This is part two of four in a series of posts about how I created an illustration book (about Prince).
Part One talks about the creation and the art ;
Part Two (this one) is all about crafting and printing ;
Part Three will detail the KickStarter campaign ;
Part Four will wrap it all.
If you need more context about my work with and about Prince, head over to prince.by.blule.fr
As with any creative endeavour, it all starts with an idea, an itch to scratch. For a project like this one, you then need to think and plan and eventually create (see the previous post about this part). At one point, you also need to make it a reality. In this case, an actual book. You know, with pages and all.
Designing the book felt a lot like trying to make a puzzle.
Except the pieces would change shape constantly. And the image would also change.
You settle on a size, and a number of pages, but then you want to change the paper.
- "Oh wait: this paper is not available in this size, so the price would double".
- "Ok, so let's change the size".
- "Hmh, yes, but then that makes for smaller illustrations, so maybe we should use double pages."
- "My illustrations are mostly squares"
- "Well, we can change the size"
It was endless. We went back to square one so many times, I don't even know what we actually decided on first.
I knew I wasn't ready to make many concessions. The book was to be big and beautiful and noble, as the homage itself. I guess that's how the book ended up being on the expensive end of the spectrum, and I barely covered the costs with the campaign.
Early on, we had to choose a partner for the printing. I cannot overstate the importance of that choice. Your printer will guide you through the many, many choices; the very specific technical constraints, trying to make sure all your un-reasonable demands somehow stay in the price limit.
Lucky me, this is where Raphael (a.k.a hubby) comes in very handy: he was very much into all of this in his previous life (back when we lived in France).
This is how we ended up working with our printer in France. Someone with the right machine and great expertise, someone we could trust blindly. What we'd lose in the distance, we'd make up tenfold in quality and trust.
In photography or art books, I hate it when images are spread across pages. The fold ruins everything. They do that so the image can be larger, and the book can be smaller (and thus cheaper). This was certainly not the case for my book. It had to be large enough that people could appreciate the illustration in their entirety.
I also liked the idea that each page could live by itself, that the book could be unbound and turned into 30 separate illustrations. For this reason, we'd only print on one side of the pages, further increasing quality, as transparency of the paper would not interfere with the images.
We all know: we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. And yet... books are, indeed, judged by their cover.
This cover needed to be both grandiose and gentle at the same time; eye-catching and subtle; explicit and mysterious.
One very comfortable aspect was that the book wasn't meant to be sold in retail stores, or even online. This freed me from many constraints that traditional books have to deal with.
I think I first envisaged a simple black & white printing, but it felt too simple, and printing the level of detail I need for watercolour onto such fabric isn't really doable.
For a long time, I also toyed with the idea of having lace over the cover, maybe with an illustration of Prince's eye behind it (like the lace mask from the '84 era). This idea was sadly crushed by the cruel reality of cost.
Then hot foliage came into the picture: Prince was always luminous, never afraid of glitters.
For a long time, it was supposed to be silver as the cover was to be black, but the result was too dark or serious or sad. We switched the cover to white, which paved the way for the gold foliage.
The thick, grained texture of the fabric required to double the number of passes of gold foliage.
The binding would also need to be thought through. First because like everything else, it had to stand out, but also because of the format and size and materials. A ribbon was a great solution here. Tying in with Prince's long relationship with clothes, and my own love for ribbons.
Here are a few mock-ups I made when testing various options.
The cover is also where you need to put the title.
In this digital world, I value the "hand made" and the analogous even more. I embrace digital but only as a tool: "by hand" is how things are made. It's everywhere in Blule: I only ever create actual paintings, and the book was to reflect that too. We pushed it even further by having zero text typeset. All the texts in the book are handwritten. From my intro to Raphael's colophon; from Ida's foreword to Prince's title.
The title was re-created, starting from a couple of pictures from his handwriting, assembled, and then retraced by hand to finally be digitized again. Authentic or nothing.
With all this planned for, when we started the Kickstarter campaign, and then when it was funded, we were confident we had a solid project.
As the campaign went a bit past the goal, we had the opportunity to push further. We decided to send Raphael on a 2-day trip to Paris to meet with the printer and tie every loose end (when you come from Australia, that means you actually spend more time travelling than on location).
This was a key decision in the project.
They ran a test print on the paper we had selected, and the result was not overwhelming enough.
And this is where the magic of having the right partner happens. In less than a day, they were able to shuffle it all, sorting through hundreds of paper sample, settling on one, ensuring its availability (because, you know, paper don't grow on trees! ;) ) and calling in favours to have it at the best price.
Another key decision that was made this day was to use a 5th colour for the printing of the illustrations. The traditional 4-colour process cannot render some of the brighter colours, and when comparing with the original paintings, or even with the digital prints I make, it "lost" too much.
Those were still a tough call: the increase in price would basically eat the small profit that was left at that point. Still, it was the right thing to do.
A week later, the real craftsmanship began. It started with the covers and the very manual process of assembling it and then pressing the gold. Here is a video of the first tests. I could watch this over and over. This is mesmerizing for me.
The next major step was the printing of the illustrations.
The team in France moved their shift a couple of hours earlier, as we needed to validate, over FaceTime, every step of the way. Eight different batches, eight different calls, way into the night. The scene was quite surreal (sadly, there is no footage of this), hard to explain even:
a limited quantity of paper, on a machine that goes so fast that each time you run a test a minimum of 100 sheets must go to waste, means there is no room for mistake or we'll miss both the deadline and a large sum of money. The team did a great job, and all went fine. Samples were mailed to us via express courier the same day so we could receive them a couple of days later.
We opened the package with huge excitement and even larger anxiety.
It was amazing to discover the first bits of the final product, but something wasn't perfect.
The 5th colour, a bright pink, wasn't showing enough.
After considering the delays and the costs, we decided to reprint some pages. It meant ordering some more paper, edit the files, reserve some machine time and roll again.
It would put even more time pressure on the next phases, and with this decision I was actually losing money on the project, but at that point I just wanted the best product imaginable (I was also confident that a few late order would come in, making up for it -- more on that in the next post).
Once we had all the elements: the covers and their gold foliage and the printed sheets with the bright colours on the thick textured paper, came yet another key step: binding it all, making it an actual book. For most books, this step is automated. Not for mine. Teams of people had to sort and assemble the books, number them by hand, then place the (1,500m! of) ribbons, and finally wrap and package them.
Book by book. This took a team of 3 people more than a month of work!
The first books started to ship as others were being assembled, making up for the time lost along the way. I'll talk about shipping more in the next post, but overall, it went OK. Only two books lost, and two others damaged.
Looking back on it, I'm still not sure how everything fitted in the time and budget constraints, but I'm also able to say that zero concession has been made and it couldn't have been executed better.
For me, that's saying something.