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Faber 80th Poetry Series
Poets: T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, John Betjeman, Ted Hughes,
W.B. Yeats, Sylvia Plath

Designer: Miriam Rosenbloom
Illustrators: T. S. Eliot (Clare Curtis), W. H. Auden (Paul Catherall),
John Betjeman (Joe McLaren), Ted Hughes (Mark Hearld),
W. B. Yeats (Nick Morley), Sylvia Plath (Peter Lawrence)

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Typefaces: Gill Facia

Here is a beautiful work created as a celebration for Faber & Faber's 80th year of publishing. I'm sure you have all seen this series, but Miriam
provides us with some great insight that both inspires and informs.
Thanks Miriam!
—Jason Gabbert

I was asked to design a new series for six of Faber’s best-loved poets as part of its 80th birthday celebrations. These particular editions are from Faber’s ‘poet to poet’ series: poems selected by another poet. The brief was to create a set of beautiful hardback books reflecting both Faber’s design history and the richness of its celebrated poetry list. With this wonderful beginning I turned to one of my all-time favourite art forms—printmaking. Faber has a long history of working with some of the best printmakers of the day for its covers, such as Edward Bawden and Edward McKnight Kauffer – this felt like a fantastic opportunity to revisit and revitalise that connection by working with some of the UK’s best contemporary printmakers.

I spent a long time with Faber’s poetry editors deciding on themes to follow for each of the poets. It was then a matter of researching various printmakers to match the tones I was after.

Deciding which artists to use took a long time. It was important that the series worked together as a set, but that also each individual title stood alone and was true to its content. I decided early on to use a monochromatic palette with one extra pantone that would be used for text on the cover and the endpapers (which each feature a detail of the front illustration). I felt this would enable the series to work together and to look contemporary, avoiding looking like a pastiche. I was interested in the idea of a dense, narrative illustration that would give a sense of place to each of the books while visually tying them all together.

All of the works, apart from the cover for Sylvia Plath, were commissioned for the series. For Sylvia Plath I came across the work of Peter Lawrence at the Society of Wood Engravers. He has an existing piece of work that was so perfect it seemed wrong to not use it. He kindly allowed me to adapt it
for the series look.

For the other titles, each artist was briefed tightly with visual references of place. (see examples of briefing material for Clare Curtis. T. S. Eliot was an air raid warden during the Blitz, the other references are Festival of Britain material and a poster, The City, by Edward Bawden designed in 1952 for London Passenger Transport Board) I also supplied a grid to show the area that the illustration needed to take up. I left the text box areas up to them — the only requisite was that they were integrated into the design rather than placed on top of it. (see grid)

Examples of briefing material
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I came across the artists a variety of ways: I had been aware of some people’s work for a long time and was hoping for an opportunity to work with them, and others came up in my research into the current printing scene. For example, I first spotted Joe McLaren’s work on flickr some time ago, while I found Peter Lawrence through the Society of Wood Engravers — of which is he is president.

I used one typeface, Gill Facia, for all of the titles. It was originally designed at the beginning of last century by Eric Gill as the fascia for English Booksellers Stationers W. H. Smith. Colin Banks digitized and elaborated on the face in the 1980s. The typeface is reminiscent of stone carved letterforms and I felt this sat well with the printed nature of the illustrations.

All roughs (see samples of roughs) had to be approved by both the in-house Faber team and the Estates of each of the poets — a bit of a nerve-wracking process that, thankfully, went quite smoothly.

Samples of roughs
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I was aware that appearing to shape or direct the subjective experiences of reading poetry by using narrative illustrations could appear arrogant and misguided. I hoped to avoid this by helping create a beautiful series that opens up the poetry to people who may not otherwise feel it is for them.

I carefully selected each of the illustrators to match the tone of each poet. This was a tricky process, but I was really pleased when, twice during the briefing, two of the artists told me I had chosen their own favourite poets for them to work on. That made me feel like we were on the right track.

I was certain that I wanted a black-and-white palette, so we tried a variety of printing methods. Initially we were looking at using a machine-varnished uncoated stock, but the large white areas made this unsustainable. We ended up printed on an uncoated stock (pop’set) and then silk varnishing over the top. Each book is two colours, black plus 1 PMS, and we also used a 40% cyan shiner behind the black to insure its depth.

This series was a dream brief for a designer and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. Although it is always hard to look at your own work, this is a project I am pleased with.

Photography of books by Jonathan Ring.

6.12.09 // Ian said:

Absolutely stunning. And the Society of Wood Engravers. Who knew something so wonderful exists?! To own these would be a dream. To afford them I am still dreaming. What a satisfying collaboration. Something that would make any designer sleep better at night.