Today, I’m continuing my nosy behind the scenes at Studio Press, an imprint of Bonnier that specialises in illustrated non-fiction. And who better to continue the exclusive peek into illustrated non-fiction than designer Rob Ward? Rob is the genius behind the art direction and clear, bright layouts of The Bird Book, as well as the cover image, and honestly, his work really made the book come to life! The Bird Book (a pocket guide to 50 birds fully illustrated by me) is published on 27th May 2021 by Studio Press, and is available to preorder on my website and on www.bookshop.org now.
1. Hi Rob! Thank you for chatting with me today. Could you tell us a little bit about what your role as a designer involves?
As a designer it is essentially my job to marry the text and illustrations together on the page, to find the right balance that gets the most out of both of these elements. For each book you have to understand what the purpose of the book is, and the aim is to find the best way of presenting that ‘story’ on the page from the first spread to the last.
2. How did you become a designer at a publisher and what is your favourite part of the job?
I love designing for print so becoming a designer at a publisher seemed a great avenue to pursue.
Designing books in particular gives you a great scope for being creative, as each title requires you to explore lots of different formats, layouts, fonts, and of course illustrators.
As for what I love most about the job; there is nothing quite like getting a physical copy of what you’ve designed in your hands – something you only get with print – and you also get a little high off seeing your cover sitting on the shelf in a book shop!
3. As part of your role, you designed all the layouts for The Bird Book and directed the illustrations, do you start with a vision for a project that you work towards, or does a book grow out of the elements as they come together?
It does depend on the title, but generally the books grow and evolve as the elements come together. You often start with a concept which you think is going to be perfect, but as it develops you can end up with something quite different by the end. Of course, on other occasions it doesn’t change much at all, but that’s all part of the process and it keeps things interesting!
4. Was there anything that drew you to The Bird Book, or anything you loved about working on The Bird Book in particular?
I think I was the perfect match for The Bird Book as I rarely leave the house without my binoculars
– you never know what wildlife you might spot walking to the shops! I’m an avid birder and general wildlife geek, so it would have been hard to pass up the chance to take one of my out of work passions and get to do it at work too!
4. How do you choose illustrators for the many projects at Studio Press?
When choosing illustrators for a project, you are mainly looking for the art style which is going to suit the format of the book, which could be the age range, or the medium they illustrate in or in the case of The Bird Book, the subject matter in their portfolio. When an illustrator chooses to illustrate and showcase the exact subject matter you are after, you know they are going to have passion to inject into the project.
5. Do you have any top tips for people looking to illustrate non-fiction as they approach publishing houses, or anybody looking to become a designer?
I think a good way of finding publishers to approach with your work, is to search out books that you’d like to have illustrated yourself and check out the publisher. If you think you could have been a good fit, then there’s chance they will think exactly the same and want to work with you on a future title.
As for wanting to become a designer, I think its similar. Look for the publishers which suit you and you could well be the right fit for them. If you love designing, then getting together a portfolio should be the easy bit, so just get out there!
6. And a fun one to finish! Do you have a favourite spread from The Bird Book and why?
I think that would have to be the Sparrowhawk on page 12! It’s one of my favourite birds to start with, and the profile and piercing yellowy-orange eye of this apex predator has been perfectly captured in your illustration. We have a pair who stalk our garden and they like to hunt (often successfully) the local Collared Doves – see page 30!
Thanks so much for taking the time to join me on the blog today Rob, I really appreciate it!