Malcolm Gladwell is an author whose work is now a calling card for modern thinking persons, proof that you are cool and with it and an intellectual. He is super successful and ranks near the top of the best authors of the twenty first century. Recently, he released Collected, a newly repacked, redesigned, and rereleased version of the books The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers. On the occasion of this new collection, Gladwell worked with Los Angeles illustrator Brian Rea to make illustrations for the three books, giving them a beautiful and unique visual voice that adds a new dimension to them. We spoke with Rea about the process that went into creating the pieces for Collected.
How did this project come about?
Josh Lieberson (formerly of Helicopter and now of One King’s Lane) had been discussing with Malcolm the idea of doing an art box set of Gladwell’s 3 top selling books. Josh reached out to me and asked if I wanted to include my work with a few other artists they were considering. Once I was on board, I recommended one designer to work with: Paul Sahre–I was confident he’d do something unique and special with the collection.
What did Malcolm want you to accomplish with the visuals?
Malcolm was very trusting and really wanted this to be a fully collaborative project between content, ideas and images. He used the phrase ‘intellectual adventure story’ to describe what he hoped the package might feel like. We both agreed that the drawings should not be traditional illustrations, but instead more simple and hand drawn ‘marks and notations.’
What was your brief from Malcolm? How did you and Paul collaborate? What was your process?
Paul and I spent two days in his NYC studio working out what we believed the direction of the set could be–I mean, it’s such a unique book project really–so we looked at a lot of unique and special books–Edward Gorey’s 1960 version of War of the Worlds, Rockwell Kent’s illustrated Moby Dick, old encyclopedias and science related books and even children’s fairy tale books and made lists of the strengths of each.
We spent time sketching out early ideas- exploring what might be possible and impossible–how to convey stories and how information could be presented, pacing, tone, volume, structure of the books–even how the thing felt in your hand. The remainder of the project I worked from the studio in LA and Paul worked from his shop in NYC. I presented sketches to Malcolm by email–he was extremely careful and respectful of the process. He actually held back on saying what he liked and instead told me what he was less keen about (things like word pieces, or images that had figures)–it was great art direction honestly. All chapter opener art, title pages and full page images were done first and emailed to Paul to tuck into the flow of the book for pacing. Spots were done after and used in specific places to push lines and avoid any odd breaks or widows. We did most everything via Skype, phone, and passing files back and forth. A LOT of back and forth.
Can you talk a little about the idea behind the visuals?
The original books have no art in them (besides a few charts and diagrams) and are really about the words and theories so it was a special opportunity to add a visual sound to books that many people have become super familiar with. That ‘tone’ we discussed quite a bit: couldn’t be too ‘illustrated’ but also couldn’t be too independent of the text. The aim was to create marks that engaged the reader in a new way and created a parallel visual narrative without overstating the messages Malcolm was trying to convey. Sometimes that visual narrative aligned perfectly with the content and other times it skewed off in oblique and hopefully compelling ways. All drawings were done in pencil and we tried to maintain that feel in the printing.
What do you want people to know about this project?
Some interesting facts…