On Monday, I attended an event at the 92nd Y on the Upper East Side called The Art of the Book which featured presentations from world-renowned designer Milton Glaser, superstar book cover designer Chip Kidd, and McSweeney’s founder and rising literary star Dave Eggers. Watching the slideshow presentations and attentively listening to each speaker’s commentary, I began to itch with a desire to sit alone in my own space and make something, anything. I was particularly impressed with Dave Eggers and his ability to embrace constraints and to even flourish as a result. It was refreshing to hear from a designer who didn’t worship the Mac or seek out the latest Adobe tools. Eggers had held on to his Quark 4.1 since starting McSweeney’s in 1998 and spoke of his 56kbps Internet connection. But as a person who seems to be bursting with creativity and new ideas, it looks like he needed all kinds of constraints to help narrow his focus and find a way to keep things simple.
Today, I found myself still itching to make something. I had been editing a bunch of old writings recently in an effort to hopefully put them into print form, but as with many large self-initiated projects, I knew there would be endless delays and procrastination. I wanted to make something on the spot. Something that would gain so much momentum that I would not be able to stop until I was finished. So I decided to take one of my old stories and turn it into a 16-page book.
I had been tinkering with Adobe InDesign the last couple of days, so I was a bit more familiar going into today’s endeavor. Also, I was luckily hit with a clear image of what the cover design should be. I heeded Chip Kidd’s advice of avoiding an obvious cover and tried to be subtle yet interesting with the cover photo. And after learning about how Eggers only used Garamond for McSweeney’s, I decided to go one-typeface with Adobe Caslon. I ended up using Caslon in various forms – italics, all caps, spaced out, large and small. I was very pleased.
Three or four hours went by in a blur, and by the end, I found myself sitting with a book in my hand. Of course, this would be only one part of the project. The other part would be a web page that captured the publishing process. It would require good photos, step-by-step instructions, and an easy-to-follow layout. The result can be seen right here. And the final part, of course, is this entry being written right now. Even the single homemade copy needs good PR.
Today’s exercise was a much needed relief and a good dose of productivity away from work. Being self-employed and handling a number of client projects, I’ve found myself stressed out by the daily worries of deadlines, finances, and the future. But to suspend time and lose myself in an activity like self-publishing really helps to put things in perspective: worry less about the peripheral details and learn to enjoy doing the tasks for what they are. And I have to admit, I’m lucky to be doing the things that interest me. I just need the occasional injection of inspiration.