The Jack Newton Radio

After some fine tuning, the cover for ‘The Jack Newton Radio’ is complete, all the chapter headings have been inserted and I think it looks great! It has the right feeling of nostalgia and location, and with its limited colour palette. has a distinctive visual impact.

The full cover wraparound artworks looks like this:

The Jack Newton Radio can be purchased here. Go buy it now…

Back to the book cover…

After the last meeting with Jon I was able to develop some of the details further and apply the design to the back and spine. But before that Jon was interested in seeing other scripts in place of the one used in the title. As I had already explored this before presenting this to him, I gathered several alternatives that I had tried and rejected. They were all selected for their natural flow and vintage qualities that suited the whole ‘radiogram’ theme, and after seeing these Jon was in agreement of my original choice:

As for my design process, in the early stages after a few pencil sketches have been made I put together a fairly clean digital version to discuss the idea, without really concerning myself with proportions and measurements; everything is composed by eye.

Now that Jon had chosen a design it was time to firm everything up and establish some relative measurements. What this means is that I now look back into my layouts and discern a more formal composition based on units of measurement or proportions or both. The design Jon chose was the one with the black panel with some minor variations.

The design is generally composed over a division of sixths, but a little more control of the separate elements was required in order to create a more harmonious composition overall, especially when the design was applied to the back and spine.

The main elements for development were the dial – the tuning markers were to be labelled with relevant themes from the book and losing the faint script in the background. Also, the flat creamy colour of the background needed some texture to give it some surface for the graphics to relate to. This was achieved in Photoshop with a concrete texture from my library (I regularly take photos of textures for precisely this purpose) and some subtle layering to get just the right balance:

 

So let me share the overall composition at this point and expand upon the basic grid shown before. As you can see, the grid has been subdivided further and all the elements have been adjusted to relate to the lines of the grid in some way, tying everything together relative to the page:

I know that many designers don’t do this and simply trust their judgement, which is just as valid, especially if the designer is experienced enough, but I prefer to allow my judgement to dictate the design and then use grids to fine tune sizes and positions. This works for me, and showing the structural framework of the design to clients helps to show some of the process that forms the end result.

 

Judging a book by it’s cover

I recently mentioned a design project that required some research into vintage radiogram dials and I though I would share some images of the work in progress.

The book is by the author Jon Lawrence (I also designed the cover for his last book Bisha) and the official back cover blurb describes the novel thusly:

“Spirited septuagenarian Anwyn Jones, has left London for the tranquility of St David’s following the death of her husband. Coming to terms with her grief, Anwyn begins to notice issues with her memory and fears that dementia will rob her of the only thing that matters to her – her husband. However, Anwyn forms an unlikely friendship with a broken family, including a lonely wife, a guilty husband and a distant young boy. As she tries to rebuild her life Anwyn becomes obsessed with the poems of Jack Newton, whose verses she hears on the radio each night. Within sight of the lighthouse friendships are made and secrets are revealed in a poignant, funny and thought-provoking novel from the acclaimed author of Playing Beneath the Havelock House, Albatross Bay and Bisha.”

For my brief, Jon laid out some important elements that could serve as visual reference – the radiogram obviously, a lighthouse; Smalls lighthouse at St.Davids, Puffins and poetry.


After researching old radiogram dials I began to explore graphic treatments that echoed the reproduction qualities of these old screen-printed images on plastic; slightly rounded corners and a loss of the overall sharpness of the line, due to the spread of the ink, and the fact that these things were often quite small, so when enlarged their defects become more apparent.

I began with a simple keyline drawing of Smalls Lighthouse in Adobe Illustrator – I drew the earlier wooden version because I knew that it was particularly distinctive (I first learned of Smalls Lighthouse through the music of John Tanner\Plinth – check it out) and I omitted the ugly helicopter landing pad that has been built on top of the modern one!

At this point I was just experimenting with the idea and technique so didn’t dwell too much on fine detail or quality of line,  everything was left basic

The next few stages were as follows:

Stage 1. Basic line for reference.
Stage 2. Apply a light blur to soften the edges.
Stage 3. Rasterise the vectors (converting vectors to pixels – effectively making a photo)
Stage 4. Converting the pixels back to vectors. This creates a more definite edge from the blurred version, filling in corners,rounding corners and subtly softening the quality of the lines.

I did the same with the larger text in the title, using Adrian Frutigers’ often overlooked typeface Avenir:

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I made versions using both lighthouses, but found the asymmetry of the old lighthouse wasn’t working within my compositions and focussed on the more traditional ‘classic’ lighthouse shape.

Colours were sampled from photographs of old dials – the aged/yellowed white plastic that has that authentic vintage ivory tone, washed out reds and bakelite brown. The cover that uses this colour also has a subtle glow to give the appearance of being backlit:

I went through each of the designs with Jon and discussed all these details, along with one or two other points which had arisen during the process. A decision was then made and I moved on to develop the chosen design. Which one? You’ll find out next time. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts, opinions and preferences?

On a separate note, Jon is trying to raise funds to promote the book through his crowdfunding page. Find out how you can support the project.

In a Tangle

And now, a shameless plug for a great new band.

Black Slipper are a South Yorkshire duo who have just released their first recordings on Bandcamp and are in regular rotation on the Lestaret playlist these days.

With a rather groovy post-punk vibe, and a strangely compelling vocal with a distinctive Yorkshire hook, these five tracks are quite hypnotic and feel far too short, leaving you wanting more after the last track ends.

What’s more, ‘In a Tangle’ is available to download and stream at all reputable purveyors of digital musicology, including Spotify, GooglePlay, iTunes, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer and Shazam. Go listen – stream or download – it doesn’t matter, but go do it anyway.

Disclaimer: I know these chaps but am not profiting in any way from this plug. I just want to share some good music with you.

A Lesson Learned

This website was very recently hacked. At least it makes a change from international banks, government departments and national security weapons systems. I’m still struggling to comprehend why anyone would bother with my little corner of the interweb, I mean, there’s nothing of value to steal here. I could think of more productive and interesting places to hack.

No real damage was done. No nasty malware or spyware, destructive viruses or trojan horses. Nope. Just one blog post deleted and replaced with a message. Instead of my post on radiogram dial graphics, I now had:


Well! After a brief moment of mild panic, I quickly searched online for this white hat hacker and learned something new. My mysterious white hat hacker (who I shall refer to as WHH from now on) is not a dangerous lone maverick, out to wreak mild panic on unsuspecting freelance designers across the globe, but a collective term that has been adopted to describe a particular group of hackers. This nomenclature is directly lifted from the old movie westerns, where the good guys always wore white hats and the bad guys, well, you’ve probably worked it out now.

Wikipedia (the only only reference that can be used in these matters) describes these people as ‘ethical hackers’ – my favourite oxymoron of 2017 so far. So who are they? By day, they are hard working, mild mannered computer security experts, but by night are mysterious interweb ghosts, skulking around the back entrances to our websites, looking for vulnerable points of entry, so that they can gain access to your, well, whatever it is you have there. They even have logos! (no – don’t go looking for them – it will only encourage them!)

They don’t do anything with it though. They just leave you a message telling you that your security can be comprised by a professional hacker and that you ought to do something about it. Please update your security.

Whilst I am genuinely relieved that my WHH didn’t load me up with an apocalyptic virus or redirected my domain to a Thai ladyboy agency (or any other you may think of!), I was left with a weird feeling of having been mildly violated, like someone taking a sip of coffee from my cup, or reading my book over my shoulder. Nothing dramatic you understand, just a general unease that still continues.

Ethical hacking. Gaining unauthorised access in order to demonstrate how easy it is for a professional hacker to gain access. Please update your security. “Don’t thank me Ma’am, I’m just doing my job.” Really?

This would be considered ethical if I had contacted an online security specialist and booked someone to test out my security. This is a valuable service that should be supported and applauded. By its very nature, hacking is not ethical. Neither is smashing someones front door down to show them how easy it would be for a professional housebreaker to gain entry. Please update your security.

Now I’ve updated WordPress and added more security measures I feel like I ought to say thank you to my WHH but I don’t think I can. I didn’t ask for this, and I don’t think that the blog of a freelance graphic designer is high on the target list of the Black Hat hackers – I’m sure they have far better places to hack and can cause much more mayhem elsewhere to be bothered about me. I would not be at all surprised if I get hacked again – after all, professional hackers will always get through eventually. If multinational banks and governments can get hacked – and they are with alarming regularity – I doubt that there are any (affordable) domestic or commercial packages out there that will protect individuals any better.

This whole black hat/white hat thing is just a little bit pathetic. Like a lot of other things that have emerged from the internet, names are always adopted that are far more ‘sexy’ than the realities they represent; surfing, ripping and burning are only names for looking, extracting and writing after all. If you refer to yourself as a white hat hacker, this does not make you into a chisel jawed hero fighting on the side of the little guy. You are just a hacker and your motives are irrelevant, whichever colour hat you wish to identify with.

Has anyone else experienced this? Or worse? Feel free to share you experiences…

Lino

I completed cutting the first three lino blocks and decided to do a few test prints to check how things were looking. I was not totally happy with one or two areas and wanted to check that had nailed a few details too, and a couple of prints on a cold but bright afternoon seemed like a good idea.

Because these were test prints I rummaged around and gathered a handful of sheets of leftovers and cracked open the black ink.

I’m generally quite pleased with the results but need to do some refining and cleaning up. A good start though.

I mentioned last time that I had bought some new tools. These are actually woodcarving tools and are a little bigger than what I’m used to. The four on the left are from my new Gerstaecker set and the one one the right is my trusty Abig that I am still using as well. I rather fancy some of those nifty Pfiel tools, but the Yorkshireman in me still baulks at the price, but you never know…

More lino shenanigans as it occurs…

Back on the block

LESTARET-lino-flat-1

I’ve been cutting some new lino blocks today after making a batch of drawings over the weekend. These are intended for inclusion in an exhibition later this year, so I’m only going to show some works in progress and close-ups so that I don’t reveal too much for now!

I have another two blocks drawn up ready to cut and three more ready to transfer to lino – just waiting for a new lino delivery. I have already bought some new tools which I’ll share another time.

I love the smell of cut lino in the morning…

Sleevage Sunday #15

cassetteSleevage Sunday is where I once shared selections from my old but rediscovered vinyl collection. Music has always been an important part of my life, but so was the packaging. In my formative years I would carefully study every inch of the cover, read every sleevenote, credit and publishing blurb so that the visual qualities of these records became intrinsically linked with the music, so that even now when I hear an old song I also get the imagery too! Alas, much of this will fall upon younger heads whose only visual link with their music is the tiny thumbnail on their iPod…

However, I am now going to feature some older stuff from my father’s collection. Some of these will raise a smile or an eyebrow, considering that many were the biggest music stars of the 1950’s and 60’s. This next batch are all ’78’s’ and at 10” are larger than the 45’s that replaced them. This did not have any effect upon the packaging though, and these are notable for their lack of design – the music was not packaged for the artist, but sold in sleeves that promoted the retailer…






There was one other 78 that I wanted to include here, but for different reasons. Back in the day, records were the prized possession of young people. They cost money too, which wasn’t easy to come by during the post-war years in the uk, and more often than not, music was a form of escapism from the drab normality of real life. Unlike the 7″ singles that replaced them, these 78’s were made of a substance called shellac which was a resin made by tropical bugs. Shellac discs were not durable enough though, and were prone to wearing out and were notoriously brittle. Imagine playing your new Elvis single non-stop all weekend to find it unplayable on Monday? What if it was accidentally dropped? Well, this actually:

This one, which looks as though it has been repaired many times has eventually been taped back together, sacrificing one side altogether! I’m not sure just how playable the other side is though…

For those of you who are not familiar with this scale of 10″ singles I have put it into a scale most people will understand!

 

Welcome!

Oh hello – I’m Christopher Skinner. You may remember me from films such as “I was a Teenage Graphic Designer”, “Honey, I Shrunk the Logo” and “Four Fonts and a Drop Shadow” but more likely you know me from my original blog www.lestaret.wordpress.com! (this opening line really only works if read out loud in the style of Troy McLure from The Simpsons)

Well, if one thing is for sure, 2017 will bring about a whole bunch of changes, and that goes the same for my blogging habits. Firstly, as you have probably gathered by now, I’m retiring the .wordpress blog – only retiring though – I’m leaving everything where it is for posterity and restarting over here, and with every intention to get back blogging regularly. So gird up your loins, update your favourites and prepare yourself for much of the same!

Happy New Year!