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Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Dead Man's Memoir and Master and Margarita

Photos / Illustrations by Matt Dawson

We don't often get the hear about the techniques used for some of the great covers featured on the BDR. Today's an exception.

Illustrator / photographer Matt Dawson was kind enough to explain how the images on these Penguin covers were produced.

"The Master and Margarita cover is a straight forward scanned 35mm photo (no manipulation in photoshop). The figures are black card cut outs with red acetate for the cats eyes and the curtains. They were taped to kebab skewers which were then taped against a sheet of glass. On the other side of the glass I hung a cotton sheet. I then back lit the whole affair with a spot lamp (no gels or filters, hence the yellow candle-like cast to the light)."

"A Dead Man's Memoir is scanned crepe paper for the stage curtains, brown paper for the stage, various scanned photos overlayed in photoshop for texture, man silhouette drawn into the computer using a wacom tablet, gear wheels constructed in Illustrator then brought into Photoshop."

Great stuff.


Anonymous said...

but no critical analysis of these techniques, of whether they suit the subject material and why?

Anonymous said...

Hi Joseph,
Many thanks for the post, it's very much appreciated!

To try and answer photosynthesize's comment:

Hi photosynthesize, thanks for showing an interest in the post. I won't try to defend my work at all, after all you either like a cover or you don't and that's fine, but I'm happy to continue a discussion if I can. I'm not sure I can provide a satisfactory analysis of my techniques but I'll try and explain my thinking process.

I don't know whether you have read The Master and Margarita but the cover image depicts a passage from the book in which a giant black cat (Behemoth), the assistant of a mysterious stage performer of black magic (Woland / the devil) flamboyantly decapitates the head of a theatre compare in front of a shocked audience in a Moscow theatre c1920.

I was aiming to capture something of the macabre yet comedic quality from Bulgakov's scene while also (hopefully) suggesting the metaphorical 'puppet theatre' Woland (the devil incarnate) was manipulating as he toyed with the citizens of Moscow.

At the same time I wanted to retain a flavour of the soviet artwork of the time (bold reds and blacks, hard edges, providing a strong and simple composition) creating something which above all was eye catching (especially as this was my entry in a book cover photographic competition run by Penguin Books and I wanted to stand out from the crowd both on the bookshelves and in the competition).

To continue (if anyone is still reading this... I was lucky enough for Penguin to get in touch with me December 2006 as they were wanting to reprint Master & M as a black classic together with a further 2 Bulgakov books (A dog's Heart and A Dead Man's Memoir) and they asked me to submit artwork for the two new covers. Their only brief to me was that they were keen for the 3 covers to work together in a loose set, not necessarily employing the exact same stylistic approach (ie all photographic silhouettes) but all belonging to a recognizable Bulgakov trio. Penguin gave me alot of creative freedom to do as I wished (or rope to hang myself with, depending upon your point of view) and so I submitted 5 covers for the 2 books (check out the "illustration" section of my site
if your interested to see these designs) trying to cover a variety of approaches.

For the cover of Dead Man's Memoirs I again wanted a 'toy / cardboard theatre' feeling as the story very much has the intent to mock the established theatrical tradition. The story is basically one writers tortured journey through the folly of the Russian theatre system, with it's egotistical actors and manager bureaucrats. The inspiration for the cover came from a quote in the book "There are complicated machines in the world, but the theatre is the most complicated of all...". While working with this I wanted to keep something of the original Master and M cover (mainly in the use of silhouette, character design and basic colour pallette). As as I was no longer working in a photographic competition I now had the room to experiment and moved into a photoshop collage approach (desribed in the original blog posting).

The alternative designs for A Dog's Heart on my website show my thought process as I worked on the 2 covers. Photographic (heads and heart image) v digital collage (man/dog with balalaika image) I guess you'd say...not wanting to stray too far from the photographic first cover, which incidently I had worried was too illustrative for a photo competition, but keen to stretch my work and give Penguin something they hadn't seen before. I was fortunate (and extremely happy as this was my first freelance illustration commission) that Penguin felt I had captured something of the story while retaining the 'Bulgakov style' established with my original cover for Master & M. Phew, that's all I can say about that. Thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joseph, I should first offer terrific thanks to you for this blog.

And to you, Mr. Dawson, my first post, that I might thank you for your comments. You have yourself added much to the site.

Eileen said...

I found this whole discussion fasinating and the two covers very striking. For me the bottom cover worked the best as it had a lot of tension in it for me. (that or I have nightmares about being sucked into machines hard to say) Hearing from Matt on how and why he chose his approach was great- Matt- any ideas covers you did that you later rejected?

Anonymous said...

Great work Matt, thanks much for your commentary.

Anonymous said...

What more can be said. Matt, you are humble in your presentation and approach and yet your work screams the very essence of the title. And to think that you had to keep it within the Penguin Modern Classics design theme and not be attached to the idea of executing the final typography—bravo.

Anonymous said...

Sam, Eileen, Bek, Ian,

Many thanks for your kind words, it's great to get 'live' feedback on something which you beaver away with in isolation, questioning your approach as you go. Thank you.

my sketch books for the Bulgakov covers have pages and pages of cover thumbnails which I decided not to proceed with. For example with A Dog's Heart I spent a while heading off on a dog's skeleton/man's skeleton X-ray theme which I abandoned as a bit clich├ęd. It's just as well I didn't submit it as I checked out Amazon (after I'd submitted all my designs for the 2 covers, not wanting to be led by what had been done before) and found that Hesperus Press had a Dog's Heart cover with a dog X-ray on the cover! I also tried out a hand shadow puppet idea in a few sketches (in fact the image on my site with the 2 silhouette heads and a heart background was originally going to have hands in the foreground casting dog and man head shadows) but this approach really wasn't working out at all. I also worried that the hand shadows theme really didn't relate to the story itself. A surgeons hand's casting the shadow... too much information to water the idea down!

The Dead Man's Memoir cover was a bit more of a challenge. My final selected design with the gears was my first real idea (often the way I find) but I felt the need to submt a few approaches to Penguin in order to give myself a better chance of getting one selected. One set of sketches worked with a theme from the book where the writer protagonist hallucinates a mini stage popping up from his manuscript page. I really liked Bulgakov's imagery with this but I couldn't get my representation to read clearly enough. There were just too many elements to incorporate (cossacks, horses, a bloody corpse, night time snowy river bank and a bridge...etc...etc) and the whole affair became muddled. Further more I wanted to keep to a more symbolic kind of image which, although it realates to the text, also works as a 'mysterious' hook to attract a readers attention. I feel it's important that you don't necessarily give the whole game away on the cover of the book (I hope my dog's heart cover manages to achieve this...?). Hope this answer your question Eileen, thanks for your interest.

you're right, I'd have loved to play around with the title typography as well... although that would have opened a whole pandora's box of design choices! I must say though it gives me a real buzz to see my work along with Penguin's iconic cover design.

cheers all, Matt !

Anonymous said...

wow, thanks very much for such an indepth critique matt - although i wasn't actually aiming my comment at you, but at joseph, who as blogger i was hoping for more insight from. i love your designs.

Unknown said...

Boy, is this exciting to get both the design discussion and the illustrator's discussion (okay, I know they're the same thing). Thanks to all for the interesting posting and commenting. I feel like I'm taking master classes on this blog.