All images from Heritage Associates ProjectsFinishing a book at Heritage Associates is like having a baby. After long months of excited preparation, followed by intense labor at the end, the whole team gathers to congratulate each other on a job well-done, and gaze fondly at the newborn. It is already known and loved, but everybody wants to see what it looks like.
Marta Dansie, a talented free-lance graphic artist (and daughter of Dee Halverson) has been a layout designer for Heritage Associates' books since 2001. Marta collects ideas. She has dozens of files filled with clippings, photos and illustrations of anything she thinks she might need one day. Combined with an artistic eye and a poet's imagination, her compositions are always distinctive. I asked her about the process she uses to create a rich, unique and interesting page-by-page design.
I love starting a new book! When Dee has finished writing the text, he hands the chapters over to me in a hefty three ring binder. His books are usually histories about individuals, families, cities, or businesses, so there is a lot of new material to get familiar with. I learn so much about interesting people and places in this first step.
I try to get the vision of what each particular book should look like as I read. Designing books is first and foremost about enhancing the author's text. Dee travels near and far, puts in hours of research, and performs numerous interviews before he even begins telling the tales. When the manuscript is ready for me to start designing, it contains many months of work. I hope to highlight the words and bring the histories to life with art. I jot down ideas for design that come to me while I pore over the chapters.
Once I'm acquainted with the text, I begin the task of scanning the images to be featured in the book. It's best to err on the side of too many images and artifacts, guaranteeing that we feature the very best images in each chapter.
Dee rifles through dusty attics, pages through vintage albums and hunts through boxes to find the perfect pieces to add life to his text. Together we decide which photos, documents, and ephemera need to go in which chapter. This is when I familiarize myself with the faces from the text. I like to get to know the characters. I enjoy working with sepia photographs from yesteryear, ancient documents with well-worn deep creases, beloved army letters which have been saved in their ripped envelopes, passports with young, healthy faces ready for adventure, beautiful paper money from all across the globe, and small colorful stamps sent from here to there. I use Photoshop software to improve the speckled, dusty or damaged images. Dee's clients appreciate seeing these treasures combined on an archival CD to keep for future generations.
Coming up with the skeleton of the book is all-important. I attempt to find out what Dee's vision is for his story. He knows it better than anyone and often has ideas of what the book should feel like. Together we determine the basics for the book: size and shape, paper weight and finish, the binding method, the cover material, etc. This is often choreographed with the print shop to discuss price and any limitations there may be. We narrow down the millions of possibilities. I appreciate knowing the boundaries of a project: I can think bigger if I understand the limits.
Then Dee lets me loose with my imagination and the real graphic design comes into play. Concentrating on one chapter at a time, designing a 200 page book becomes a manageable feat. I use InDesign software to create the blank book, set up margins, pick type size, and prep all the page components before actually laying out the text.
I select dozens of fonts that I think might work with the feel of the story. I pair them together and decide on the ones that are legible, interesting, and bring out the flavor of the history within the text. Choosing photos and ephemera that illustrate the words on each page is a big part of my job as a book designer. Using my best judgment I settle on those that suit the story, fit on the page neatly, and add to the overall look of the book. I like colorful images that pop on the page, yet don't distract from the story itself.
I always prepare a prototype of the first chapter for Dee to look over and show the client. Once I know they are pleased, I continue to design the rest of the book, chapter by chapter. I go back and forth, finding images that might work better here or there. By the time I finish designing a book, I know what photo is on page 43 and what clipart I used on page 109. Putting time and effort into careful designing makes both the images and text look like they belong together. My goal in building a book, is to marry the overall design to the author's text in a seamless fashion, enhancing the fascinating stories.
Marta's enthusiasm for her work allows her to work incredibly hard for long stretches to meet deadlines. This is her new baby!