Bringing A Classic Book To Life
♦ Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS spoke to illustrator Kit Russell, who has just created illustrations for a new edition of seminal Russian sci-fi novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin…
TRIPWIRE: How familiar were you with Zamyatin’s We before you were commissioned for the illustrations?
KIT RUSSELL: Truthfully, I wasn’t familiar with any of Zamyatin’s work. As soon as I was approached to work on the book I had to catch up on my research.
TW: We is a very important book, one which influenced the likes of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. Were you aware just how important and influential this book was?
KR: I wasn’t no. I’m very familiar with Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four however, once I read We I was really amazed at how forward rethinking the writing is. I certainly recognized particular elements from We that have been popularized in modern science fiction.
TW: Did the fact that it was such a seminal book make you feel more pressurised to make sure that you were producing work to the highest standards possible?
KR: Any project I work on I want to produce the best work possible. I was confident that the approach was right so the only real pressure came from the project deadline.
TW: Had you read the book before you took the job on?
TW: What was the appeal of creating images for a Folio Society edition book?
KR: It’s a real honour to work with the such a prestigious company as The Folio Society. As far as publishing goes they are one of the best as they make truly beautiful books which take pride in celebrating both literature and art.
TW: How did you approach creating your images for this edition?
KR: The creative process was quite open. I met with Raquel Leis Allion (Art Director) quite early on to discuss a style and mood for the illustrations. Raquel was familiar with my previous work on Brave New World so that was initially established as a visual reference point. From there I studied the book and picked the scenes I wanted to illustrate. Once the scenes were approved, I began developing the illustrations.
TW: Who were the biggest influences for you when you were coming up with images for We?
KR: First and foremost I would say that the text was the biggest inspiration for the illustrations. Zamyatin was a visionary and it was a real joy to interpret his writing. I was also interested in capturing the spirit of the period that the book was written so I was looking at Russian Futurist art and retro Sci-Fi cinema.
TW: Were your images created digitally for the book?
KR: Predominately, Yes. Elements are drawn and scanned in, then rendered digitally.
TW: How tight was your brief from the art director at Folio?
KR: The Brief was fairly open. As I mentioned earlier, I met with Raquel quite early on to discuss a visual direction for the book. Fortunately, Raquel and I were on the same page so I was given some freedom to experiment with my designs.
TW: How many images did you create for the book? Were there many you drew which didn’t make it into the final edition?
KR: Overall, there are 6 Illustrations and the binding and the slipcase. During the development process I experimented with a lot of designs which imagined the scenes I had selected in various ways. I would send The Folio Society at least 2/3 options for each illustration and in turn they would give me give me feedback on their preferred design.
TW: The images are in black and white and some Folio editions include colour plates. How much of a challenge did you find having to stick to monochrome for you as an artist?
KR: The majority of my work uses a limited / monochromatic colour palette, so it felt quite natural.
TW: How satisfied were you with the final set of images that were included in the edition?
KR: Once I sent the final artwork off I deliberately didn’t look at any of the illustrations until I received my editions of the book. Sometimes when you work on something so intensely you need to take a step back to appreciate what you are working on. Having that period of grace after the project allowed me to view my designs with a fresh perspective. Once I held the final edition in my hand – seeing the book in its entirety – I knew I had created something that I could be proud of.
The Folio Society edition of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, illustrated by Kit Russell is exclusively available from The Folio Society, www.foliosociety.com