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.

img_3681

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!’

Perfect.

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.

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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. 

Definition #01: Alpha

Alpha by Elou Carroll

It begins with sleep, hazy not-quite sleep, a lilting only-just sleep wherein such worlds and images and peoples are born that could not exist on waking. The Alpha rolls her head across the White and the brightest stars in her constellations wink in response, her fingers twitch and clasp at her chin, and tease at the violet strands they find there. She is a balancing act. A rocking point between sleeping and waking and, as she moves, the stars tremble, waiting as the world beneath grumbles and groans and pushes ever forward. She breathes deep and her stars sigh. The night continues.


First. It begins with me, with my mind and my notebook and my love of words and images so the first image begins with me too. A self-portrait. A challenge. At the time of writing, and when the first shots trickled through my lens—refracting, recording and reflecting my own face—the idea of a self-portrait is, was and continues to be a trial. A gut-wrenching, stomach-twisting, my-fingers-are-shaking-justpressthebutton kind of a trial. A challenge to myself to step in front of my own camera, with the image completely under my control and with artistic intent, for the first time since 2012. In the meantime, I have posed for Dress.Simple in tiny trickles of tiny unplanned shoots, the ones I liked being the ones in which I did not look like myself.

So this image? This image is a dare. I dare you to like yourself.

Second. I adore the stars. Looking up at the stars, when there is little light from towns and cities, is like stepping into a large expanse of freedom but at the same time the endlessness is oppressive, I am crushed by it. I love the stars, and I fear them.

All stories must have a beginning, and so begins the narrative. With stars, and night, and a celestial figure inspired by: Nyx, the Greek goddess of the night, who was present near the beginning of creation, the first of all things, seen only in glimpses and in the shadows of things; and Nut, Egyptian goddess of the sky, who is portrayed as a bluish woman, covered in stars, arching over the world. With her it begins, and perhaps, with some glimpse of her it shall end.

And from these two remarkable creatures is born Alpha; the first night. The beginning.

 Other definitions

noun

  1. the first letter of the Greek alphabet
  2. the vowel sound represented by this letter
  3. a code word representing the letter a in radio communication
  4. Chemistry. one of two or more isometric compounds
  5. the first in a series of related items: frequently used in chemistry and physics

adjective

  1. (of an animal) having the highest rank in a dominance hierarchy; being the most dominant, powerful, or assertive person in a particular group
  2. alphabetical
  3. Chemistry. pertaining or linked to the carbon atom closest to a particular group in an organic molecule

symbol

  1. a plane angle

Origin: Latin, Greek.

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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.

Editing

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

Book Covers I Like: New Releases, August and September 2014

Hello, lovely people. This is a bumper edition of ‘Book Covers I Like’ as I took most of August off, which was both planned and unplanned at the same time.

Never fear, though, for I have several book reviews coming (including the first three Point Horror read-a-thon entries!) and some pretty exciting photography/design to post. You may have noticed there are some new pages up there in the nav bar. Go forth and click for photography and design stuff, more of which is to come.

As ever, found on Twitter, Amazon, Waterstones, Publisher websites, Goodreads and etc so pub dates may be wrong… but, still pretty. The images appear in no particular order.

EDIT 30/09/14: I realised I have featured Flying Shoes twice and am assuming the publication date changed on Goodreads, whatever happened it proves I really, really like that cover.

Things I have learnt: from becoming a Design and Production Assistant

This is the first post in a series of ‘Things I have learnt’ – I have no idea where this series will go but this is the first post and therefore it is worth celebrating – cue Kool & the Gang.

It’s my workiversary! For the last year (wow, that went by quickly!), I have been working at Jessica Kingsley Publishers (and Singing Dragon) as a Design and Production Assistant. This is my first real job and my first official, really real paid job in publishing, and since I have now been there long enough to have had a little publishing baby (that didn’t sound quite as weird in my head), I feel I am ‘qualified’ to tell you things I have learnt from the experience so far.

1. Paper is possibly one of the best things ever invented

I realise how incredibly nerdy this is. But I stand by my guns. While I was doing my Masters, I may have casually scoffed at all of the lectures on paper, not because I didn’t find them interesting (I did!) but because to me paper was just that: paper.

In March, I was able to visit a printing press with my manager for a day’s workshop on paper and printing and ink and the effect light has on said ink – this, I think, was where it started. Even though I have been using (and unintentionally collecting) stationary for years, and reading books for the entirety of the remembered part of my life, I’d never really thought about the paper. Sure, I’d notice if something was thicker or felt different but that’s as far as it went.

While at the printers, we were shown various different samples and asked to guess what they were and what they might be used for. I got a few but mostly failed horrifically. After the subsequent tour of the press, and the return to work, I started to pay a lot more attention. (As well as bugging my co-workers with a lot of possibly stupid questions, sorry guys!)

I got a box of paaaaper

I got a box of paaaaper

Fast forward to now: I have been asked to gather paper samples from all of our printers and it’s stupidly exciting. I received my first sample pack a few weeks ago. There was squealing. Before now, I didn’t know how many possibilities there were, how many different looks and feels you could get, how what a book was printed on could drastically change the way people react to it. It feels powerful. Paper feels powerful.

2. There is a certain sense of pride in wandering around a book shop and knowing what the books you are looking at are made of

I am pretty sure I drive my friends mad when we visit book shops together. Or elicit the ‘nod and smile, nod and smile’ response. Where I used to just pick up a book because it looked pretty or interesting, read the blurb, put it back (or hold on to it because I really had to buy it and it was necessary to my continued existence), I now pick up books which look like they have been produced in an interesting way (or have hand-drawn waves on the cover but that is an entirely different blog entry) and react accordingly.

I pore over the paper, look on the copyright page at the type face if it’s listed (and try to guess what it is if it’s not), work out which finish is on the cover and which fun things have been done to it to make it look more pleasing (my current obsession is uncoated covers with foil details, yummy!), and then, naturally, shove the book in the face of whoever I’m with and tell them all about it, adamant that they should be just as excited as I am. (My best friend tends to pat me on the head, smile and move on to the next interesting book she finds – unless the one I’m shoving at her looks really interesting or has a super matt cover.)

Book shop experiences, for me, are so much better now. I connect with the books in a more material way and I think that is amazing.

3. Nothing is better than seeing a book you have designed in print

This point does not require much commentary – I remember how I felt when my first bit of typesetting arrived in the office, my first cover. Heck, every cover and every bit of typesetting. The reason I wanted to work in Design and/or Production in the first place was so that I could truly be involved in how a book was made. I’d thought about Editorial, or Marketing, but nothing quite appealed as much as being able to work on the book as a physical thing. (By this, I mean creating the physical thing.)

4. Production is the best department

I am horrendously biased. I should say that right now. Absurdly biased. However, there are several reasons that Production is the best and a few of these are as follows:

  1. As I said above, you get to work on the book as an actual, physical thing.
  2. Presents! We get sent things from our printers every so often (the most recent was a box of post it note books, I was perhaps a little too happy about it).
  3. Adobe CC. Beautiful.
  4. Occasionally getting to work on things outside of Production – we have been known to work on things for marketing, I have been known to work on videos. I have no idea if other departments get to do this but we do, so it’s a valid reason.
  5. Gloriously nerdy ‘field trips’.

5. You probably won’t get mentioned in the book

BUT, if you designed the cover, your name will probably be on the back. Woohoo!

I didn’t sign up for the publishing life with the want or expectation that I would be thanked in the books I work on – I get paid to do what I love, it’s awesome. But if your dream is to have your name printed on the acknowledgements page of a book, the designing side of Production is probably not for you.


So, there you have it. Five things I’ve learnt in my first year as a Design and Production Assistant. All images are from my Instagram.