Friday, November 13, 2009

Cover art

One of the benefits of working with the Singapore-based publisher Editions Didier Millet (EDM) is that they really care about the way a book looks.

Another enjoyable aspect of working with them was that they were keen to consult with us (yes, the authors!) on the layout of Singapore: A Biography and especially on its cover. For this, we especially have to thank our editor at EDM, Ibrahim Tahir, whose overall contribution to the book made him effectively its 'third author'.

So how did the cover come about?

A while ago, Intuitive Studios (the exhibition design company I am closely involved with – see earlier post) was approached to design a historically-themed mural for a local museum. It seemed like this was the perfect opportunity to unleash an homage to Sir Peter Blake, the famous pop artist and one of my personal favourites, on the Singapore heritage scene.

For those of you who don't know his work, here's one of his pieces:


And his most famous piece:


Intuitive's historically-themed pop art mural never eventuated. But the idea of a Peter Blake pastiche was thrown into the hat once more when Yu-Mei and I started to discuss the book cover with EDM, partly because it reflected our philosophy when writing our history of Singapore: that it's all about a multitude of colourful personalities.

Most of all, we wanted to get away from the black and white and seemingly 'designed-by-committee' book covers that feature on many works of Singapore history, a typical example of which is found on a book we had both worked on earlier:

So, Ibrahim and EDM's in-house designer Annie Teo went off to work on the cover. Eventually, they came back with these preliminary efforts:

Version A


Version B

I didn't like Version A much (and not just because our names were so small). I found it a bit dull, especially the colours. Yu-Mei had a more extreme reaction to Version B, since it seemed to her like the very worst kind of school textbook cover that we were trying to avoid. I could see her point, but I also hoped EDM would keep trying with the Peter Blake-inspired approach. So I asked my designer friend Claire Fleetwood (who runs Intuitive Studios) to chime in with some further suggestions, while I sent Ibrahim and Annie what were probably rather annoying emails where I attempted to deconstruct why Blake's Sergeant Pepper's cover worked and why our Version B did not.

Yu-Mei, meanwhile, seemed to have resigned herself to her worst fear: a textbook cover! Arghhhh! OMG! (I think she really has spent too long in schools, you know).

Annie and Ibrahim now went back to the drawing board and at this point, Ibrahim later told me, Annie went 'a bit nuts' with the design, and started to spend hour after hour on it trying to perfect it. The eventual result (for which we will always be grateful) ...


Which was ultimately tweaked to become ...


Yet that wasn't the end of it. When it was time to launch our online marketing campaign, Yu-Mei asked her friends at ampulets to tweak the cover one last time for our flyer. And the final outcome ... a radiant, celestial Singapore: A Biography!


Let those cosmic rays bathe you in historical wisdom, people of the little red dot.
(And a big thank you to Ibrahim, Annie, Claire, ampulets and of course to – please don't sue us for copyright – Sir Peter Blake!)

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