I’m so thrilled to finally be able to share this project with you. For all of 2018 I worked almost exclusively on a limited edition release of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of The New Sun for The Folio Society. This project was special for me in many ways, perhaps first and most importantly because it is one of my favorite books(perhaps my favorite book). I pitched this project to my art director, Sheri Gee, in the fall of 2017, which was also a first for me. I’m rarely given that sort of opportunity, and from the beginning this book felt as much a personal project as it did a commission.
If you’re not familiar with The Book of The New Sun, or Wolfe’s writing, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that his novels are layered puzzles. Characters are not always who they appear to be, and the narrators rarely speak to the reader in a straightforward way.
The Book of The New Sun might feel like a mystical, fantasy story, but it’s most definitely a science fiction world, and part of the fun is puzzling out what exactly it is the narrator Severian is describing to us.
As an illustrator, this was actually really thrilling. I got to make a lot of creative leaps with both the characters and the setting. I envisioned this edition as something for fans of the work, and so tried as much as possible to fill every image with meaningful details.
Reading the novels again for this project was a wonderful experience, the books profoundly reward deep rereading, and I felt I understood them on a level I hadn’t before. I was left sort of speechless by all that I had missed and all that was there, and inspired to make pictures that hopefully manage to share some of that feeling with others.
The sketch process was really intense, I had 20 paintings and 4 covers to explore, and all in all it took me about 5 months to figure out what it was that I wanted to make for these books. I scrapped and restarted a lot of images, partly I think because Folio gave me essentially free reign. I knew that I needed to make these as artful, honest, and interesting as possible so that I could stay excited about everything through to the end. Making too many compromises can be daunting and often leaves me feeling defeated. I knew this was an opportunity to really try and say what I wanted about a book, and frankly it just took a fucking huge amount of time to do so.
The bindings(covers) were as always a challenge to figure out. Folio is famous for it’s special printing and lux materials, to fully take advantage of those there are usually some interesting restrictions that inform the approach.
The challenge was of course retraining my hand and brain to think in terms of hard edges and bold shapes. I’m ultimately so proud of these covers. The intense, primary colors are a counterpoint to the muted, washed out interior illustrations, and each hue holds a lot of symbolic importance to the text. I found this contrast in saturation visually disturbing while at the same time quite beautiful, honestly a kind of tension I really like to see present in my work.
I’ve been experimenting with acrylic painting for the last few years and wanted to use this project as an opportunity to finally try and make some finished work with it. Although I’ve enjoyed other materials, at this moment I think it is honestly the medium that I’m connecting with the most. I find its permanence and resilience incredibly relaxing, and love how immediately it can be applied. I found I was able to paint a lot more loosely with it as well, it’s quick drying time preventing me from overly softening brush strokes. Ultimately, I think the monochrome painting really suited the text as well. The final paintings feel evocative and mysterious to me in a way that I think would have been hard for me to achieve with a different approach.
I had hoped to end this post with a link for those interested in purchasing a copy, but to my great surprise the whole edition of 750 sold out in just over a week. Thank you so much to everyone who bought a book. I’ll be posting more art and photos over on instagram throughout the summer. I have a lot of original work that I’ll be making available, and plans for some prints as well, so if you’re interested in any of that you can find me there(@papercrake).