Last week I had the pleasure of receiving the cover I designed last summer for the new Penguin Deluxe edition of the Kama Sutra. Perfect timing for my special monthly piece!
When you are an illustrator the challenge everytime you get a commission such as this one is to hit the right note, no matter how many goes you have at it .Most importantly: the end result has to look effortless so that all those rounds of feedback and changes have to disappear behind that end result. The process behind a project like this is however much more time consuming and sometimes challenging than it looks. And this one was a tough one, believe me : )
I thought I could share this entire process here on Volcomunity for to you get a feel of how I got there.
I was approached last summer by the art director of the series, Paul Buckley. He had seen some of my work on blogs and thought I would be a good match for their new release of the naughty classic. I remember thinking that it was the absolute perfect project for me! To be honest, I thought it would be an easy one, right up my street but sometimes the most obvious projects just tend to be the challenging ones.
I was so excited that I got started straight away. I had a month to do it and I thought it was plenty of time to nail the cover. My brief was to go for it and create something very naughty and sexy, yet sophisticated and that bookshops could actually put on their shelf. In a nusthell : A modern take on the Kama Sutra.
The first thing I thought about was to create an alphabet but after a couple of days, I felt it didn’t have a purpose so I started exploring visuals that would feel more like a cover. Two things caught my eye when I was doing my research into the origins of the Kama Sutra : A sculpture from the erotic temple of Khajuraho in India and some traditional representations of of Kamadeva, the Indian god of love.
Following the idea that I wanted a modern take on the orginal text, I started some rough visuals updating both those concepts. These were very rough and more at idea stage but I sent them to Paul to see what his response was.
Paul got back to me in a very short email saying something lie : « That is not naughty ». That was it. One line. I realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. The idea of this series of Penguin books is to really push the boundaries of cover design and I was doing exactly the opposite, Trying to tame down my ideas into something that looked like a cover.
I felt I was being too litteral about it really but at this point I couldn’t really let go.
The second round of ideas was a bit naughtier but still fairly shy and restrained. I went back to the idea of drawing kama sutra positions and tried to be more playful about it. I presented two new ideas : A sexual position mirrored on the front and back cover and a pattern of positions that you would only see if you look up close.
I felt that was heading into the right direction. I was the only one. Both those skletches got rejected for being too tame and not sexy enough.
At this stage I remember the deadline was approaching fast and I was starting to think there was a chance that I wouldn’t manage to match his expectations and that maybe I was a prude after all.
I took a couple of days off to distance myself a bit from this brief and realized Paul was right: it was apologetic and restrained and I wasn’t approaching it with the cheekyness and fun I had when doing my personnal projects. So I went back to the drawing board and asked myself: what would you do for a print of the Kama Sutra. I felt like doing some crazy sexual positions, almost impossible, fun and very acrobatic. I decided to use the shape of the letters as a starting point. It is a great challenge to try and fit a square into a circular hole but you always end up with unexpected shapes.
So I got sketching. I remembered thinking that if this concept didn’t work, I wouldn’t know where to head next. I was super anxious at this stage of the project. Paul sent me back another one liner that read: « Love it ». I was relieved and I knew I was onto something good here.
I started developing each letter individually and once I had a rough typeface, I had the idea of spreading the two words accross both flaps and front and back cover of the book. It was a perfect match and allowed the T to sit on the spine, which I thought was a very naughty detail. At this stage, I rolled with it and had a lot of fun creating each letter.
Everything was going smoothly and the guys at penguin were very happy with the direction. The final touch was to create 3 different A’s so there was no repetition on the cover and to add some quirky little details in the positions.
A couple of days after I delivered the cover, Paul sent me an email saying I had to change the M. They discussed it and It was taking it a bit too far : they couldn’t display that position on the front cover. I remember smiling when seeing that email and feeling actually happy : It meant I really went for it. I changed this letter to less graphic « M » and we got the final sign off on everything.
In the end, it was all worth the sweat and when I saw the book printed last week, I knew we had the right cover for it. It looks sexy and naughty, yet sophisticated and playful enought not to shock my mum.
On that very sexy « S », I am off to work on rest of the alphabet.