An End and a Beginning

Thatch sent through some interesting reading as he regularly does. The article this time was titled “An End of Books” by Seth Godin. It’s not a very long article but for those of us who care about the demise of the printed book and bookshops and the publishing industry, it’s worth reading and reflecting on. In it’s substance I found echoes of my own experiences and thoughts. His observations are a burr to get the thought muscles churning.

The article is not a doom-sayers message but rather a prod to consider the future. From the point of view of someone who has worked in libraries of one sort or another for the greatest part of my working career and who has recently entered the world of publishing; nothing that Seth Godin had to say was news to me.

I still read the article with sadness and I think I heard the sadness that Seth Godin too feels for the passing of books and all that the passing encompasses. What he did say that gave me pause was, “I fear that our cultural and corporate connections to books as a delivery system may blind us to the alternatives.

Without Amazon and CreateSpace and services like those – the Print on Demand book Citizen Jane: Transformative Citizenship in a Globalized World by Jane Sloane would never have seen the light of day. It’s a very worthy book, but the market it is directed at, is niche. I doubt there would have been even one corporate publisher who would have taken it on. It is also the author’s first book. So instead of hawking the book to countless publishers we set about to do it ourselves.

What the new technology has done for this author and this book is allow us to crowd source much of the funding for the manuscript production through Kickstarter and then use CreateSpace to print and deliver, within a matter of days, one or more copies of the finished book to purchasers anywhere in the world. To use social media and a blog to engage with the author’s audience. That’s empowering. Oh, and electronic versions of the book will be available shortly.

What it hasn’t done though is provide the merchandising and publicity support that was the business of the publishers. For independent authors/self publishers this can cause further problems because booksellers are used to dealing with publishers not directly with authors. It brings up all sorts of issues including payments, margins, returns and so on. How do you respond to a bookshop who don’t know how to deal with you because you are an author and not a “real” publisher? If you are happy to simply publish your POD book and let Amazon do the rest then you likely won’t sell too many copies.

It’s a massive learning curve, but I see opportunity here.

Seth Godin is so right when he says that we have to reinvent the business model. While I will personally always prefer a real book – electronic versions aren’t real books in my world; they are an unsatisfactory alternative, but an alternative that we will all probably have to come to terms with sooner or later.

I’ve also seen instances of the decline of ecosystem that he talks about at the University library where I used to work for twenty years. The library had ceased to be a quite place to study and read. In an effort to stay relevant it was filled instead by the noisy chatter of groups sprawled around bays of computer terminals where previously bookshelves had stood. The library extended opening hours, even proposing a coffee shop inside the library. By the time I left, book budgets had been repeatedly slashed in order to pay the staggering sums needed to purchase electronic resources.

I spent much of my time in the last couple of years at the library withdrawing and discarding thousands of volumes from our collections to bring the library in line with the new policy of a library without books. That was the glorious future that our chief librarian had brought back to us after her sojourns to Academic libraries in the States and elsewhere. Nor were we alone in this endeavour, it was an idea that spread like contagion through some of the more poorly funded Australian Academic libraries in an effort to offset the rising costs of electronic resources.

I rescued a small number of those reject books and journals before they were pulped and these are now part of our own home collection packed in boxes added to the other thousands of books in boxes stacked in our spare room. I miss the floor to ceiling bookshelved walls we built into our old house–one day I’d like a home where my books can all be on display again.

Nothing that Seth Godin said was new or incendiary; just what is. Like it or not, the world is changing and books and book publishing with it. Books will possibly again become something that only the affluent or the eccentric will want or be able to afford – somebody (I can’t remember who) postulated that very idea a while back.

As far as I’m concerned the positive thing is that people are reading–whether it’s words consumed on an electronic device or savoured on a paper page is a matter of preference and convenience. Long live the printed book.

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Posted in Chapters

Thoughts on Doctor Who.

“I support affirmative action, I support positive role models, I support great female lead roles on TV and film and in books but I disagree with the writer of this New York Times opinion piece. For starters, I certainly was not disappointed with the choice of Capaldi for the lead role of Doctor Who. The assertion of the writer that all Whovian fandom was waiting for a female Doctor is patent nonsense and expresses nothing more than the writers personal bias.

In fact, Stephen Moffatt, the current head writer of the series was reported by the HuffPost as saying: “I didn’t feel enough people wanted it,” he said, according to The Telegraph. “Oddly enough, most people who said they were dead against it — and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this — were women, saying, ‘No, no, don’t make him a woman.'”

As a passionate Doctor Who fan for most of my life, as a woman and as a proud Feminist, I am dead set against changing the gender of the Doctor. More so if it’s to appease those politicking for diversity or to overturn gender roles. The writer does not posit a single argument illustrating why such a change is needed or even desirable. Instead the writer argues that it is an opportunity to push politically motivated agendas–give me a break. That’s as laughable as suggesting that Santa, or Pooh Bear or Batman or any of the millions of other fictional male lead characters be re-cast as women or with some other diverse trait just because it could be used to further a social or cultural cause.

If the issue is so damned important and I have to argue that it is, then the right thing to do is to help, to encourage, to create and to develop strong fictional characters and roles in their own right; characters who display and celebrate diversity. Stop encouraging the lazy bastardisation of existing characters and most of all; keep your politically motivated mitts off Doctor Who.”

*****************************************************************

I wrote the preceding post after Thatch sent me the article which can be found at the following link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/opinion/diversity-and-doctor-who.html?_r=0
He knew that I had already publicly expressed my dismay at the thought of a female Doctor Who, so guessed I might be interested in the article. Indeed I was, but by the time I had read it, the comments section on the post had closed and my indignant response was doomed to silence; instead I turned to Facebook initially and now here to my blog.

Thatch and fake Tardis - Glasgow.

Thatch and fake Tardis – Glasgow.

With the announcement of the 12th Doctor Who being anticipated by many fans of the long running series, it was only fair that speculation as to the identity of the next actor to play the Time Lord was rife. Along with the speculation about which male actor would pluck that plum role, there were a few voices agitating that a woman, or at the very least a member of a minority group be cast in the role.

What was the reason for this vocal opposition to the casting of yet another Anglo male, do you suppose? Could it be that the reason was that it would advance the Doctor Who mythology and canon? No, that wasn’t it. Was the reason perhaps that it would enhance the characterisation of the Doctor? No, not that either. Was the reason because it could better explain the fictional universe that Doctor Who and companions inhabit? No, no way. Was it perhaps that anybody other than an Anglo male could do a better job in the role? Again. No, not the reason stated, though a possibility.

Each of these, individually and collectively are acceptable and plausible grounds for considering a change, indeed each successive actor reinterprets the role. Instead most of these vocal agitators merely view it as a chance to break “the glass ceiling” or as a missed opportunity to feature a member of a minority to fulfil a legal public sector equality requirement.

Then I read the following article:
Doctor Who can change the world with a sidekick and a satsuma. Why can’t he become a she?

“Why is it so hard to conceive of a female Doctor, or a black Doctor? For the same reason that it is hard to conceive of a female president or a black Prime Minister, or any world government or economic power not largely controlled by rich white men: because we cannot imagine it. Because we refuse to imagine it. Because the stories we tell ourselves and each other about power and history don’t often include women and non-white people in leading roles. “[Laurie Penny]

I read these words with suspicion. I experience no difficulty imagining a female Doctor–I can even imagine myself in the role-neither am I afraid of change; I just don’t want to watch a female Doctor Who on the telly. I’ve even speculated on a different ethnicity for the doctor – but reasoned, for goodness sake that he (yes he) is a non-human humanoid, an alien of an all but extinct species – why would he regenerate into a black or a Chinese or an Italian unless there were analogues on his now defunct home world.

And if he did regenerate into an Indian, let’s say–he might wear the outward characteristics, but as an alien the similarities would only be skin deep as he would be unfamiliar with and would not have access to the cultural or ethnic baggage associated with this ethnicity. The Laurie Penny comparison is not valid. Real life versus fiction; not the same thing at all.

You may well ask, why I have chosen this insignificant issue on which to take a stand? Truthfully? I’m fed up with Political Correctness and the extremes that it is increasingly being stretched to-because it diminishes diversity, homogenises creativity, stifles self expression and here’s the biggie, obscures the real issues.

So what has Political Correctness done in this situation? I’ll tell you. There have been well meaning and a scattering of patronising people bang on about how important it would be to have, for example, a female Doctor Who, (a fictional character in a family show) crash through the “glass ceiling” to raise the spirits of women – yeah seriously? I’ll tell you what will raise our spirits – how about an end to violence against women, an end to poverty, an end to inequality and child exploitation or how about a positive move to real power in female hands? Political Correctness says: “Don’t worry about the big picture – concentrate on the small shit and the rest can be overlooked and if anybody should notice – you can point to me and show that you care.” I am being cynical I know–but the debate in the NYT article and others on the subject – is farcical.

This narrowness of vision is indicative of why we haven’t tackled the big issues. It promotes the kind of thinking that leads by illustration rather than example, lest it offend. It’s indicative of the kind of thinking that places too much importance on seeing ourselves reflected back from the screen or page rather than from real life. It’s the kind of vision that doesn’t want to leave anything to the imagination or give credit to people who achieve despite obstacles – oh look, that would be all of us–women and men, marvellous multihued multitudes – not all Noble Laureate material, but survivors and achievers all the same.

Yep, I’m for empowering women and other minorities, for assisting the transition, for promoting realistic representation in the arts, for stomping on the bigots, for imagining a better world and trying to do something about it – but for goodness sake, let’s get some perspective and focus on the real issues and stop hiding behind Political Correctness in the guise of equality and diversity.

Oh and while we’re at it – hands off Doctor Who.

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Posted in Chapters

Citizen Jane cover artwork

It’s been a difficult time for me with the, not unexpected but bewilderingly devastating death of my dad and all of the other things that have been going on in my life, so that once again my posts here have been mute.

I’ve not drawn much, taken many photographs or really exercised my creative side recently. Saying that, I thought I would post about a project I’ve been working on and off for most of this year. It’s a post about working with a client who is foremost a friend – and that means going way above and beyond the normal bounds. Great slabs of this project did not have a brief so we made it up as we went along.

My friend Jane has been working on her book for over 5 years. Jane had assembled a hand picked team to help her realise her dream of writing and publishing a book about her work as a global advocate for women’s rights. My part was to edit a video to introduce Jane and her book to the Kickstarter audience who would successfully fund the project.

While waiting for the book cover artwork to arrive from Jane’s graphic designer I was asked to produce a quick mock-up of the cover for the Kickstarter site.

The picture Jane had chosen for the cover was a photo montage Nature Girls Jumping Janes by Martha Rosler. These are the designs I sent for approval.

Alternative mock up book cover

mockup no.1

Alternative mock up book cover

mockup no.5

Alternative mock up book cover

mockup no.4

Alternative mock up book cover

mockup no.3

Alternative mock up book cover

mockup no.2

After a bit more discussion this is what Jane went with – note the title change.

First book cover iteration

First book cover iteration

This led to me developing and organising the printing of advertising flyers based on this design for events Jane would be attending while visiting Australia. Not having access to a colour corrected high resolution image to work from was a pain as the only copies available were from the net and varied greatly in colour cast and size.

Once I knew that I would need to print from this image I selected one that I thought had the least offensive colour cast and prepared that one for print. Selecting the ideal shade of green to be used as the strap line under the sub title I thought was the end of my involvement.

Final cover using the Rosler image.

Final cover using the Rosler image.

Above is the final version of the mockup we used for advertising purposes.

Na-ah. Jane decided that she liked my cover treatment and wanted to use it for her book too. Okay!

The manuscript had cleared final editing, and was ready for typesetting. Jane and Thatch and myself had discussed the layout for the book, but I was not involved in the design at that point. When the initial layout arrived from typesetting, it failed to match the book Jane had in her head, Jane asked me to fix it for her.

Of course the Rosler image never arrived and no response came from her or her agent. As the deadline approached Jane had no option but to reconsider her choice of cover image. She sent me an image taken by mutual friends. This is where I went with it:

Alternative mock up book cover

Another mockup using a new image

But Jane’s editorial team shouted from around the world – “it doesn’t look like Jane!” So in a fit of early morning madness I made this:

Alternative mock up book cover

Could be Jane if you squint.

But after many hours of searching for the master image it failed as a contender and while Jane was delighted with the title treatment, the title was all I kept for the next bit. I took a stroll through some of my own images and picked a handful of them. Of those represented here, I sent only my favourite one to Jane as a possible starting point.

Alternative mock up book cover

From a selection of my images

Alternative mock up book cover

From a selection of my images

Alternative mock up book cover

From a selection of my images

Alternative mock up book cover

From a selection of my images. I love this one. I think it is beautiful.

Suffice to say that Jane is not into abstracts.

Just as everything was being finalised – happy happy! A painting that Jane had owned for 16 years inspired her. It was a bold and colourful statement that frankly I thought made a much better potential cover. Off we went again.

Alternative mock up book cover

Woman Drinking from the River of Life by Kay Singleton Keller

Alternative mock up book cover

Woman Drinking from the River of Life by Kay Singleton Keller

And again the worldwide chorus of Jane’s well meaning friends said, “no, no – Make the title smaller and stick the sub title up there too, but you shouldn’t cover the magpie!” Fortunately – I managed a work around that has silenced the critics and retained the integrity of a book cover where the title is more important than the background picture. Design by committee – nothing like it.

So here it is, in all it’s splendid plumage – the front Cover of Citizen Jane.

The final front cover

The final front cover.

In comparison the completion of the back cover was delayed by the wait for the high resolution image of Sybil Shearer. Unlike the Rosler image the MorrisonShearer Foundation responded to e-mails. So here finally, after several title and/or sub title changes, cover art changes, sundry delays and design by committee is the finished layout – more or less depending on the final width of the spine and with the addition of the barcode.

The completed cover for Jane's book.

The completed cover for Jane’s book.

The book is being prepared for print on demand via Amazon and will also eventually be available in assorted e-book formats too.
Here is a link to the Kickstarter Project where you’ll find the video. Citizen Jane: transformative citizenship – the book!
and this is Jane’s website where the book can be pre-ordered. Jane In the World

It’s a project that Thatch has taken and run with. Planning, organising and directing from the time of Jane’s early drafts through all stages including publishing and he has invested countless hours and much energy to bring all parts of the project to fruition. Jane wrote it and Thatch made it real. I’m just chuffed to have been a part of it.

Postscript: The first edition of the book is finally ready for publication. Last night I pressed the “go” button and we should be receiving a production copy in a week to 10 days time! Can’t wait to hold it and feel it and read it again as a real book rather than just on the screen.

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Posted in Design

Celebrating an updated website – Wasted Beauty.

I’m starting the new year with an updated website and a new post. Suffice to say, I’ve combed every page on my site and fixed errors, checked links, replaced missing pictures and tinkered with the innards. Any omissions gratefully accepted. I was shocked to find that I had more drafts of posts waiting in the wings, than published posts.

It’s difficult to know where to begin again, so I will concentrate on presenting artists of various ilk, whose work inspires me and perhaps will inspire you too; until I find my feet again.

Today it’s a toss-up between several artists in diverse media but I think I will begin with a website I originally came across in June 2006. The website is called wasted beauty.  It’s a bit of a puzzler as the only credit on the site is for the atmospheric soundtrack; attributed to Lars Sinda and while the German website is registered to the same person, the artist denies that he/she is Sinda. I admit defeat. The artist wants to remain anonymous – so I will respect that.

Wasted Beauty opening screenshot.

Wasted Beauty opening screenshot.

The reason for this post is not to feature the detailed pencil drawings themselves but for the adept use of actionscript and the quite extraordinarily charming flash interface – so yes, all of you smug Apple users will just have to go to tle.deviantart.com to view the art.

I’m not a great fan of animated websites – it’s a little, “flash in the pan” – pardon my pun – whatever means are used to achieve it. If the purpose is to enhance the user experience, it’s quite another thing and the user interface here does just that. The website is elegantly simple with self evident user elements that animate into life in context, on hover. Some of the artwork has been animated too, imbuing the pencil illustrations with eerie life.

Not much more to be said on this topic except – go have a play and hopefully you too will be delighted.

Logging off, Jools

Posted in Inspiration

Things I have learned from an Angel in Reverse

Sometimes I think I misnamed this weblog – it might have been more correctly called Jools Procrastinates – not Jools Pontificates – although I do that too. I was wandering around the house today trying to settle on where I should start with my day’s work – there being several urgent possibilities but none that shouted – “Do Me First” or if they did, I wasn’t listening.

Cardboard wallet of Ian Bland's Angel in Reverse

Cardboard wallet of Ian Bland's Angel in Reverse

Instead my eyes were drawn to a CD lying discarded on my coffee table. The new CD by Ian Bland called ”Angel In Reverse”. It’s the third CD that Ian has produced that I have been involved in. The launch has been delayed until November but I’m not going to let that stop me telling you about it.

I’ve read articles written by designers and other creative folk who express opinions on mistakes that freelancers make and how to deal with clients. While I don’t disagree with their comments – they’re not always appropriate for the situation at hand. I’m not saying that Ian is difficult exactly, though he does have a vision that his designer has to work within – did I hear you say “Control Freak”? My job was to get the vision out of his head and onto paper via my camera and computer. Here is a taste of how it worked and some of what I have taken away from that process.

The CD in question had a tentative title for quite some time before the product was realised. Anyone who knows Ian Bland, even just a little – will know that “Angel in Reverse” does have a ring of truth to it. Convincing Ian though reminds me of pushing a very large rock up a very large hill.

Who is this Ian Bland person anyway?

Who is this Ian Bland person anyway?


Ian in the interim took to exercising his camera and flooded our shared Dropbox with the results. These pictures ranged from shattered glass to travels with Ian, from cherubs to tiles and textures of weathered buildings. Not satisfied, even more pictures found their way into our shared Dropbox. Not one of which was used. Emails and phone calls followed – treatments tried and rejected.
Shattered glass door by Ian Bland

Shattered glass door by Ian Bland

Were the cherubs too ecclesiastical? Would the appearance of his own likeness on the cover scare away his potential audience? These questions and others were the basis for endless discussion. After several lengthy delays and much thought – Ian had an idea. This one would supersede all the previous ones that both he and I had, and so we ran with it.

Cherub photo by Ian Bland

Cherub photo by Ian Bland

Actually he’d had a collection of ideas and they needed to be brought together. First, the deliveries from Ian began to dribble in – a few at a time. A man’s watch, an envelope containing a lock of fine hair, a dusty twist of frayed rope, antique hand restraints, road maps so fragile with age that they happily shredded as they were unfolded and a battered photo of Ian and his dad. Still the items kept coming – some used in the photo shoots, some not. I never appreciated what a hoarder Ian was, nor how useful that would now prove.

I set up my portable photographic studio in the lounge room. Repeated dismantling and repacking later I learned my lesson and left it set up until after the project went to the printer and I was certain that Ian couldn’t make any further changes.

Some of the type samples we explored for the lyrics

Some of the type samples we explored for the lyrics

The next thing was to agree on a printer and, since custom die-cut packaging was never in the budget – our options were limited and of course each printer we contacted worked to a completely different layout template. Meanwhile we went through the selection trials for a suitable typeface. StarBabeHMK had the winning combination of attributes, we both agreed on it, it was legible at small sizes and it was free.

I concentrated on the layout for the sixteen page booklet first. Ian Bland’s poetic volubility left me in no doubt that getting all those lyrics to fit into thirteen tiny pages would be anything but straight forward.

Alternative journal cover treatment

Alternative journal cover treatment

The cover for the booklet was where I expected to really make my creative mark. I had assembled a journal cover from photographic stock that I had taken over the years – I was very happy with the result, but, Ian wanted – something else. So the cover was redone using an old bookkeeping journal that Ian had sent in one of his mystery packages. The cardboard wallet likewise underwent uncounted revisions and variations pretty much until the day the artwork went to the printer.

Inside the cardboard wallet for Ian Bland's Angel in Reverse

Inside the cardboard wallet for Ian Bland's Angel in Reverse

Now that the project is finished I can view it all analytically. I enjoyed doing the artwork for this album. I can see the effort that both Ian and I put into it and I can see the flaws and missed chances too. I guess my ambivalence is showing. In any case an opportunity to work with my camera or a reason to muck about in Photoshop is not to be dismissed. As is finding a solution for issues presented by print media that are distinct from those I encounter in web design.

Here is what I learned from this project.

  • You can never check anything too many times.
  • Don’t be afraid to be assertive – that’s what you are being paid for.
  • Finally this quote sums it up for me: “Don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They’re different processes.” The late John Cage.
Posted in Design