Designing a Book Cover in 3 Acts. Act 3: Letting Go

I’ve had the great pleasure of designing the cover art for Brian Metters’ new book: “It’s Not About The Wine! A 50 years memoir of wine WITH history, philosophy, art, travel and people”

Now available to order on Amazon Kindle, print version coming soon! It’s Not About The Wine! by Brain Metters

I met Brian, otherwise referred to as “Dr. B” through our blogs 2 years ago. Since then our friendship has grown not only out of our mutual love of wine but also our numerous conversations on a wide range of topics; mostly wine, of course, but also philosophy, perception and psychology. We may not always agree, but I’ve learned a lot from his knowledge of the human brain, his approach to tasting wine, and his acute philosophical inquiry. I hope, in some small way, he could say the same about me. I’ve also been inspired by his many accomplishments in his lifetime including mountaineering in the Himalayas, education aid work in Nepal, and publishing three books. Not to mention he has been instrumental in supporting and encouraging my blog. So, when he offered me the opportunity to create some art work for his book, I was more than happy to accept.

Being commissioned to do art work for someone has come with new challenges, setbacks and revelations. I’ve gained a lot personally from the project and I hope to find more opportunities to express myself through art in the future.

Act 3: Letting Go

CUE THE SPARKLING STARDUST

Christoph Niemann is as successful as any illustrator could hope to be. His work has graced the covers of The New Yorker, National Geographic and The New York Times Magazine. In addition, his work has been showcased in museums of modern and contemporary art the world over, he has published numerous books, given a TED talk on the power of visual language, and been featured in the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design. His illustrative work has also crossed over into animation with the creation of The New Yorker’s first augmented reality cover and two children’s apps in collaboration with Jon Huang, Petting Zoo and Chomp.

In the series Abstract he speaks candidly about being a control freak and the pressures, fears and doubts involved when trying to create art work under a deadline. He points out the tension between his professional work needing control in order to understand why something is working or not, and the elusive “magic moment” of creating something amazing, which can not be planned or repeated. Despite how successful he is, he admits to “being absolutely, painfully aware of how you’re not good enough to create something on demand.”. Other than building what he terms “an armour of craft”, in his career he has realized that the “ruthless editor” and the “care-less creator” in him have to be equally developed in order to continue producing interesting work. Thus, he schedules time for free creativity where he can be fearless and take risks and never tries something new on a deadline. Surprisingly, he still feels scared when working on a new project, he’s just found ways of working through it.

“It’s not about waiting for hours for this moment where inspiration strikes. It’s just about showing up and getting started and then something amazing happens or it doesn’t happen. All that matters is that you enable the chance for something to happen. For that you have to sit at your desk, and you have to draw and do, make decisions, and hope for the best.” –Christoph Niemann, Abstract

Listening to Christoph Niemann was a real eye-opener for me in terms of gaining an outside perspective into the creative process and also what art is (or should be) about. Art is NOT about making something perfect, or beautiful, or even about me. It IS about looking at something interesting, thinking about why it’s interesting and trying to express that. It’s about asking questions about the experiences in your life and looking for some truth in it that allows other people to experience it as well. This and much more.

I’m reminded of my choreographic work at the Laban Conservatoire of Contemporary Dance. In my first year I had a vision of the final result and I choreographed and designed everything to match that idea. Consequently, my work fell flat. The message wasn’t clear, it was too abstract to be comprehensible, and it was ultimately unrelatable and poorly executed. My best work came from asking questions and letting the questions guide the process. I had no idea what the final result would be, and in the end it was something completely unexpected but coherent, authentic, and actually better than I had imagined. Why should the process be any different with drawing?

Choreography Project at Laban inspired by Kandinsky

The deadline. There’s an interesting dilemma between creating art for art’s sake and creating art for a project with a deadline. While creating “art for art’s sake” may come with the freedom to experiment and take risks without the pressure, it would be reductive to say that “art for art’s sake” necessarily leads to better creativity. An inherent aspect of creativity is problem solving. In designing the cover art and illustrations for Brian’s book, I was given a framework of the concept, a format the images need to fit (we’ll save the formatting woes for another day), and a time frame to complete the project, which came with some boundaries and restrictions to work through. Having now stepped back from the project, I can see the value in this kind of collaboration. Rather than a solo-act which could risk becoming an echo chamber, new perspectives an new opportunities offer new challenges and the potential to grow in ways that aren’t possible alone. I think the same could be said about our friendship, or any friendship for that matter.

And so, after struggling through personal and technical limits, questioning what art is all about, realizing that other people have the same doubts and fears as me, and that there are solutions- it was time to let go. I had done the work and had my own thoughts about it, but a collaboration is not “about me”. I let it go and sent the final designs to Brian to decide over. If working through the ups and downs of a project can feel terribly desperate at times, finishing a project is an elation and solace- a point of arrival that promises a more fortified, new departure.

Final Book Cover Designs

Final Chapter Headings

LIGHTS OUT

CURTAIN DOWN

THE END

For more information about Christoph Niemann’s visit his website: https://www.christophniemann.com/

The full episode of Abstract feature Christoph Niemann can be found on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_k8fVNzbGU

7 Comments

  1. There’s a lot, a heck of a lot to think about in your post.There is always a tension in any of us between structure/discipline/control and creativity/flexibility/??? when working on something that involves others. Projects have goals, objectives, deadlines, process, roles ….. but all of these things are control issues. In my early management career I was and worked as “a scientist”, metaphorically speaking, everything was about control. But, it took time for me to learn that this was NOT the way to achieve things through collaboration. This required me to let go, to give guidelines rather than rules, to give freedom rather than schedules, to encourage creativity rather than to pass judgement. Asking questions became better than telling. In my personal work I went back in time to my PhD student days when I first came across the words of Francis Bacon “if a man will begin with certainties he will end with doubts, but if he is content to begin with doubts he shall end with certainties”. So, cutting through all of this meandering crap, I hope I didn’t constrain you and that a lot of this was inside yourself. If it helps, look back on it and learn from your brilliant result. How did you get there, what worked, what didn’t? I’ll shut up!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I imagine the tension between structure and flexibility exists in every field. In my teaching I can say that magic moments do happen in the classroom, when you see a light click on in a student’s head or a topic sparks genuine conversation, but I also know that my lesson plan has to be well structured for the chance of that happening. Also, the relationship between science and art is very interesting, knowledge vs. Imagination. I’ve heard something similar about certainty and truth seeking, but can’t remember it now! 🤔 You’ve been brilliant! Please don’t feel like I have anything negative to say about our collaboration, my conflicts were all self inflicted 😅 It’s part of the reason I’m so grateful for the opportunity because I’ve also gained some self knowledge and these are my reflections. But it’s not about me (or the wine!), I only hope you’re happy with the end result.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wonderfully insightful experience you’ve had. The fact that you’ve struggled is all part of the process, and within that you’ve come to realizations of yourself and your creativity. As you’ve mentioned, the advice given by others is to spend time creating with abandonment while at other times we may be more constrained due to restrictions that are imposed on us, or perhaps even ones we impose on ourselves. All part of the process through which we grow. How wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I’m grateful for the struggle! I tend to try and do too much at once, so the advice of others gave me some clarity. In fact, I’m starting the Brooklyn Sketchbook Project soon to have a project dedicated to creative play. Have you heard of it?

      Liked by 1 person

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