The Making of Sepia
A post by ABDA member Debra Billson
It can be quite isolating working as a freelance designer. After your work is done and sent out into the universe, you sometimes never hear about a job again. Therefore, when Sepia was voted Designers’ Choice Book of the Year at the 2015 Australian Book Designers Awards, I was left speechless (literally – I hadn’t prepared one!). So, this is a great opportunity to acknowledge those people who I should have mentioned on the night.
It’s a Marathon
It was way back in July 2012 when I was first contacted by Deb Brash (who was the Creative Director at Murdoch Books at the time) to prepare a sample setting for the book, which was to be named after the multi-award winning restaurant. I flew from Melbourne to Sydney for a beautiful degustation lunch and to get a feel of the business in action. The Chocolate Forest Floor dessert (as featured on Masterchef) is one I will never forget, despite having to shovel it down to make a dash for the plane at the end of the day!
Unfortunately, this was an unsettling time for Murdoch, as they were in the process of being purchased by Allen & Unwin. So, after presenting the initial sample setting, I was required to package up the files with a handover letter—not knowing if I would ever see the job again.
Fast Forward 15 Months
In December 2013, Miriam Steenhauer, the newly appointed Design Manager at Murdoch, contacted me and asked if I would continue the design with a whole new team of people, including publisher Diana Hill, editorial manager Katie Bosher, and editor Emma Hutchinson (my therapist at the end of the phone).
The body text design had been approved, and really didn’t change much from the initial sample. Chef Martin Benn’s recipes are long and detailed, and so a simple text layout was best for ease of reading—almost making the design invisible so you can just follow the cooking method unhindered. The restaurant itself takes its influences from Art Deco, New York and Japanese style, so the text columns are like skyscrapers, anchored from the bottom baseline and ending at various heights at the top. I chose the simple font of Nimbus San Novus for the recipes, and used Mostra Nuova for the headings, as it has an Art Deco feel that nods to the font used for the restaurant’s logo.
Matching the Restaurant’s Style
The book Sepia is really like a folio piece for Martin and his restaurant, which he runs with partner Vicki Wild. Both Martin and Vicki have a very strong creative vision and a natural artistic flair, which can be seen in Martin’s food design and Vicki’s overseeing of the restaurant. Therefore, it was a matter of meeting that vision in the book’s design, taking the cues from the interior of the restaurant – from the Champagne-bubble motif on the wall, to the brass and metallic fixtures, and patterned upholstery and floor tiles.
Martin and Vicki had a long-standing relationship with the amazing photographer Jennifer Soo, and therefore the art direction came from the style they had established previously on Sepia’s website and promotional pieces. Martin and Vicki also wanted to work with the iconic photographer Gary Heery for their staff portraits and other mood photography.
From the very start, Vicki had prepared a Powerpoint presentation with her vision for the book, and it was my job to translate that into printed form. She wanted lots of space with lots of black. One hundred per cent black ink by itself tends to look transparent printed over a large area, so I used the 4 process colours, combined to give the illusion of solid black. If you’re a designer who’d like to do the same, check with your printer or pre-press service for the best combination of CMYK that will give a deep black which doesn’t flood out the printing press.
Which brings me to…
Use a Good Pre-press Service
Using two different photographers meant that we had a few different styles of photography – we had black and white action photos from both Gary and Jennifer, in addition to Jennifer’s colour food photography. For the black and white, Vicki really wanted a richness to the photos which I felt couldn’t be achieved in greyscale alone, and so the wonderful team at Splitting Image converted all the photos into 4-colour process and ensured a consistency in tones between the different styles. Vicki and Martin also spent hours sitting beside Jennifer’s photo re-toucher, Kiki, to achieve the colour they felt best represented their food, and the fantastic Mick Smith from Splitting Image generously allowed me to sit at a desk in their office to go through the digital proofs and make last minute corrections. (Very nice people there – if you visit, you may even get a barbecued sausage in bread!)
Make Friends with your Production Manager
It all went a little wayward after I typeset the first pages, as the authors were anxious that the essence of the restaurant had not been captured in the pages between the recipe chapters. This entailed jumping on a plane for an emergency face-to-face meeting with them and the Murdoch folk, which was SO much more productive than trying to Skype for a couple of hours.
My design response to the authors’ requests probably gave the publisher Diana, and the production manager, Mary Bjelobrk, a bit of a conniption fit. To allow for some extra mood photography which we needed, I asked for an extent of over 300 pages (up from 256 pages), in addition to the 5th colour metallic ink, as well as an all-over varnish so the solid black and metallic areas didn’t transfer onto facing white pages. Mary was absolutely fabulous, and allowed me to have a wet-proof (machine proof) to check the quality and shade of the PMS gold duotones, as well as ensuring the type reversing out of the 4-colour black didn’t fill in on the printing press.
Last but Not Least
Designing the cover was possibly the easiest part of this project. Vicki Wild had always envisioned a belly-band, and had given us a sample of a book she liked for inspiration, as well as her restaurant promotional material that included the pattern of the floor tiles. A linen cover was suggested, but I was concerned that brown linen may look a little dull on the shelf, so I popped into a haberdashery store and grabbed some shiny curtain fabrics that caught my eye and posted them to Mary. In conjunction with the printer, she was able to find a matching book-binding fabric, and therefore fulfilled a 15 year dream of mine to produce a book covered in shiny material!
Once the cloth was decided upon, it was then just a matter of coming up with a way to incorporate the floor tile pattern or the Champagne pattern from the wall of the restaurant. After trying various designs (including die-cutting the pattern out of the belly-band), a deboss and black foil on the case was decided upon. When a printer’s sample was produced, there was trouble with the black foil pattern scraping off the smooth cloth, so Mary substituted some areas of foil with black screen-printing. Not a cheap cover to produce! Overall, it’s one of those books that’s better being stroked than viewed in pixels (hopefully, without food on your hands!)
No (Wo)Man is an Island
It takes a Herculean effort from a team of people to produce an illustrated book such as this, and my thanks goes out to all concerned for Sepia’s Designers’ Choice award (even though it may have been voted for on the night because it was the shiniest object in the venue’s dim lighting!)
I have joked, for those of us who’ve never had the opportunity to apply for the ‘Young Designer of the Year’, perhaps this could be seen as the ‘Middle-aged but Still Relevant’ award. So take heart, there’s still hope – even if you work in your spare room filled with clotheshorses and toy boxes!
Debra Billson is a freelance designer based in Melbourne. Whilst designing everything from children’s board books to cookbooks, Debra’s favourite genre is fiction, and she enjoys maintaining a small and loyal client base.