Monday, 29 July 2019

"Designing books is my life – I love it." • Ness Wood

Behind the scenes with acclaimed book designer, Ness Wood. In this guest blog post, Ness looks at the processes involved in designing Sam Boughton's debut picture book, The Extraordinary Gardener, which has recently been shortlisted for the 2019 Klaus Flugge Prize.

The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton (Tate Publishing, 2018)
Hi! I am Ness Wood, a freelance book designer working for various publishers. Holly Tonks (then at Tate Publishing) contacted me to see if I wanted to work on Sam Boughton’s book. I knew Sam’s work as I collaborate with Cambridge School of Art, providing lectures and presenting the students work at the Bologna Book Fair. I love Sam’s illustration and I am aware of how hard she worked for her final show and, after it, continually developing her style to what it looks like today.

Holly sent me the text and I did initial layouts as a starting point. Prior to this, Sam and Holly had been working on the story and flow of the book.

I usually do a few examples of typefaces that I think could be used, to see how different styles of font ‘feel’ with the text and images – it’s is about complimenting the images and story; the typeface could be contrasting or it could be sympathetic to the style of illustration.

The editor and designer and author/illustrator come to an agreement about which to use and then Sam does roughs for the book. Sam had already roughed the book out, but after doing some tweaks to some of the spreads and pacing, she sends me the roughs digitally. I position them in InDesign, considering the text and the image placement in order to get balance across the spread. Some of the spreads may be double-page spreads and some may be singles or have vignettes – at this point the layout is still ‘up in the air.’

Sam Boughton's roughs, a double-page spread from The Extraordinary Gardener

There is lots of to-ing and fro-ing as a designer – sending layouts by pdf to the editor and then doing the amends and then consulting with Sam to see if she thinks certain layouts/amends to her original layouts will work. It is a collaborative process.

Another rough and early layout from inside Sam Boughton's The Extraordinary Gardener

After the roughs and layouts are okayed Sam starts the artwork. After Sam has done one piece of artwork, the Tate get a test proof done – this is a proof which will show Sam how all her colours will be reproduced when printed. As Sam works digitally this will show her what she needs to do to amend any of the colours in photoshop to achieve the colour she desires.

It is at this stage that I start doing cover designs – I have the roughs so I can use those in order to start some initial ideas. Covers are often needed early for catalogues/sale material.

I send cover ideas to Holly and she will discuss them with her team. Usually the editor will come back to me with feedback and then I will amend the ideas and they present them again. I will share them with Sam to see what she thinks and then we will discuss further.

Above and below are early versions of the cover design.

The design is tweaked until finally we have final cover, front and back (shown below)

Sam will have been doing the artwork for the insides. Her artwork is all done by hand using ink pastel and paint, which she then scans in and puts the elements together in photoshop. So when she has finished the illustrations, she will send it to me digitally, rather than as physical pieces of actual artwork, and I will position the files and then send a pdf with my comments to the editor. We will collate our comments and then send them to Sam. There may be some pieces of artwork Sam needs to amend, though hopefully not, as any issues should have been sorted out at the rough stage. No illustrator really wants to start amending artwork after they have finished the book, but it does happen. The cover is also finalised too at this stage and the type, colours and the back cover copy is also checked. The whole book is then once more checked over, for any typos or sentences that do not quite work or any images that have been cropped wrongly or need repositioning.

The book is then sent to be proofed and then usually the editor and illustrator and designer go through the proofs together. It is very exciting to see the proofs: Sam’s illustrations actually on paper.

No one book is the same, so other projects may have other stages, and more complex issues. Sam’s book is an amazing début and I am very proud to have worked on it.

Many thanks to Ness Wood for her great insight into the design process behind children's picture books. For more information on Ness, book design and illustration, including courses (via Orange Beak Studio), please visit:

The Extraordinary Gardener by Sam Boughton is one of six books by outstanding debut picture-book illustators, shortlisted for the 2019 Klaus Flugge Prize.The winning book will be announced 11 Sept 2019.


Paeony Lewis said...

Adored seeing the different cover designs and debating to myself what it might be that prompted redesign decisions. Thanks!

Lucy Rowland said...

Wonderful to hear more about the design process. Thank you! I love Sam's art work too!

Jane Clarke said...

Thanks Ness, thanks for taking us through the design process and congratulations, the book looks fab!

Penny Dolan said...

Really interesting to read a designer's account of the process. Thank you, Ness Wood - and Picture Book Den.