London-based illustrator Yehrin Tong is a celebrated cover artist who has twice won the V&A Book Cover Illustration Award. Her distinct designs are intricate and hypnotic, with a mathematical element, making her the ideal artist to illustrate our binding for Syria: The Desert and the Sown. In this fascinating blog, Tong reveals the multi-stage process that led to the stunning finished binding.
Classic designs with a contemporary feel
When I was commissioned by Folio Art Director Sheri Gee to produce a striking cover for Syria: The Desert and the Sown, the brief was to take the classic designs that Gertrude Bell uncovered during her archaeological expeditions in the Middle East and to reinterpret these with a contemporary feel.
The first concept incorporated a blazing sun into the design to reflect the themes of fire and heat which thread through the book: sitting by campfires bonding with local people; the heatwaves of the desert; the fire of the sun. Sheri suggested that I use the ornamental architecture of the city of Baalbek as the focus for inspiration, as it features prominently in the book. So, I experimented with the leaf motif of the Corinthian columns, as the acanthus shapes reminded me of flames, fanning them out to design an ornate sun motif.
A bold move for the binding
Folio wanted the book to have a broad appeal and were concerned that the design was too delicate at this stage. They suggested introducing more graphic architectural elements to make the binding bolder and they also wanted the book title type to be incorporated into the design. I used the arched structures from the ruins to make a frame for the type and drew it in 3D to help it pop, while making the sculptural angle clear. For the spine, I extended the pattern on the front cover to envelop the type.
Choosing the right colour
For the colour, I continued with the sun theme, trying out oranges, bronzes and golds against sky-coloured backgrounds. We experimented with darker backgrounds before settling on green, which would sit behind copper foil for the pattern and a more muted maroon foil as a secondary colour.
From artwork to finished book
The binder for this book, Josef Spinner, kindly sent some photos that document the stages of the foiling process. First, two large brass dies were made for the cover using my design, one which creates the pattern for the copper foil, and the other for the maroon foil. These dies are heated to over 100°C on a machine, which then presses an ultra-thin layer of foil against the cloth. The heat creates a bond between the two materials and the foil is transferred. The process is performed with precision accuracy to ensure the two patterns perfectly aligned.
The big reveal
When I received the final copies of the book I was very happy with the binding. The books are produced so beautifully, the colours are vivid and the finesse of the foil makes the pattern dazzle. It was incredible to see the intricacy and to appreciate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. My illustrations felt like a very tiny cog in the process of producing this stunning book and I was mesmerised by the result.