Friday, September 28, 2007

By Hand or by Mouse

I have a fondness for cranky obsolete tools like circle templates, Speedball pens, and parallel rules. I love the feeling of stuffing sticky beeswax into a Lectrostik waxer. My pulse quickens at the smell of Higgins Eternal ink. I can still dimly remember how to construct a pentagon with nothing but a compass.

But I also appreciate the quicksilver speed and convenience of the computer. When it came to creating Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, I gave a lot of thought to what steps to do by hand and what to do digitally.


For the first time I designed and wrote the book in Adobe InDesign. In the past I designed the Dinotopia books by typing out galleys on paper and sticking them down with hot beeswax onto cardboard paste-up sheets.

This time I had low-res digital image files shot from the original art, and I dropped them into an InDesign template. Then I inserted temporary "greeked" columns of type to match the storyboard. With just a few months to go before press time, I wrote the text and captions to fit into the layout. In this way I could juggle around all the page elements, trimming here and expanding there to carefully control the column length and page breaks.

During this design/comp stage I used two custom digital fonts that were made to simulate my own 19th Century-style hand lettering. These digital fonts appear in the final layouts of my second book, The World Beneath.


The digital fonts were fine for the comprehensive stage, but they never look like real handwriting. I’m getting a bit tired of looking at digital letterforms masquerading as real hand lettering. When it came to the final appearance of the new Chandara book, I wanted everything to be as authentically handmade as possible.

So I dug in the back of my studio drawers and found my old friends, the steel pen nibs by the name of Gillott and Speedball and Brause. They were rusty and so was I, but I got into the swing of it after a while.


I drew all the maps with ruling pens, circle templates, and dip pens. The captions were lettered with an oblique nib holder and a Gillott 170. The lettering didn’t take that long, and it was fun to put on a fancy flourish here and there.

Let me take this opportunity to thank my editor, Dorothy O’Brien at Andrews McMeel Publishing, for her patience and faith in this unusual process, and to Tim, Holly, Mackenzie, and the whole team at AMP for their incredible job of putting the elements into final design and production.

5 comments:

Michael said...

wow, wow and wow. I knew it! All of the best artists use macs! j/k. Thanks for showing us your design process for the book!

Nathalie said...

Dear mr Gurney,

I have been reading this blog since it first started and I have to compliment you on its great quality. Its entertaining, educational, creative, at times highly amusing (e.g. the Gallery Flambeau!) and excellently written.
Yes, as a Dinotopia fan I am of course entirely biased, guilty as pleaded.
I'll also never cease to be amazed by your art and by the way it is created, the knowledge of which adds yet more depth to it. Thank you so much for sharing all this.

Breathe Deep Seek Peace, Vorchia

cat said...

I really appreciate real hand-lettering. I always wince when I notice lettering in books that's supposed to be hand written, but it doesn't take too long to see that it's far too uniform.

Chuck Green said...

Though I finally let go of my big blue lucy (camera lucida), I still have my wood burnisher, a big set of circle templates and french curves, my T-square, and other remnants of my craftsman past.

One of the few things I miss from that era is the dependence we had on others--each part of the process included so much energy and effort, we were forced to collaborate in ways that are no longer, in may cases, necessary.

Interesting, now that applications have been around a while, the complexity seems to be returning to the point that reliance on the skills of others is returning.

Enjoying you posts.

James Gurney said...

Michael and Cat, great comments, and thanks both of you for being regular visitors.

Vorchia, I appreciate all you've been doing on the Message Board, and it's nice to have your voice you here.

And Chuck, what an insightful point about how the new tech has changed the way we collaborate. I remember the trips to the typesetter just to get a couple of headlines set. Can't say I miss Letraset and Chartpak too much, though.