I would like to start out with a disclaimer: I am not good at math. When I say I am not good at math, I’m saying that I got a D- at my university where you needed a C to pass, and they still let me pass because it was a) not my major (I was getting an Illustration degree) and b) I tried my best. I have struggled with the subject ever since we got those 10×10 sheets of multiplication problems in elementary school that needed to be solved in a minute. I would say that’s where it all began.
I am also saying that any of the math here today may be incorrect or there might be an easier way of doing it.
There is, unexpectedly, a bit of math within art and publishing. I would say it probably isn’t strictly necessary: there’s hope for me yet. But the problem with math being mostly problem solving is that, well, it does solve problems later that I now no longer have to deal with because I did the math.
I’m mostly talking about measuring and scaling. We’re not doing complicated geometry or algebra in publishing, thankfully. The drawings themselves do not involve any math. And while art is really a lot of problem solving on its own, math is a different set of problems.
I am currently doing a work-study placement at Cranachan Books. My initial project was, utilizing my background in illustration, illustrating a book cover for an upcoming book.
Wonderful! Exciting! So much fun!
I receive the design brief from my manager with instructions on the look, feel, and, as the kids say, ‘vibe’ of the book. When I begin illustrating something, it first begins with composition. Remember how earlier I said illustration on its own was problem solving? Well, that starts with the composition. Figuring out what and who to include, where it’s going, and where it fits. The other, probably most important thing about illustrating in publishing is text: you make room for text. However much room you think is enough, it isn’t. Add more.
My illustration professor lauded on us that without the text, the composition should feel empty. Add more space, Elise.
So, I get started with making lists, etc. of what we’re including in cover. My manager had added her own on the design brief, which I reference. With the lists, I highlight the most important aspects I think need to be included. I go on to start sketching. In total, I make about 24 different variations of thumbnail sketches. Included in the brief is the size of the book. B Format: 129mm x 198mm. I ensure my thumbnail sketches are roughly portrait size. I might even drop those measurements into photoshop or InDesign to see if it’s a little skinnier or wider than your average A4 (which it obviously is, but I’m also used to working with inches so you can’t blame me for checking).
Once the thumbnail sketches are done, I gather them into one single file and send them off to Cranachan. We can only choose one and ended up combining a few of the ideas into the one we thought captured the feel of the book best.
It should also be noted that this entire process up until the coloring is being done traditionally with a pencil. I do most of my art with a mechanical pencil that’s .3 and an eraser that costs more than the pencil.
So, where does the math come in?
Well, about here. See, you can’t just eyeball the measurements. You also can’t wait to the very end. I mean, I suppose you could. But the thing is, if you do a lot of sketches and drawings that are varying in size and then you go to do the final artwork in the final size, if your sketch is wider or taller or whichever than your final image, things will be cut off or out of frame and now need to be rearranged. Your composition has changed, even just slightly.
If your thumbnail or sketch is perfectly to scale with your final, all that needs to happen is it gets sized up. Nothing will get cut off. The composition can get completely finalized in the thumbnail or sketch stage (to the best of your ability, things can still change).
You might think that might not be a big deal! But if I send a sketch to my manager and it gets approved, and then I send the final and suddenly things are squished together in ways that might be new, different, or even uncomfortable, well, it’s different from the approved version. Maybe I had to add or change something from the sketch because I needed to fill or remove parts of the drawing. The approved version might have been open, easier to digest visually, and comfortable. And most importantly: it was approved. But now it looks different. It doesn’t fit! There probably isn’t even space for the title.
And there’s your math.
Now, I think the funniest thing about this is that I immediately forget what the measurements on a ruler mean the second I am not looking at one. The other thing is that, yeah, normally I work in inches. But B format is in mm. So now not only am I scaling, but I am also attempting to do conversions.
You can see where this can be frustrating.
129mm = 5.708in, 198mm = 7.795in
I have now converted mm to inches. Time to scale.
If I want the ratio to be 1:2, that 5.708in x 7.795in becomes 2.539in x 3.897in.
2.539in x 3.897in as fractions become 2 17/35 in x 3 57/64.
Which seems wrong. Transferring that to my ruler, which is 2 feet long, stainless steel and that I shoved into my suitcase when I came here, was more difficult than you can imagine and if you understand math and think, how? Please refer back to my D- in basic algebra at Towson University, Baltimore Maryland in the first paragraph.
But I manage and I draw my sketch boxes once we’ve settled on a design. I do about three final sketches, getting feedback and indefinitely making as much room for the title as I can. Once we settle on the design and composition, we move to color comps.
Color comp is artist shorthand for color composition. It’s usually a quick sketch in various palettes planning where color is going to go. Is it balanced? Does it make sense? It there too much of something? Is that color too garish, too red, out of place, etc.? I send the color comps over.
My manager and the author choose the one they like best, which means I can move onto the final! Yay!
In the final (and in the sketches) you have to account for bleed. Bleed is when an image goes off the page. The way programs work is that there is the space, page, that is actually going to be printed. Accounting for an error in printing, you want to make your art a little bit larger than that. If the image ends exactly where the page ends and say maybe something in the printer shifts a little or things aren’t aligned correctly, then you want to make sure there’s still image to be read by the printer.
When measuring out the final, I realized the other side of my ruler had centimeters. Ignoring that I didn’t realize that before and converted to inches, when I add one 3mm bleed to my B Format 129mm x 198mm and I get 132mm x 201mm.
132mm x 201mm = 13.2cm x 20.1cm
I’m scaling up to 1:.75. Before, I had to scale down. Now, we’re scaling the image up. The larger the drawing space we have, the more detail I can add.
With my ratio at 1:.75, 13.2cm x 20.1cm becomes 17.6cm x 26.8cm
What I do now is I half that. 17.6 divided by 2 becomes 8.8 and 26.8 becomes 13.4.
I do this for one reason: when I grab my final paper (White Canson paper I brought from home). I measure out how long the paper is and how wide it is and mark the centers with a very thin pencil line. I’ll use those lines to mark that my measurements of 17.6 is exactly (as close as I can get with the human eye) 17.6. I’ll line up 8.8cm on the ruler as the center and measure either way. The image is perfectly centered on the page.
Once I’m finished, the drawing is a scaled up 129mm x 198mm exactly (with bleed, of course). When it finally gets drawn and colored, it will fit perfectly in the InDesign document. The drawing matches the scaled sketches, and nothing needed to be moved, changed, taken out or added. I knew exactly where I was going to put everything that had been planned for.
It might seem unnecessary and maybe a bit tedious, but this is the level of detail and thought that publishing needs. The extra steps it takes in measuring and scaling and converting helps not only me, but the publisher in the long run. The math might be a bit much, but, really, wouldn’t you want to solve problems before they ever even arise?
Still didn’t leave enough room for text though!
Hag Storm by Victoria Williamson will be published by Cranachan Books and released in November 2021.