Catalogue design for Rex Kralj

A creative collaboration
Last year Tessa and Nathalie from NU interieur|ontwerp contacted me about working together on a catalogue for Slovenian furniture company Rex Kralj. Photographer Wendy from beeldSTEIL joined the team as well, who’s unique photography style was a very good match for the brand. And today we can finally show you the results! You can download the catalogue from the Rex Kralj website (after leaving your email address).

So how do you make a catalogue?
We started with a strong concept that Nathalie & Tessa had come up with: a set of key words that defined what Rex Kralj stands for, as well as a visual translation of those words in the form of moodboards. These words were: simplicity, nature, heritage, craftsmanship, details and light. You can read more about it on their blog. The theme for the catalogue this year would be “Light & dark”, referencing both the past and the future of the brand. We wanted to make a catalogue that was more of a lookbook or even a picture book rather than just an overview of the collection. So we came up with a main character and a narrative that was all about incremental changes that take place during the day and during life. We brainstormed locations and settings that we could use to tell the story as well as show the furniture collection. Four days of photoshoots later, we had a collection of images that was ready to be turned into a book.

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Inspired by Dutch book designer Irma Boom, I made a small dummy book (4 x 6 cm) to have a better idea of the flow of the book and how the pages related to each other.

The design of the book
One of my favourite things about the catalogue is that the pages slowly transition from white to black, referencing how the day passes in small, incremental changes in light that you might not even notice. I also got to select a new typeface for the brand and redesign their logo which was created in the 1950s (!) by the furniture designer Niko Kralj himself. These elements formed the basis of a simple, yet very conceptual book design. The images take center stage and the story is told alongside it. I wrote a first draft of the text and then Margot of Mae & Many came in and turned it into a beautiful story.

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Behind the scenes at the first one out of four days of fotoshoots. This particular shoot took place in a daylight studio in Amsterdam.

Printing the catalogue
This is one of those projects where the print production can make a crucial difference in the final result. We chose an uncoated thick paper stock for the cover and a coated paper that also felt very matte for the interior of the book. The binding method is called ‘pamphlet stitching’, we used a black thread to sow the pages together, and added a level of craftsmanship and detail to the design. The pages in the different shades of grey were printed using tones of a single Pantone color, to make sure that the tone of the pages would be consistent. Zwaan Printmedia did a great job at producing over 5.000 copies of the catalogue and I love how they turned out.

Rex Kralj

Here you can see the first pages of the catalogue on the press, back in early January!

That wasn’t all…
In addition to the catalogue we also designed a product leaflet, price lists, business cards, a limited edition poster with illustrations of the furniture, postcards & more. I can’t wait to show those in an upcoming blogpost. For now, I’m off to Paris to celebrate the launch of the new catalogue with Rex Kralj at the Maison & Objet fair!


Book cover design – De Groene Meisjes

I’ve been working on a fun book design project for the past few months. The book is about green lifestyle choices and it is written by Dutch bloggers Merel & Jamie, known as De Groene Meisjes (The Green Girls). We met through Aline, who is doing the photography of the book. I already knew and read their blog and used it often to find the best green & healthy hotspots. It has been a nice creative project for the four of us so far and I’d like to show you some of the behind-the-scenes of the design process, starting with the cover of the book. We had a tight deadline to meet so Merel & Jamie arranged a photoshoot in the Honigcomplex (an old factory) in Nijmegen. Tess was there for hair & make-up and Milou from vintage shop Petit Village provided us with beautiful furniture and accessoires for the shoot. There was also lots of cake, juice & salads to keep us from going hungry. We had a lot of fun and you can proof of that in this video that we made during the day:

My job for the day was making sure that there was space for all the typography in the photo, as well as holding the light reflector (a very important task ;-)) and shooting some of the material that you see in the video above. There was a very bright pink wall outside that Aline had spotted and that would potentially work well for the cover because I could add the title & subtitle directly on the pink background. We explored different options during the day but in the end we knew that the pink wall was definitely the winner!

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Once Aline had edited the photos I explored different typographic options for the text. I first went with a few modern typefaces and also added in a handwritten option last minute, which turned out to be everyone’s favorite. So I tried out different handlettering styles and we ended up choosing a modern calligraphic style. The challenge was to fit the title into a rectangular space and to make the words as big as possible so that you can read easily it at a smaller size, for example when you see it in an online bookshop. Tilting the words and playing around with the swashes allowed me to do just that. I used a grid to make sure that the letters were all tilted at exactly the same angle and the x- and cap-height of the letters was consistent. I made some quick digital mock-ups on the photo of the pink wall we selected to check the overall composition.

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Using my lightbox I made corrections and changed the lettershapes slightly until I was happy with how it looked. The neighbour’s cat loved the lightbox too and insisted on sitting on my sketches ;-) The next step was to scan it in at 600dpi and then clean it up in Photoshop before importing it into Illustrator. I then traced the sketch using the pen tool, that way I could decide where all the anchor points would go as opposed to doing a live trace. I made a print of the traced letters in black & white and marked all the little details I still wanted to correct.

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Once that was all done it was time to work on the subtitle & tagline about their blog readers. The photo does a lot in explaining the fun, accessible approach that Merel & Jamie have to living a green & vegan lifestyle. We did however need to make the subtitle clear & large enough to explain what people could expect from the book. I wrote all the words down on paper using a thick marker and then scanned & live traced it in Illustrator. I tried out 10+ different lay-outs and printed mini-versions to be able to compare them easily. We selected our favorite and then the cover was done!

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After finishing the cover, Merel & Jamie spent most of the summer writing the book. Last week we had another photoshoot in Amsterdam and that means that almost all of the content for the book is ready. This week I’ll start working on the interior design of the book and I’m looking forward to seeing all of it come together. Things will be moving fast as the book will come out on October 14!


Summer School in Cambridge

Cambridge

Last week I travelled to Cambridge (UK) to attend a summer school in children’s book illustration, organised by Anglia Ruskin University / Cambridge School of Art. I’d heard about the course from the talented Ellen Vesters, who’s illustration classes I took earlier this year.

I arrived on campus with a suitcase filled with art supplies and spent the next 5 days drawing, drawing & drawing. It was nice to feel like a student again, sharing a kitchen with 10 others and living in a student room that was more or less the size of our bathroom at home ;-) There were 60 of us attending the course and people had come from all over the UK, Europe and even China & Japan. We worked on character development and created a storyboard for our own picture books. We didn’t have time to do any final art work, as normally it would take about a year or 2 to actually make a full picture book. So what we were doing in just 1 week was kind of crazy, but fun! I continued working on the book I started in Ellen’s course about a love story set in bakery in Paris. It is a wordless book so it was quite tricky to make the visuals obvious enough to tell the story without losing some of the surprise and the magic.

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Each day started with inspiring lectures by the teaching staff, which included Pam Smy, Marta Altes, Ness Wood, Dave Barrow, Natalie Eldred, Birgitta Sif and Hannah Webb. We then went to the studio’s to work on our sketches and ideas and we received thoughtful, in-depth invididual feedback on our work. Some people struggled more with making the story work, others with illustration part (that was me). We often stayed up late working and early in the morning we were in the studios again. I think I never spent so many hours (50+) drawing in one week. It was challenging and definitely not easy, however we all struggled and that kind of helped.

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On the final day each of us presented a dummy book or storyboard for the final crit. We all felt a bit relieved that we had made it! I only noticed afterwards that my (French) title had a spelling mistake in it (there is an extra ‘l’ that shouldn’t be there). I had added it an hour before the deadline and clearly didn’t get enough sleep that night ;-) It was nice to get to see everyone’s stories and to see the diversity in illustration styles and story plots.

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By the end of the week I had gotten so used to making changes to the book that I didn’t feel attached to it having to end up in a certain way anymore. It was definitely interesting to see just how much is involved in making a good picture book and how many changes and rounds of revisions a book goes through before it ends up on a bookshelf somewhere. I do plan to continue to work on the book as a personal side project as well as continuing to work on my observational drawing skills, as my characters are still a little wonky. I do kind of like their quirky appearance however more drawing experience will help me to give them more natural and more diverse postures and expressions. I’m also seriously considering applying for the MA in Children’s Book Illustration next year, it would be a great opportunity to develop my illustration work and to learn more about visual storytelling too.

If you’re interested in attending the summer school next year – I’d highly recommend it! – you can find more information here.