When we started Vern Associates 15 years ago, almost all of our clients were commercial publishing companies well versed in every aspect of the editorial, design, and production processes required to make a book. As our client base expanded to include nonpublishing entities, however, we were suddenly called upon to explain both the specifics and even some basic concepts of our work.

Initial confusion usually shows itself when I tell a potential client that we produce “illustrated books.” For publishing professionals, this term conjures up different types of publications, each with its own specific market. But our nonpublishing clients often assume we produce picture books for young children. That’s reasonable. Children’s books prominently display “illustrated by” credits on their covers, and illustration tends to suggest drawn or painted artwork.

I researched the term illustrated book and found the following definition in The Illustrated Book: Notes on an Exhibition in the Print Gallery of the New York Public Library, written in 1919 by Frank Weitenkampf:

Books were illustrated from the beginning. From the block books and the earliest books printed with movable type, on through four and a half centuries, illustration has played its significant part in the printed book. Two basic principles have obtained: the illustration must either elucidate the text or adorn it. It may do both; sometimes it does neither.

We produce museum catalogs illustrated with reproductions of fine art; corporate and organizational histories illustrated with photographs, documents, and artifacts; professional publications illustrated with information graphics and photo-documentation; lifestyle books showing photographs or drawings of food, design, etc. Regardless of a book’s category, it requires that its illustration (be it photography, fine or commercial art, even use of color and typographic display) integrate with the text to invite the reader’s attention and sustain it through an extensive and complex story.

Being an art book designer has captured my interest for more than 20 years. I love the challenge of creating visual guides, landmarks, respites, and highlights for readers to use and enjoy on their journey from front cover to back. Each new title presents its own unique set of challenges and, as many poorly designed books confirm, it is very easy to apply illustration in a way that neither elucidates its text nor adorns it.

When we started Vern Associates 15 years ago, almost all of our clients were commercial publishing companies well versed in every aspect of the editorial, design, and production processes required to make a book. As our client base expanded to include nonpublishing entities, however, we were suddenly called upon to explain both the specifics and even some basic concepts of our work.

Initial confusion usually shows itself when I tell a potential client that we produce “illustrated books.” For publishing professionals, this term conjures up different types of publications, each with its own specific market. But our nonpublishing clients often assume we produce picture books for young children. That’s reasonable. Children’s books prominently display “illustrated by” credits on their covers, and illustration tends to suggest drawn or painted artwork.

I researched the term illustrated book and found the following definition in The Illustrated Book: Notes on an Exhibition in the Print Gallery of the New York Public Library, written in 1919 by Frank Weitenkampf:

Books were illustrated from the beginning. From the block books and the earliest books printed with movable type, on through four and a half centuries, illustration has played its significant part in the printed book. Two basic principles have obtained: the illustration must either elucidate the text or adorn it. It may do both; sometimes it does neither.

We produce museum catalogs illustrated with reproductions of fine art; corporate and organizational histories illustrated with photographs, documents, and artifacts; professional publications illustrated with information graphics and photo-documentation; lifestyle books showing photographs or drawings of food, design, etc. Regardless of a book’s category, it requires that its illustration (be it photography, fine or commercial art, even use of color and typographic display) integrate with the text to invite the reader’s attention and sustain it through an extensive and complex story.

Being an art book designer has captured my interest for more than 20 years. I love the challenge of creating visual guides, landmarks, respites, and highlights for readers to use and enjoy on their journey from front cover to back. Each new title presents its own unique set of challenges and, as many poorly designed books confirm, it is very easy to apply illustration in a way that neither elucidates its text nor adorns it.

Topics: illustrated books, book design, art books