter on honour.

From desktop magazine.

All images copyright Marian Bantjes.

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