This month Penguin launches a redesigned series of six classic titles, called Penguin Ink. But the ‘ink’ is not printers ink, but that of a more visceral kind.
Instead of commissioning illustrators to reimagine the covers, spines and flaps of these well-loved titles, the design team enlisted the help of six tattoo artists to put their stamp, or needle, on each of the books.
Will Self’s The Book of Dave, Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club, Ali Smith’s The Accidental, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal have all been ‘inked’, and given a very different feel by international tattooists Duncan X, Han van de Sluys, Judd Ripley, Lynn Akura, Russ Abbott and Valerie Vargas.
Design Week caught up with Penguin General designer Richard Bravery to get under the skin of the new series and ask him some questions about each of the designs.
Design Week: What was the thinking behind creating a series of tattoo-inspired covers?
Richard Bravery: The tattoo world has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Gone are the visions of seedy backstreet parlours, old sailors and bikers, many tattooist today are art school graduates. But despite this transformation some people still view tattoo art as underground and one-dimensional. We wanted to showcase the diversity and talent that exists within the tattoo world.
DW: How did you choose which tattoo artists to commission?
Bravery: We started the process with around 50 or 60 possible artists, selected from around the world, and from there started to pair artists with books. In some cases the association was there instantly, where the feel of the artwork matched that of the book. But what was important for us was to select six different artists with different styles and more importantly styles not commonly associated with tattoo art again to emphasise the diversity and talent within the tattoo world.
DW: What sort of brief did you give the artists and how would that differ from commissioning illustrators or designers?
Bravery: A big misconception is that tattooists lack vision and only do what is asked of them. All the artists were given open briefs, and from there it was a creative process of bouncing around workable concepts. Ultimately we didn’t want the designs to turn out looking like ‘glorified illustrated book covers’ - they still needed to retain their integrity. It was important for us to listen to the artists, and allow the designs to develop naturally with as little interference from as possible.
DW: I particularly like the artist self-portraits in the back inside cover, what was the thinking behind those?
Bravery: The back flap is usually the domain of the author and the artist generally gets a small credit somewhere on the back of the cover, but with this being a artist led series we really wanted to change that. I think most of us can imagine how and where most artists work, but as we hadn’t worked with any tattooists before, the more we found out about what makes them tick and how they worked, the more we wanted to feature them on the cover. We also wanted to give the reader a little insight into the eclectic mix of artists.
DW: Who designed the special Penguin Ink logo?
Bravery: We didn’t want to give the logo to one particular tattooist from the series and instead of brining a different tattooist on board we decided to design the logo ourselves. The initial idea was to have just the anchor on the arm but the temptation was too great and we ended up adding many others. It was just a bit of fun really, we went through a lot of different tattoos before we came to the ones that we felt best matched the spirit that the little penguin embodies. Which I guess means we saw him as an old sea dog.
DW: Why do publishing houses bring out themed ranges like this one?
Bravery: For me I think that backlist is increasingly being seen as a place to innovate within a difficult and increasingly cautious market place. A good backlist book already has recognition factor, an immediate link with the customer, which is a big advantage as you aren’t just a nameless face within a crowded bookshelf, and as such you can be braver with the design and push for new audiences, the backlist is a place where progressive design is thriving.