Friday, February 26, 2010

the perils of (e)publishing

Good thing you weren't around my work area the last few days.
I have been learning how to turn perfectly nice poetry books and publications into hideous ePub files.

Helpful white papers and how-to-guides have led me into a dark dark place.
I have been saying things like "goferkiketyblanging-son-of-a-varmish!!" The cat backs away from my vincinity and even the husband spins on his heels and exits the blue static.

"Why won't the grab-dang-fickle images show up?" I ask the computer as once again all artwork but one disappear when I convert.

"Where the fluke did the table column heads go? Where is my table?" I scream at the monitor. "Give me back my table cells you dastard!"

It reminds me of the mid-90s when I was working as the lone graphic designer in the IT department for MTVN/Showtime. I didn't know how to program, let alone how to do the simple boo-boo mark-up language of html. But as the Indian and Russian programmers kept telling me it was not possible to do the visual improvements I asked for, I started going on the web and finding examples of what I wanted. They shrugged (for some reason programmers don't see the value of graphic design when their code is working fine). So I then began to learn how to do it myself so I could say to the guys, "oh yes, you CAN! Because I (artsy-fartsy English major type) just did, look at THIS!" Of course, back then designing for the web was all about fakes and work-arounds because the browsers weren't set up for graphic design. I found the whole process frustrating and then after awhile, I knew how to do it. For about 5 minutes. The web kept expanding, the browsers improved and the plethora of new software to learn soon made me yearn to return to print design where the pace of technology was glacial.

So I worked at Oxford University Press for seven years mostly ignoring the web. Hah. It caught up with me.

And now I have to learn how to do it again. The electronic world is gobbling up the printed page and regurgitating it in pixels. And not so strangely, e-Pub is like the web was in the mid 90s. Books for Kindles or iPhones just can't do a lot by way of layout, there are work-arounds today, then it will get more functional amazingly fast and ePub books will get much better looking. Like a kid going from 13 to 16.

I may even have to buy an iPad if this becomes the place poetry books are co-published. And at some point, how many publishers will keep issuing paper editions? The horseless carriage becomes the car and the horse goes to the knackers.

I went to a lecture sponsored by the InDesign Users Group. The informative and perky Gabriel Powell spoke about eBooks and how to make them. Yes, I said to myself walking home with the confidence only fools can get from a well-organized demonstration, I just know I can do it... and here I sit in a mist of ire. How I wish Gabriel could do my work for me, he made it sound so easy,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Beijing Calling

My husband Jim is in Beijing getting work writing for musical theatre. I am getting mouth-watering reports of great food, culture, and calligraphy. How hard would it be to learn enough Mandarin to be able to travel to the correct destination in a cab, order the food I want to eat, and say culturally appropriate things to the people I meet?

For me, very very hard. I had many years of French, from middle school to college and I can't do much more than "parlay-vooooo" which just proves my brain is only good at writing poems in English and even then I wonder if my grasp of language is enough. But if I love reading poems in translation, how much better would it be to be able to read them as written?

I think I could learn to read it better than speak it. Years of graphic design and differentiating type faces have made me sensitive to the slightest curl or straight in a letter shape. I have painted watercolors for decades, I know how a brush moves, the slick and stick to paper, the thick flow to scumble finish as the pigment goes from bristle to pulp. I've taken a lot of calligraphy classes... I know this. I also like the idea that the written language is independent of the sounds--pitch can't change the meaning of a written word-- I could learn to read and paint some word shapes. I think I shall try. When Jim gets back with ink and brush and a book for little kids to learn their letters.


I went to the Childrens' Book Illustrator Group meeting on Sunday wondering if it could be at all useful to my errant freelance fancy, as in, earn a buck. While Regina Griffin of Egmont did a most informative overview of her new (start up) American branch of a large European publishing company I looked around the packed living room of our host and saw the eager, hungry, talented, and skilled hoards of illustrators, I asked myself the key question.

What sets me apart?

I haven't actually illustrated many books or magazines for kids. I certainly am not a name in the business. My style is not cutting edge or going to change the way an entire generation thinks about the way we see the world (Sendak). But...

I combine skills in a way that does make me a bit unusual. I've studied calligraphy, cartography, poetry, life drawing, book design, cartooning, painting, adobe illustrator and photoshop, color theory, perspective, anatomy, and I know how to develop a narrative and tell a story in words as well as images. One of the ways all this combines is in creating decorative/illustrated maps. Maps always have a narrative implied.

So during the Q. & A. I asked if she had need of such maps. She does.  (I have done many--for fantasy books, kids' books, YA, historical, travel and whimsical.) I hope that she gets back to me, I left her my card and sent an invitation to view my website. Sometimes it helps to know what I can offer to a client, something I am uniquely qualified to do, that nobody else in the room is mentioning.

After that I leaned back and enjoyed the wonderful work my fellow members were presenting in the portfolio review. Here's to all of us.

Tasters' Choice

You know how some friends send things back to the kitchen, "I wanted my coffee in a proper mug with a handle, not a glass cup, please" and others would drink dish water from a dirty can without saying a word? The world divides into two camps, the resenders and the takers. So too in my house.

I woke up to a clear message that the cat (resender) had objected to both her wet and dry food by resending it onto the floor near my bed, by the human toilet, and finally in strongly worded contempt, the interior of my loafers. The dog (taker), on the other paw, had not only eaten hers, but had not objected to eating what the cat didn't want. Which isn't so bad but the high calorie cat food gives the dog a colonic cleanse which resulted in the dog turning solids into liquids in areas where my foot landed first stumbling from sleep to day.

Ah, the joys of pets.