Design I like: Musical Posters

I haven’t done one of these posts in a very long time. In fact, I started this one in… 2015. (Whoops.) It kept being pushed back by other posts and before I knew it, it was at the bottom of my drafts pile.

I adore musicals, and while I worked in London I often found myself stopping to stare at the beautiful posters on display in the Underground (even before I knew they were for musicals at times) – it’s one of the things I miss about working in London. These are some of my favourites.

The time has come for this series to make a comeback, including the covers I really like. Cover design has been fantastic lately, and I am ready to shout about it again.


In which we visit the House of MinaLima

img_3664Be still my beating heart. This weekend, myself and fellow graphic design enthusiast (and former production gremlin as we have been affectionately known), Becca, ventured into London on a mission for cake and beautiful graphic design. We succeeded on both counts.

I am going to start this by saying that if you love Harry Potter, go to the House of MinaLima. If you love graphic design, go to the House of MinaLima. If at all possible. (Though, it is supposed to be closing in early February but there has been a petition to keep it open permanently so we shall keep all of our fingers and toes and cross-able appendages crossed, arms, legs, everything.)

It really is a spectacular display.


The exhibition is exceedingly popular (and for good reason), as we approached, me giddy with excitement and practically bouncing down the street, we saw the queue. It wriggled around a street corner, unfortunately blocking the entry way to a pub much to their chagrin though the MinaLima staff were trying their hardest to make sure visitors left a gap, and people were joining it at a pretty constant rate. If there’s anything we British are good at, it’s queuing so we dealt with it in a way expected from Millenials; we took selfies. Even the American and French tourists we saw seemed to be in good spirits despite the long wait to get in. We were dancing about in the queue for around forty minutes (all of which were incredibly chilly).

There’s something about the magic of Harry Potter that makes queuing that bit more exciting, and makes people more happy and willing to do it – so many queue for a few moments pretending to be running through a wall in King’s Cross station, for example. The mood in the queue (how many times can I type the word queue in this little section?) was for the most part jubilant. People were excited. It may have been freezing cold but there were giggles and exclamations of joy to be heard all around. Some people left, not interested enough to stick out the chill, but those who remained seemed to bubble with energy, getting closer and closer to boiling point as they neared the door.

Once inside we were instructed to start on the first floor but before we got there, I noticed my first little detail and I knew I was going to love everything. There was a door next to the stairs, and instead of simply reading ‘No Entry’ or ‘Staff Only’ this door said ‘No Entry. Trolls in the Dungeon!’


img_3701The House of MinaLima is covered in design. Covered. Even the stairs had Hogwarts letters pasted to them, and the walls newsprint. The folks at MinaLima have committed wholly to not just creating an exhibition but creating an experience and it’s pretty mind-blowing.

The first floor is reserved for items from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, including wanted posters and the delightfully styled advertisements seen throughout the film. Plus all of the New Salem Philanthropic Society paraphernalia. I want all of it. I am hoping that they will release a series of t-shirts with the designs on. That would make me incredibly happy, already owning one courtesy of LootCrate.

img_3704We had a little bit of a wait before we could ascend the winding staircase once again to reach the second floor but the waiting is more than worth it. I think the second floor was my favourite.   

I had heard, from the radios held by the staff members, the word Marauders several times while looking around the first floor. I had assumed it was just code for the visitors until I reached the second floor. The entire floor is made up of a section of the Marauder’s Map and it is incredible. I had imagined wonderful things but I had never imagined I would be walking on that map.

img_3685Along with the wonder of the map are labels from potions, labels from Dumbledore’s memories, the Whomping Willow as it appears on the map, Hogwarts letters hanging from the ceiling as if they’re falling and lots of other lovely papery coloured things. Muted colours. It was very calming.

Until you venture behind the door. Behind the door is the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes section and it explodes with colour. Even the walls and floor are brightly patterned. I was squeaking with delight on a near permanent basis.

img_3683The third and last floor had two rooms, one larger with a fire place from which hundreds of letters cascaded, and the covers and designs of all of the books Harry and the gang use in their Hogwarts career.

I adored this part. I love books and I love book design and I love designing books so seeing the covers as I had never really seen them before was a wonderful experience. Not only that but enclosed in cases on the walls (which looked delightfully Victorian) were actual copies of the books as used in the films. Most were battered and worn as if they were old and it took all of my willpower not to beg the nearest staff member to let me hold one.

img_3682The second room has Harry’s Undesirable No.1 poster and the wanted posters of Bellatrix and Sirius, as well as many front pages of the Daily Prophet. For such a small room, it is quite imposing.

In terms of the building’s structure, the third floor was my favourite. It’s so old that the floor is warped into waves and it feels light a building right out of Diagon Alley. I can imagine the amount of careful thought that went into choosing just the right building. They got it spot on.

img_3686Even if I was absolutely terrified of walking back down the stairs.

I present this statement with the adjacent evidence: look at my face in this picture. This picture represents both my absolute terror at being stood on the stairs and having to then walk down them (stairs are a problem for me) but also my absolute wonder at all of the beautiful design and pretty much being inside the world of Harry Potter. I tried so hard in this photo. I don’t hate it (which is surprising considering it’s not one I took myself). I am getting better at liking photos. I am proud of myself.

img_3702Luckily for me, not many people were wanting to come down and no one was currently wanting to go up, so my descent was not traumatising (for the most part, I was incredibly nervous the whole way down). It was so worth the stairs. I was so nervous when I was in the queue, despite my excitement, I had read on the website about the uneven stairs and I had been thinking about it ever since. But I was determined not to let it stop me and I am so glad my determination won out.

img_3695The gift shop was last. There was a sale on. It would have been rude not to buy anything. Rude. I wanted to buy a print but couldn’t quite justify the spend right there and then and didn’t feel like I could make such an important decision about which one on the spot. I am not ruling out buying one online though. In fact, I probably will. Instead, I opted for the two sets of Hogwarts postcards (each with book covers and such inside) and an original MinaLima design on a t-shirt. A Parliament of Owls. I had to. I also intend to buy their Murder of Crows design, and am hoping for a Tiding of Magpies to be sold as apparel too. Not to mention their exquisitely produced editions of Peter PanThe Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. I am a sucker for their design and I am not ashamed.

Much to my surprise Miraphora Mina was actually there. I was too chicken to say anything to her (I had no idea what to say) but it made me so happy to be in the same place as one of the creative minds behind all of that incredible work. From what I heard of someone else’s conversation with her (they were inquiring about work experience) she seemed very down to earth and willing to help budding designers. Excellent.

I hope they are able to keep it open, I would love to venture back there again and I would love more people to be able to see it. It’s incredible and it was an afternoon well spent.

Cover Design 2013 to September 2015

 As you may, or may not, know book design is both something I love and something I do as a job (hoorah!), and since I am bringing this blog back to life, I thought the first design post should be my own. I will be posting my own covers every so often, including those I’ve rescued from the reject pile!

All of these covers were designed in the last two years, I rather like the backs too but am saving them for later. (Insert sneaky facial expressions and appropriate hand gestures.) It’s quite satisfying to see them all in one place. Lovely.

Check back next month for a Halloween-esque cover feature!

Apologies for the sketchy quality of some – jpeg compression plus wordpress compression doth not a happy cover make in some cases, particularly when the colours are bright. 

Design diary: Cardboard Castle, Inspired by Bunnies

The Shoot

Back in August I was asked to take photos for the debut EP of Cardboard Castle, a local, Oxfordshire band, who are not only great musicians but wonderful people to boot. After a few talks about what they wanted, we bundled into the car and drove the tiny, winding roads to Bernwood Forest. Anyone who has looked at my photography before knows how much I love green, leafy, natural settings, combine that with the golden hour and I am pretty much in heaven.

We arrived when the sun was starting to set but couldn’t find the location we were looking for, or rather, the location we were looking for was so overgrown that at least one band member would be lost in the grass. Luckily for us, a very excitable dog took interest and with that dog (whose name I cannot remember, but I do remember him being incredibly cute) came his owner, who pointed us in the direction of what would become our set.

It was perfect; a grassy path bordered on each side with trees, and the sun setting behind the trees (a word comes to mind: komorebi, the Japanese word for sunlight filtering through trees). It wasn’t dappled, it was just soft and golden. Due to the time of day, there was no one about and our shoot was pretty much uninterrupted. While it is nice when people take an interest, I do prefer photoshoots in which I don’t have an audience, where I can be more relaxed and not super aware that there are people standing behind me, quite possibly judging every shot I take.

I knew before the shoot started that I didn’t want it to look too staged, people always look their best when they are at their most relaxed (unless you count me right now, sprawled on a sofa in my PJs – comfy but not photogenic). Other than getting them to stand/sit where I wanted them, I didn’t give any direction at all. The guys played their instruments and Georgina (who may be referred to as Gorg later) stood in the middle, reacting to things they were doing and enjoying the scenery, opting not to sing in case of unfortunate expressions.

Hopping about, taking photos as I went, I left them to it and it paid off. I knew which shot would end up on the EP as soon as I’d taken the photo, and while I did offer them more options, I knew that this would be the one. It was, in fact, one of the only photos I took the time to expand. If you’ve ever heard me talk about my photography, you already know I prefer to expand rather than crop. It’s always better to make an image larger, than smaller, so expansion photos are a pretty crucial part of the process.

Once we’d finished taking the EP images, I shot a load of random portraits before we hopped back in car and went home in the last fleeting moments of daylight.


I always had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted the colours to look like and stuck pretty closely to what I could see while the shoot was happening. The camera dulled the warm tones and I very much wanted to bring them back. Cardboard Castle often perform quite bright, happy, playful sounding songs so I wanted the colours to reflect that, while their posing and expressions were more serious. I didn’t want to do a huge amount to the images, so it was mainly just colouring and contrast.

The back cover required a different edit due to my standing with the sun behind me, I had to make sure the trees were dark enough to make the text readable and that there was enough space. Again, I didn’t do too much to it. The edit was mostly trial and error, while I was clear on what I wanted for the front, I hadn’t made any editing plans for the back.

Design and Typography

I played with fonts for a while, I knew I wanted something playful, sans serif, possibly handwritten but I wasn’t sure. The original draft of the type was a very thin sans serif with a doodled castle bordering the top right corner. The castle didn’t take, I couldn’t get it to look as crisp and clean as I wanted and after a few trials, it wasn’t really something I thought worth pursuing. Perhaps, on later EPs (providing they keep me!) I will attempt to bring it back but for this EP simpler was best.

The fonts I ended up with are Belta for the logo, Amatic SC for the EP title and tracklist, and Lane – Narrow for the back cover credit text. The tracklist could have been centred, but that approach looked better on a different image. All in all, a simple design from the off.

The Finished Product

Cardboard Castle - Inspired by Bunnies

Cardboard Castle - Inspired by Bunnies

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – an MA Publishing Design Project.

As I spent last Tuesday wandering around looking ridiculous in a boiling hot, very heavy graduation gown. I figured it was high time I posted about my major project, which I have been meaning to post about for 9 months now.

See above, here I am in said ridiculous graduation get up with my best friend, without whom, along with our Alice, Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts and etc. pictured in the images to follow, my major project would not have been possible.

We had long wanted to do an Alice related photography project and my MA seemed like the perfect opportunity. Beth, pictured above, assembled all of the costumes (having made some of the pieces herself!) and did the makeup and hair styling for each character, Rebekah acted as our chameleon and played the entire cast of characters barring the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, I shot the images, manipulated them and typeset the text until we had a finished book. I call these two my dream team and for good reason.

Three days were spent shooting all of the images, I took at least 800 , if not more, during those three days. It was quite possibly the most entertaining experience of my life. Once all of the images were shot, 3 months were spent creating the rest of the book. Each image had to be carefully chosen and manipulated, only a small number actually made it into the finished book. Images were shot in natural light on a Canon 550D using a 50mm f/1.8 lens, mostly in a garden in front of a white sheet. They were edited in Photoshop CS6 and the book was designed in InDesign CS6.

Surprisingly, it all fell together without much trouble, though a few of the images can no longer be edited (I am still baffled as to why).

The book wasn’t the only thing I submitted, I also included a website splash page, some designs for playing cards, an AI, alternate cover and what OICPS classes as a BLAD, in addition to two videos which can be found at the end of the post.

There are a few things I wish I’d done differently but, overall, I was incredibly happy with this project and have a printed version sitting proudly on a shelf in my bedroom. It was the biggest project I’d ever undertaken and I came out the other side with all of my faculties still intact and more Adobe knowledge than I had before I started.

Below, you can see the whole thing in all its digital glory (though, seeing it in print is far more satisfying and I’m not sure why the issuu viewer is appearing quite so tiny – click on it for full-screen).