I work with storytellers and writers . . . which normally means they’re avid readers too. Last month I put together two t-shirts for my word nerd friends and writerly clients, and today the initial designs launch!
The first shirt is one I’m particularly proud of. It says, “I’m not a grammar Nazi: I’m Captain American English.” Because when I nitpick over your comma placement, I’d rather see myself as heroic rather than neurotic. The stories we tell ourselves matter, folks.
The second shirt is a constellation star chart (northern hemisphere, Greek & Western constellations) and words celebrating story. Cultures worldwide have tamed the stars with constellations and stories, claiming the distant stars as their own. Storytellers of all stripes—writers, artists, parents of small children—create new ways of seeing our wild universe. They give us narrative maps to navigate by, guidebooks to exploring and expanding ourselves. Our stories have the power to tame the untambeable.
The third shirt is the first in what I hope will become a series of shirts spotlighting particularly powerful poetry. I’m leading off with the estimable E. E. Cummings and my favorite phrases from his poem “In Just-.” The poem is equal parts poignant and playful, but in lifting only the springtime descriptors mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, I focus on the splish-splash joy of April showers.
Joining the E. E. Cummings shirt is another watercolor poetry tee with a quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It’s perfect for hiking or walking through the everyday divine of nature: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God.”
All shirts come in both unisex and women-specific styles.
Earlier this year Charlie N. Holmberg asked me to put together some promotional pieces she could use prior to the release of her fourth novel, Followed by Frost. For these, she picked out a series of photos from iStockphoto and gave me a list of significant quotes from the book. From there, I paired the best quotes with the best images and combined them. Some of the images needed some minimal manipulation to better match the book, and each piece needed to be in both rectangular and square formats so it could be used well in different social media outlets.
I loved working on these—they were a fun project that got immediate use promoting a delightful novel.
Although I may not have enough knowledge to be considered a font nerd, I’m certainly a fan (I leave the nerding to other members of the Looseleaf team). Last week I got an email from Font Bureau announcing its newest font family: Canto, designed by Richard Lipton.
I’ve gotten a few announcements from Font Bureau since I joined its mailing list, but Canto is the first new release that really piques my interest.Check it out. Look at the PDF sample. Look at closeups of the different options. Elegant, fun stuff. I’d love to see the bold brush style on a book cover somewhere. The optional swashes (like the fancy N in and at the bottom of the snippet I show in this post) and optional ligatures give it a lot of diversity and plenty of options for titles. (Look at the Canto characters sheet to see what each character looks like and what the optional characters bring to the table.)
Canto is a bit like Trajan, which is probably a typeface more of you are familiar with, only it has more options and an organic touch.
For any of you who aren’t familiar with professional fonts, no, Canto is not free for download. Richard Lipton and the other folks at Font Bureau need to make a living too, and I’m sure this beauty took a good chunk of time and effort. It is available for purchase, and you can buy individual styles or the whole family. If you’re an indie author looking for a brand font, Canto wouldn’t be a bad option to look into.
I recently discovered a series of minimalist posters inspired by various children’s stories and designed by Christian Jackson (I didn’t find them by myself; they were in an article on Flavorwire). My favorites among them are Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and a toss up between The message of the one duckling that’s different is delightful, but The Pied Piper poster was, I thought, one of the most interesting interpretations of the story because there is so much focus on the death involved; for me The Pied Piper had always been about very personal loss, but not necessarily death, so that was a different take for me (not that I minded; I always love a different take on a folktale).
What interests me (perhaps) most about these posters is how well the minimalism works for the folktales (yes, many of the stories he did technically have named authors, instead of the nebulous “folk,” but they’ve become so pervasive in our culture that they pretty much even out to the same thing). Because these stories are so ingrained and so common, we don’t need much prompting to retell the stories to ourselves. We only need motifs, hints, and light touches to evoke an entire lifetime of stories and retellings. Take the Little Red Riding Hood poster, for example. All you really need to evoke the story is the red cape in the woods; adding the edges of a wolf’s paw adds a tone of menace, but isn’t necessary for you to know exactly what Jackson is getting at.
Think about that for a second: All you need, visually, is three dark fingers and you can imagine the wolf it belongs to, and all the nasty things that wolf will eventually do (depending on which version of the story is nearest and dearest to your heart, those nasty things may be more or less than what I imagine).
Folktales are powerful because they are so common, and because “everyone” knows them. You can use them to enhance, contrast with, or influence anything you’re doing and you’ll be able to strike a chord with your audience. They’re an effective tool in any creators toolbox, whether you are an artist, writer, or any sort of communicator. Stories communicate, and stories you don’t even have to tell people communicate efficiently.
Covers have a certain appeal for me. Judging books by them makes it very, very easy to determine what I will read when faced with a tide of new books and stories. With covers doing a good bit of the legwork for me, I don’t have to read nearly as many back covers or first pages to find what I want to read. (I know, you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But it’s darn helpful to have such an easy first gate of judgment.)
This year’s Hugo nominees boasted several good covers that appealed to me. The one I found most intriguing, from a creator’s standpoint, was Feed by Mira Grant.
Feed’s cover is not necessarily an intricate piece of artwork that I could spend hours staring at (A Hundred Thousand Kingdom’s cover is much better suited to that). But as a cover, I don’t know what more you could ask for. It’s so amazingly clever. Part of the cleverness stems from Grant’s genius in titling the book: if you don’t already know, Feed is a novel about a group of bloggers in a post–zombie apocalypse world. So it’s got zombies, who are always trying to feed, and bloggers, who want everyone to subscribe to their feed.
The cover captures this by focusing on only two elements: the title and the RSS feed icon painted in blood. The grungy gray wall in the background communicates the setting—semi–post-apocalyptic and definitely not pretty—and makes the word and icon etched in bright blood a high contrast. They pop, bringing the pun to the forefront. The blood and the grunge, when added to the word feed, evoke zombies in the minds of those in tune with the current cultural obsession with zombies. Adding the RSS icon gives a dash of the unexpected, and the pun becomes relatively sophisticated by virtue of being visual instead of vocal.
Because the cover taps into and combines two current cultural phenomena (zombies and blogs), it catches an audience’s eye and forces them to, at bare minimum, read the back cover to figure out what’s up. It achieves what a cover is meant to achieve: it gets people to want to know about the book. It makes readers stop for a moment before moving on to the next of their plethora of options. Feed stands out on the smorgasbord, and that’s the first thing a book needs when it is released into the market.
As far as the book goes, I greatly enjoyed Feed. It was a blast, and Mira Grant’s zombie-ridden world is detailed and exquisitely thought out. I loved that the zombies were not the story: they were a plot point but they were not the plot itself. Beautiful worldbuilding. My one gripe is that I could never quite believe that the main character had a reputation as a hard-fact news reporter. For a while I thought maybe the character could keep her strong opinions out of her writing, but the blog snippets that were at the end of each section never showed me that. So on that point, my disbelief never really got suspended, but it was a wonderful read in spite of that. It also has what is now one of my favorite sibling relationships in fiction. The main character and her brother are perfect.