20th Century and Contemporary, Books, Design, From the Designer's Desk, Graphic Design, Guest Posts, Publishing

From the Designer’s Desk (Part 1): Miko McGinty

“What happened to July’s installation of From the Designer’s Desk?” we hear you asking.  Here’s what: we rolled the July and August posts together into one fantastic, two-part double post from Miko McGinty and Rita Jules. Miko and Rita are, respectively, the Principal and Senior Graphic Designer at Miko McGinty Inc., an award-winning design firm specializing in collaborations with artists and curators.  Here’s Part 1, from Miko.


Miko McGinty—

Last year, Sally Salvesen, publisher of Yale Press UK, called me about a project that Director Amy Meyers and Eleanor Hughes of Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) were working on that she thought might be of great interest to me: the design of a catalogue for an exhibition being organized by Elisabeth Fairman, Senior Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts, with whom I had worked on my Yale undergraduate senior project. In 1993, as an undergrad advisee of Director Duncan Robinson, I had the rare opportunity to curate an exhibition about contemporary British letterpress at the Center. I worked closely with Elisabeth on every aspect of the exhibition, which was called Endangered Craft, Evolving Art: British Letterpress Today, enjoying and benefiting immensely from her supportive conversation, scholarship, creativity, and friendship.

When Sally called, I leapt at the opportunity to collaborate again with Elisabeth, excited to explore whatever kind of book she wanted to make. Elisabeth had been actively acquiring contemporary artists’ books, early scientific books, and a fascinating collection of nature diaries and specimen books by Victorian women for an exhibition about books inspired by the natural world. To these, she added books written to encourage amateur naturalists along with books that taught early botanical classification. At same time she was drawing other examples from the YCBA’s important historical collection of manuscripts and rare books related to the natural world.

I slipped easily into the role of Elisabeth’s student again, meeting with her at the Center in the serene Louis Kahn-designed library, looking at the treasures she arrayed along the long wood tables, and listening to her talk about the books as she thumbed through their extraordinary spreads. She organized the books into different arrangements depending on who was coming to look at them with her: the essay authors, perhaps one of the book artists, or me, the book designer. She used the tables to visually and physically organize this wealth of book history for herself as well, creating groupings based on possible exhibition themes, which became the basis for the sections of our catalogue’s field guide.

Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower

Photo by Elisabeth Fairman

Elisabeth and I examined each volume in detail—content, binding, and the quality of printing or handwriting—and studied the sizes of all the books, from miniature to grand. We talked about all the threads that wove through her exhibition, including the beginning of Linnaeus’s classification, the early amateur naturalist collecting of specimens and the freedom and purpose it gave women, and the observations (both scientific and personal ones) of those who are inspired by nature.

Working with senior curatorial assistant Sarah Welcome, we distilled the many pages we loved from the books into a precise wish list of photographs that would become the catalogue’s illustrations. Knowing the importance of the physicality of these books as objects, we wanted the photography to capture the page spreads as well as all the visual information of the book’s binding and shape. Richard Caspole (who also contributed to a how-to photo essay about letterpress printing for my 1993 exhibition), sensitively and skillfully photographed all the books, bringing them to life on the pages of our catalogue.

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Together Elisabeth and I, curator and book designer, created an exhibition catalogue that we think captures the rich, visual experience of looking at books. We want readers to thumb through and make discoveries, to experience the variety of ways that observations of the natural world become illustration and object, to be captivated by the unusual form of some of these objects—both modern and antique—and, most of all, enjoy the classic book form as a way to discover other amazing books. We included elements that make the connection to traditional bookmaking: printed endpapers updated with images by the contemporary artist Mandy Bonnell, three ribbon bookmarks, and an inside back-cover pocket that alludes to the timeless blank book notebooks many of us use today.

Perhaps less obvious were other approaches we took to create intimacy and immediacy: the freshness of the colors as prepared for printing by color separator Pat Goley, and the sharp, clean, and rich printing by Conti Tipocolor onto Kiara, one of today’s most beautiful papers. Yale Press and Yale Center for British Art enthusiastically supported our process with their expertise and experience and together we created a book that is meaningful for me in many ways. Here is of Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower:

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