Book design is a kind of art in and of itself, and nowhere more so than in the case of art publication design. Here, the design choices and intricacies of the printing process itself impart meaning and create another experience for the reader between the book they hold in their hands and the artworks themselves.
Cape Town based graphic designer, Gabrielle Guy, specialises in the layout and design of art books, publications and custom monographs. She has worked with many of South Africa’s most renowned artist, galleries, curators and arts editors, and has developed a reputation for her careful attention to detail and considered approach. We spoke to Gabrielle to learn a little more about her approach to this often overlooked but crucially important area of design.
When asked, what do you say you do?
“Freelance graphic design” is easiest but most boring, so I then usually clarify by adding “but I mainly design art books”.
Please tell us a little about your background – what did you study, what was your first job, what did you used to think you were going to do, how did you end up doing what you do now…
I studied Graphic Design at the Cape Technikon (now Cape Peninsula University of Technology). I got my first job before graduating, at a small design/ marketing company in Woodstock. I stayed there for a year, learning about working on real jobs, learning how print worked. I don’t think I knew where I was going to end up, didn’t have any solid goals – just more of a feeling of how I wanted my life to be. I used to imagine a freelance lifestyle, and working with people instead of for people. I’ve always been very precise in what I do, I enjoy structure and rules and working with type, so I guess I naturally gravitated toward editorial design.
How did your time as art director at Art South Africa influence or inform the kinds of projects you work on now?
I was really dropped in the deep end when I started working there. I hadn’t worked on anything more than business cards and brochures before I started producing magazines and art books – it was a very steep learning curve. My very first book is still my biggest book to date (10 Years 100 Artists – 448 pages!). I learnt a lot about the reproduction of artworks, and working with artists and photographers.
How did you find your way into art monograph/publication design?
I’m not sure really. A lot of small steps towards this over many years.
In my opinion you have the best job a designer could have – what do you love most about what you do?
I love working with a different artist on every job. I love choosing fonts. I love the smell of a freshly printed book. I love using InDesign shortcuts. I love thinking about the book as an object when I’m designing it in my head.
How would you describe your design aesthetic and approach?
Very minimal, very ‘non’. Almost like I’m doing nothing at all.
Please tell us a bit about your process – do you work closely with the gallerist/curator and artist, where does your involvement start and end?
Yes, I normally work very closely with the editor of a book (often this is a gallerist/ curator, sometimes a writer/ editor), as well as the artist. Depending on the publisher, I will be involved right from the start – together with the artist, editor and publisher we will decide on the size and format, and other specs. Sometimes these will be decided ahead of time by the publisher based on budget, but I often get to decide what I think might work best and then they will see if it fits within the budget. I usually deal with the printers too (if printing locally), and do all my own finished art and sending to print, and checking on press. So, I’m involved from start to finish.
In your opinion, good design is…
Simple, and obvious.
What project are you most proud of and why?
At the moment, my book for Brett Murray, which launched at the end of January this year. It was a mammoth task – I started working on it in February last year. Spent months working closely with Brett, which was a fun process, but also daunting trawling through his archive of images from the past 30 years. At times I couldn’t quite see how it was all going to come together, but in the end it did.
If you could collaborate on a project with anyone, who would it be, on what, and why?
If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would have said ‘a book with Steidl’ – Mr Steidl is the most respected photo and art book publisher in the industry. As it turns out, a photo book I started work on last year has just been picked up by them, and I will be going over to work with them for a few days at the end of April!
Who and what inspires you?
Afternoon naps/ modernism/ the universe/ Univers/ good friends/ travelling
When you were little what did you want to be when you were grown up?
Which South African artist’s work do you covet most/dedicatedly collect?
If you weren’t designing fine art monographs and books, what would you be designing (or doing, if not design-related)?
I would be drawing more.
A bit of book cover porn – what does the ultimate, completely irresistible, cover look (and feel) like?
Oh, that’s hard to say! I couldn’t pick one.