Book design brings to life the magic of Dante
Date: 04/07/2019
Writer: Danie

The conceptual nucleus of beautiful book design is rooted in print and packaging principles that tell a story boldly. Flame Design bridges the discipline of the graphic design industry, whose aim is to succinctly capture a client’s brief visually, with that of the publishing industry – which sees books as an investment proposition.

Although book designers use graphic design to construct many of the elements within a book, such as layout and cover design, it’s a job requiring skills over and above that held by graphic designers alone.

While conventional graphic designers understand the complexities of typography, and how to pair certain font families with particular content, they usually don’t have the necessary additional experience required in preparing a manuscript for production.

What is book design?

Book design involves creativity first and foremost, conceptualising the ‘look and feel’ with an understanding of the content of the book and its intended audience, and bringing it to fruition, coupled with specific technical and business skills.

Many of the twentieth century’s most notable international artists have taken the book as an artistic departure point to extrude their creativity, producing complementary sculptures and installations.

The Dante Project

In similar fashion, the celebrated South African fine artist, Judith Mason, created artwork for the medieval poem Dante’s Divine Comedy – a moral and political nightmare of the jousting of good and evil, culminating in a vision of heaven.

The message is still relevant in terms of the world at large, and the South African zeitgeist in particular, spotlighting and dissecting issues of race, war and gender crimes, as well as the tyranny and terrorism of unbridled power.

The Dante Project is, to date, Flame’s magnum opus in book design. Flame was commissioned as graphic design partner for their key skills in ‘bringing the project together’. This involved, among others, book layout and the handling of pre-production requirements such as the drawing up, planning and construction of intricate dielines, photo manipulation, and ensuring that the colour representation of the original artwork was faithfully rendered.

The book is intricately hand-made

The project’s brainchild is architect Etienne Koekemoer. It is a rare and masterly book and design collaboration between, principally, two acclaimed South Africans – fine artist, Judith Mason, and author Johan de Lange. The book consists of three parts, printed and bound entirely by hand, plus scaled-down maquettes of two twelve-metre canvasses and fourteen life-size hand-carved totems.

The Dante Project’s book is hand-printed on 100-year-old-sensitive archival paper, with specialised light-fast inks. The two-phased printing process involved blind embossing (debossing) of portions of the text, which has lent an ethereal feel to the book. This specialised process, as well as the laser cutting, was undertaken by Johan de Klerk, of Good Letter Best.

Dielines of extraordinary precision were required, which necessitated the bleed being within 0,8mm. Each page also required a 3mm white border. Flame Design rose to the challenge, acquitting the task with perfection.

Collaboration with printers and packagers

Seven-colour processing (as opposed to standard CMYK) was applied, to ensure capturing the true colours of the original artwork authentically. Michael Hall was responsible for photography, while Orms in Cape Town constructed the book packaging.

Each book set consists of a wooden stand and two boxes with unique artwork for the lids. One box houses the book – which is hand-bound in cloth and pigskin – plus a set of hand-signed artist proof prints, and another, the scaled-down maquettes. Project initiator and funder, Etienne Koekemoer, applied his knowledge as architect in the creation of the book stand, boxes and maquettes.

For this distinctive project, a total of eight book sets only were created. Each of the sets is unique, since the artist hand-painted particular pages after completion of the printing process, while further customising the book covers and holding boxes with pencil, oils or a
pyrographic application.

The technical detail required to bring The Dante Project to completion is mind-boggling indeed, with countless hours spent by Flame alone in determining the correct contrast balance.

With the close collaboration of experts in their field to produce an exquisite artwork of matchless magnificence, it’s no wonder that one of the eight book sets has found its way into one of largest and most prestigious private collections of art books in South Africa, belonging
to Jack Ginsberg.

What sets outstanding book designers apart from the rest? It all boils down to a synergistic mix of collaborative experience, expertise, creative flair, patience and perfectionism. Flame authentically owns this magical mix, with The Dante Project a showcase of their exceptional book designing prowess.

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Flame Design is multifaceted design studio based in Cape Town, South Africa. We specialise in a variety of services, including production, design, photography, publishing, digital media and art.

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