Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Thursday, December 17, 2015

You asked, no. 2: writer, artist, designer

Clive Hicks-Jenkins: When time allowed and opportunities came my way, I began to make book cover images for some of my friends, the chief among them being Marly Youmans, who because of her reputation as a writer was able to persuade one of her publishers to employ me. For The Foliate Head she even persuaded the publisher to take on my brother-in-law, Andrew Wakelin, as the designer, and he produced a splendid book-cover and ensured the layout inside was handsome. It was The Foliate Head that also established my regular practice of making page-division images and vignettes for Marly’s books.
Sienna Latham asked how Clive and I work with a designer. Perhaps there's no one answer to that, as to so many things! But now I'll try to think my way through and find out, right now.

What is always the same is our relationship. The two of us trust each other to do good work, and we don't interfere--I don't try and make the artist draw a certain element or in a particular mode, that is, and he doesn't try to encourage me to write other than I do. We never try to hurry each other in any way. We are curious about what the other is doing. Although we are very different, we have common loves, a kinship in sensibility, and are drawn to some of the same material, something we discovered early in writing letters back and forth.

As there are some books that have only a jacket (and cover) from Clive, I'll speak to those that are also decorated by him on the interior. We have worked with three designers on interior / exterior art, and I would say that it's a great help to have a designer care about the material. Our three designers are Andrew Wakelin (The Foliate Head), Elizabeth Adams (Thaliad), and Mary-Frances Glover Burt (Glimmerglass and Maze of Blood.) Perhaps it is surprising that each of the three people involved with making the book--writing, art, and design--is so free to do what he or she likes. Certainly I've been in situations where I've had little knowledge of what was happening with a jacket/cover. I've also been privy to the sight of publishers (not mine) and writers (not me) attempting to budge Clive, though why one would do so, I cannot imagine. Gratefulness that he wants to do a piece of work for a book of mine is always my slant on things.

The main hurdle with books with a good deal of art is getting publishers to agree with what we will do. The great advantage with heading toward small and university presses is that people can be willing to agree or compromise. (The down side tends to be less visibility, less "push" for books, of course, as there is less muscle behind a launch.)

Andrew Wakelin, the brother of Clive's partner, was an interesting choice as a designer, in that it was possible for Clive and Andrew to meet in person to discuss layout, and for Peter Wakelin to render opinions as well. Clive and I have a love for foliate heads, and the images arrived with that sense of ease that comes from love and long practice. I had little to do but admire, although we certainly discussed choice and placement. As I had met Andrew while in Wales, I found it easy to imagine their meetings at Ty Isaf when reported by email. The primary challenge with having Andrew serve as designer is that he is not an employee of Stanza Press (a division of P. S. Publishing in the U.K.), and so we had to get permission to use a different designer and also to tinker with the Stanza Press template for poetry books. (Val/Orson, which has jacket art from Clive, was outsourced by P. S. to writer / designer Robert Wexler, so we knew it was possible. Interestingly, I got to stay with Robert and his wife, Rebecca Kuder, when I taught in the Antioch summer workshops.) It helped that Pete Crowther asked for a poetry book, since when people ask, they're more likely to accept some variation (though Pete is a wonderfully nice and agreeable man.) It also helped that Andrew is a grand designer. We had an unexpected bit of difficulty with pagination and length because of the template, and at the last moment added a few poems that were congenial with the manuscript.

Designer-and-more Beth Adams is someone I met long before she asked for Thaliad (Ivy Alvarez and I had edited an issue of quarrtisiluni, the magazine she founded with Dave Bonta, and I live not far from Beth's childhood home.) She is a visual artist, writer, editor / designer, and publisher. Her Phoenicia Publishing (Montreal) is a micro-press in staff and a macro-press in ambition. As a team, we had many common interests and were united in the desire to make the most beautiful book possible, given the constraints of small press. (Constraints are often good challenges that lead to ingenuity.) The three of us kept in close touch. Our emails were full of forwarded quotes from one another and the many images Clive made, all influenced by American folk art.

One marvelous aspect to Phoenicia Publishing is that Beth's hand is in everything. Because she writes and makes art and designs, there's a seamlessness and feeling of a central editorial taste about all Phoenicia's books.

Mary-Frances Glover Burt, who designs for Mercer University Press (her company is Burt and Burt), had a great many images to work with for Glimmerglass, as Beth Adams did for Thaliad and Andrew Wakelin for The Foliate Head. Because the press stands as an intermediary between artist and its chosen designer, one would think that we might feel a little more detached from Mary-Frances. But it's a new world now, and we're all hooked together by social media. We're big fans of Mary-Frances. Here's Clive on her imaginative jacket design:
Clive: By contrast [with The Throne of Psyche, which used existing art] I made the artwork for Glimmerglass specifically for the project, and I’ve greatly enjoyed working with Mary-Frances Glover Burt as she’s sensitively transferred my drawing to the cover and made clever adjustments to finesse it into what you see at the top of this page. (I shall not spoil the illusion by indicating where adjustments have taken place, but suffice to say that she’s been quite the magician!) Moreover she’s made the wrap-around truly beautiful, with the lettering for the cover cleverly reconfigured for the spine, and the foliate elements unspooling onto the flaps. I particularly like the detailing of where she’s inserted a white rectangle for the necessary barcode on the back cover, but sweetened it by having a foliate element passing in front of a corner of it. Gorgeous work, Mary-Frances.
We felt confident about each person's part in the process--Clive and I had already seen what an elegant job Mary-Frances did with The Throne of Psyche, which won an Abby design award for Burt and Burt and Mercer--and we looked forward to seeing what she would do. (Clive's description of what she has accomplished is so appealing, and I also liked the tiny minotaur on the spine, hooked onto the lettering Clive mentions.)

Perhaps it's in Maze of Blood where one sees most vividly how very imaginative a designer can be. In some ways, Mary-Frances appeared to have less to work with and more of a challenge when Clive's many small decorations for the interior of Glimmerglass gave way to something larger. with Maze of Blood. Despite being busy with other projects, Clive made six portraits for division pages, plus the head on the jacket.
Clive: The drawings, which are variously embellished versions of a man’s head, are intended as poetic expressions of the text rather than as representing specific episodes. Because I had only six images to play with, I tried to densely layer my ideas, so any one drawing might be seen to be referencing multiple aspects of the narrative. Vegetation and flowers figure strongly in Marly’s text, as do the imaginative universes the protagonist conjures in his novels and short stories. I wanted to combine both in this image, and so while the ‘flowering’ has been informed by aspects of American folk-art… particularly appliqué-quilts… by setting it like the crest of a headdress, it can simultaneously echo of some of the writer’s elaborate inventions of ancient and mythic cultures. In each image the man’s eye has been replaced by a substitute. There’s been a beetle, a flower, the sighting of a revolver and a coiled ribbon of paper. Here a ‘folk-art’ bird is the stand-in, and I like that the plumes of its tail might be seen as ‘tears of blood’.
At one point, Mary-Frances requested a sketch of folded paper like the maze in one of the heads, and she used it on the title page. Other elements were plucked from the six portraits--a bird, a gun, insects, flower--and woven into the text pages, as well as appearing like a passage into the prefatory and out the concluding pages. The jacket flaps and rear of the jacket also show how she has re-used signal elements like the passion flowers and moth and gun, all dark and shadowy in the rich blue of the background. The foliate bar code detail that Clive liked on Glimmerglass? There's a moth that has settled onto, slightly into, the bar code of Maze of Blood.

What strikes me about all these triangular relationships is that they are founded on a trust in the abilities and creativity of other artists. In all cases, the people involved respected the abilities of the others and left them in freedom. While it always seemed that a good deal of collaboration was happening because I was constantly seeing fresh images, in truth we were simply immersed in one another's work and having the great and happy pleasure of watching how one art generates another. Seeing the energies of the initial work flow elsewhere and generate new work is marvelous. When this sort of collaboration goes well, each person is a part of a dynamic, moving whole--as, say, one spiral branch of a triskelion.

p. s. In answer to another question, the hardcover of Thaliad is only available via the Phoenicia site. The paperback can be ordered via the usual places.

p. p. s. If you want to see Clive's lovely response and some also-lovely comments, go here. And Alan Lee has ordered three of our books! My fantasy-loving, writing-and-cartooning child was as excited as when a Diana Wynne Jones blurb arrived for Ingledove.

p. p. p. s. All the above is an attempt to describe something that is simple, full of love and joy and magic.


  1. Marly, I follow where you lead, and then in a neat reversal, you follow me. It's as though you tell me where we're going, but then happily sit in the passenger seat to let me take my own route there. Mary-Frances is our companion, and she makes sure that we arrive intact. So you set the destination, I choose the route, and Mary-Frances is the mechanic who remembers to put the fuel in, checks the oil and pumps the tyres, in order to get our cranky vehicle safely to the end of its journey. It's a classic 'quest' tale, with a beautifully finished book at the end of it. Ha ha.

    1. I like that! And thank you for the good Facebook post--made my morning to have Rebecca shouting in excitement!

  2. A beautful post on such successful collaborations. Bravo to all!

    1. Thanks, Marja-Leena--have a wonderful Christmas!

  3. Thanks for all your kind words, Marly! It was a great pleasure to work with you and Clive and I hope we can do it again!

  4. Thanks for all your kind words, Marly! It was a great pleasure to work with you and Clive and I hope we can do it again!

  5. Marly, just so that you know, Alan Lee now has a copy of Maze of Blood, too, sent by me. And last week I got an unexpected but wonderful swop almost by return of post, which I know you've seen at Facebook!

    1. Yes, that was delightful! You lucky boy.

      And thank you for sending him a copy--such a good thing to do.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.