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Inspiration. I spent this icy cold weekend looking for — and getting — inspiration. Just because the manuscript of my Damn France Book is in the hands of my editor at Bloomsbury doesn’t mean that the Damn Book is finished: oh, non. There are still plenty of bits that need fiddling with, some pages that don’t cut the moutarde, which is why I am seeking  inspiration while there’s still time to remedy the situation.

And when I use the word inspiration, I am very specific: I am seeking page designs that communicate visual and textual information in the most luscious way possible.  

So, duh: I go to the glossiest, fanciest, highest-priced shelter magazines I can find. And lucky for me, I have an aunt who reads exactly these kinds of magazines and lets me haul away her back issues. I spent a very happy weekend going through a pile of Elle Decor and Architectural Digest magazines, pulling out the most beautifully designed pages so I can study  them, and learn. And when I say “learn”, I mean “steal”. Here’s a sample:

Here is where the “next level” is for me:  I want to take my work to where these pages are, where there is a delicious amount of visual information vying for attention in an orderly space where text  is integrated into the over-all design that invites a reader to hang out, browse, take a good look.

In the meantime, I have cheese that I have to deal with.

In my Damn France Book I have a page of French cheesethat I illustrated waaaaay back when I first put the book proposal together.  Since then, I’ve gone on to illustrate 150 additional pages and I’ve outgrown the old illustration:

What I want, now, for my cheese page is a more chocolate-boxy kind of illustration, something that gives the reader more to do than glance at ten slices of cheese (see: all those glorious pages full of tasty visual morsels above).

So I re-worked the cheese this weekend:

I think the stink lines really add a touch of class.

I also have a French Bread page and a Charcuterie page that I have to re-do. What do you think? Do you think I’m on the right track?

16 comments to The next level.

  • I didn’t even KNOW there were 10 French cheeses. Now I look forward to the France Book even more.

    Good idea to turn to “professional” pages, to give you new insight. They’ve ‘been there and done that’ and I’m sure, are willing to share with other artists who need to show “things”.

    Your blog people are full of art ideas. Good you ask them advice, too. Smart. I always read the comments, because I learn from them, too.

  • Shirley

    Definitely on the right track….as usual.

  • Deborah

    The stink lines were the first thing to catch my eye, and they made me laugh. But I also like the specific divisions (chevre, soft, bleu, etc.) in the first illustration.

  • Susie

    Lovely as usual….um, I thought the stink lines were red thread and it took me a fraction of a second to ‘get’ that they were, in fact, those stink lines. The red kind of over-powers the cheese. Especially with more text in the second picture.
    But that’s just me, of course.

    Your blog is one of 2 that I read regularly so this is important, lol.

  • Barbara Lemme

    I really like the new layout. I also like the “stinky” lines but think the red color overwhelms the page. Just a color tweak is necessary.

  • Jacquelyn

    almost immediately, my mind exclaimed to itself, oh, this is great , a real basic simple chart so I can remember what I need to know about cheese.
    The 2nd illustration is toooooo busy, too stinky, too complicated. I would love a page that shows the best compliments to each cheese, but then that would take a whole book.

  • Kristina

    The stink lines are a little overwhelming. I’m not sure if it’s the red color or the length.

  • Janet

    I am putting on my art director hat, and this is what I would say to the designer who brought me these two options. To my eye, the pluses in the first illustration are the category names and the white space. It is easy the see there are 12 kinds of cheese grouped into five types, and the different shapes and textures are well-defined and easy to see. What you have communicated to me is French cheese comes in many varieties, but there is something missing. This illustration is a bit flat – you have educated me about cheese, but you haven’t made me want to taste it.

    What I like about your alternate illustration is that it is organic, meaning not so neatly arranged on the page. The top third of the page is my favorite because of the contrast in the shapes of the cheese and the how the captions follow the shape of the pieces. I am lost as my eyes floats down the page, and I have to work too hard to associate the name of the cheese withnthe illustration of it. I agree with other comments about the stink marks. I think less might be more, pulling back on the color (even exploring other colors more subtle than red perhaps) and saving this smell clue for the most pungent of the cheeses.

    Presentation is tricky here, but you have great objects and textures to work with. There are two things I remember about cheese in France. At a lovely hotel in Provence, every night the owner would present the cheese course on a big slab of marble, many different kinds of cheese with a little white triangle flag on each
    one with the name of the cheese. At the cheese shop in Paris that I discovered, I was overwhelmed by the display of cheese in the dairy case because their names were on the price labels, not at all charming or helpful to the uninformed shopper I was. But what was interesting and wonderful was the variety – so many shapes, sizes and shades of yellow and white.

    Last year you wrote about how you made a tea cup and spoon interesting by adding a shadow. A similar approach might add some life and dimension to the cheese in No. 1. My money, however, is on simplifying No. 2 or coming at it in a new way by serving us the cheese and making us want to taste it.

  • Nadine

    I think the biggest problem with the first page was too much brown. The second has no obvious organizational structure, which is what I liked about the first one. And I think the stink lines are too overpowering being in red.

    Since most cheese plates are round, how about a design more like the Ikat page where your eye makes a circular trip around the page?

  • KJ

    I like how some of the cheeses have stinky lines and some don’t, because of course that is so very vrai.

    I think perhaps the stinky kinds ate a little long. Or maybe they should vary from cheese to cheese, which would of course also be vrai.

    I think some of the cheeses should be runny.

    And I think Nadine has something in theidea that the eye should travel around the page, like it does on the Ikat page, which has such amazing appeal.

  • See, Vivian; ? I told you your blog people would give good advice. They are all wonderful suggestions. Your people are the smartest of any others I read .

  • emily m

    All your readers’ comments were interesting. My very close friend is a designer and teaches that subject at FIT and Parsons and has her own design firm. Anyway, she is also a fan of your book and might help if you want a consultant at some point. She also was an art director at TimeLife Books and Newsweek. Let me know if you want to email her.

  • Kate

    I’m not convinced the stink marks need to be there at all, but if they do, they are wafting from the wrong part of the cheese.They should be wafting from the cut part. I concur that red is not the right color; perhaps blue or grey would capture the sentiment better. Finally, wafting curliques (methinks) as it rises. As for good examples of all of the above, Tom and Jerry is coming to mind, though I assume vintage Looney Toons would also have some examples, too.
    Good luck, and I’m excited to see the finished product. I’m sure you’ll come up with something fabulous.

  • Stink lines should be green!

    There’s a wonderful Erté illustration of a woman with stink lines emanating from her posterier- if you can believe it !!!! I’ll see if I can find it.

  • The first illustration: orderly, love your hand-lettering, especially the category words, which provide some structure and purpose. The second illustration: too chaotic, I miss the structure, though I think some of your cheeses are better drawn, with a bit more color variation.

    But don’t rely on comments from the peanut gallery – do what your heart says is the right thing to do! Please yourself first… and we will be pleased with your book when it comes out, no matter how stinky your cheese is.

  • [...] You will see that I’ve taught myself how to write like French people do in order to do the lettering on this map (and in the cheese, bread, and charcuterie illustrations that I threw up on this blog here [...]

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