Designer Matthew Broughton walks us through the process of creating the covers for the Hogarth Shakespeare project, a series of novels which reimagine Shakespeare’s plays for the 21st century
We saw two challenges ahead of us when we started working on the covers for the Hogarth Shakespeare series. First, how do we develop a unified look across the series, while allowing each work to maintain its own personality? Second, how do we include the ‘retold’ title – Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, for example - along with the original Shakespeare title – The Taming of the Shrew - on the books without causing too much confusion for the reader?
We started off with Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (a retelling of The Winter’s Tale), looking for distinctive imagery to use from the book. We tried using an image of an angel (angels feature in Winterson’s spin on the tale), but ended up using a single red feather instead for a much bolder and stronger look.
We wanted to give the illusion of the ‘new’ title sitting on top of the original one, so we hid the Shakespearean title on the back cover, the text slightly obscured by the red feather, and kept Winterson’s title on top, placing the text in front of the feather. We used this effect for all the covers.
We commissioned woodcut artist Vladimir Zimakov to produce the cover for Hag-Seed, a contemporary retelling of The Tempest. First we set about illustrating the character Caliban and some prisons but these early roughs turned out to be too busy, so Vladimir zoomed in on one section: an eye, which, like the single red feather on our cover of The Gap of Time, felt more abstract and intriguing than a larger, more complicated image.
Next we looked for a strong motif from Vinegar Girl. We thought of using white mice and botanical x-rays, which feature in the book, but we felt these were too ‘sciencey,’ so we focused on something a bit more aesthetically interesting: springtime Baltimore, the novel's setting and a city that's famous for its blossom (flowers, gardens and gardening feature heavily in the book). We used an old botanical drawing of a peony, giving it a contemporary twist by placing it in front of a striking blue background.
Each cover has an abstract feel, which gives the series a unified look – but the images are also important symbols from the individual stories, so the covers work on their own too. This seemed like something that could potentially be carried through to future designs.