Announcing the trailer for Gorey’s Worlds

The illustrator, designer, and writer Edward Gorey (1925–2000) is beloved for his droll, surreal, and slightly sinister drawings. Gorey’s Worlds delves into the numerous and surprising cultural and artistic sources that influenced Gorey’s unique and instantly recognizable visual language. A variety of objects shaped his artistic mindset, from works of popular culture to the more than twenty-six thousand books he owned and the art pieces in his vast collection. As this book shows, these artistic pieces present a visual riddle, as the connections between them—to each other and to Gorey’s works—are significant and enigmatic. Featuring a sumptuous selection of Gorey’s creations alongside his fascinating and diverse collections, Gorey’s Worlds reveals the private world that inspired one of the most idiosyncratic artists of the twentieth century.

Gorey’s Worlds by Erin Monroe, with contributions from Robert Greskovic, Arnold Arluke, and Kevin Shortsleeve, from Princeton University Press on Vimeo.

Erin Monroe is the Robert H. Schutz Jr. Associate Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. She is the author of Andrew Wyeth: Looking BeyondRobert Greskovic is a dance critic for the Wall Street Journal and the author of Ballet 101Arnold Arluke is professor emeritus of sociology and anthropology at Northeastern University. His books include Just a Dog and The Photographed CatKevin Shortsleeve is associate professor of English at Christopher Newport University. His books include Thirteen Monsters Who Should Be Avoided.

Roy Brooks on Designing Gorey’s Worlds

When I begin a new book design project, I immerse myself in the topic. Ideally, this means first reading the text of the book. In the case of Gorey’s Worlds, I had access to the complete manuscript, which is relatively rare so early in the process, but incredibly helpful in evaluating the tone and actual content of the publication. Often, the text has yet to be written at the design stage. In these instances I try to acquire other books on the particular artist or group to familiarize myself with the work, while searching for background information that may yield cues for the visual direction of the book. With an artist like Gorey this can be challenging, given how well known he is in popular culture, and the fact that he created so many books himself in his signature style.

In general, I strive to create books with a distinctive look and feel that respectfully frame the featured artist without simply mimicking their own aesthetic. In the following post I will describe the process of developing two distinct title treatments for Gorey’s Worlds, and how they were ultimately integrated into the cover design.

Typography

In my experience, designing publications for art museums is largely about the book’s typography. The images are usually sacrosanct, and cannot be manipulated beyond their scale and placement on the page. Given these constraints, the text layout is where my designs take root. This runs the gamut from the expressive scale and arrangement of the title page, for instance, to less visible details like letter spacing or the rag of the text.

I often start the design process by looking at the title set in numerous different typefaces. Throughout this process, I’m constantly asking questions, often on an intuitive level, and wondering if the title lends itself to certain settings:

Should the title be set in a serif typeface? Sans serif? A combination? Should it be thin? Heavy? Condensed? Extended? Should it be set large? Small? Should the subtitle be set smaller or the same size? Should it be set in all caps? Mixed case? Lower case? Flush left? Centered? Flush right? Should it be rotated? Should it feel contemporary? Historical? Geometric? Hand-wrought? And the list goes on….

These basic settings can then be visually expanded, perhaps in relation to an image, a color palette, a material, or to a particular binding method. The goal is to continue building a graphic language that will inform all decisions regarding the book’s many textual components.

The Swash

Based on Gorey’s own aesthetic, I wanted to pursue a typographic approach that conveyed the flourishes of the Victorian era. I came across the typeface Bookman that included an extended suite of swash characters. Swash characters feature embellishments such as exaggerated serifs or extended strokes. Specifically, I used the swash ‘r,’ which extended up and over the adjacent letter ‘e,’ in an appropriately Gorey-esque quirk (fig. 1). The capital ‘G’ swash was also used, and the subsequent shape of the word “Gorey’s” began to dictate how the word “Worlds” could be incorporated. I developed a tightly-leaded version in the same size text that nested the words together with an almost puzzle-like fit (fig. 2). And I developed a version where the word “WORLDS” was set much smaller and tucked between the descenders of the ‘G’ and ‘y’ (fig. 3).

Figure 1. The swash ‘r’ extends up and over the adjacent letter ‘e.’

Figure 2. Tight leading nests the words together with an almost puzzle-like fit.

Figure 3. “WORLDS” is tucked between the descenders of the ‘G’ and ‘y.’

 

Woodblock

Another distinct title treatment featured the typeface Woodblock. This face is based on wood type, which entered mass production in the nineteenth century, the era that Gorey preferred to represent in his work. Its chiseled quality—think tombstones—reflects Gorey’s obsession with the macabre (fig. 4). The rectangularity of the stacked Woodblock title treatment suggested that it be encapsulated in a box. Further, the angles of the letterforms prompted me to chamfer the corners of this framing device (fig. 5).

Figure 4. The chiseled quality of the typeface reflects Gorey’s obsession with the macabre.

Figure 5. The framing device’s corners are chamfered to match the angles of the letterforms.

 

Application

Given that this publication was about more than just Gorey’s artwork, including essays on his own art collection as well as his love of ballet, a portrait seemed like an appropriate cover image. These black-and-white photographs conveyed the artist’s own restricted palette and could be effectively reproduced as halftones or duotones as a cost-saving measure.

My cover design featuring the swash treatment proposed printing the photograph directly on a cloth binding with a debossed and foil-stamped title (fig. 6).

Figure 6. In this cover design, the photograph is printed directly on a cloth binding with a debossed and foil-stamped title.

 

For the Woodblock version I suggested a paper-over-board binding, in which the box would be die-cut through the cover board to reveal the title printed on the end sheet beneath. The die-cut seemed especially appropriate given Gorey’s fascination with windows. This particular “window” was placed over a tightly cropped photo of Gorey at work in his home studio, implying a glimpse into the artist’s inner sanctum (figs. 7 and 8).

Figure 7. A tightly cropped photo of Gorey at work offers a glimpse into the artist’s inner sanctum.

 

Figure 8. In this paper-over-board binding, a box is die-cut through the cover board to reveal the title printed on the end sheet beneath.

 

Ultimately, the Woodblock version was chosen, but with several modifications, including a friendlier condensed sans serif for the title treatment. The die-cut cover was also a tough sell, so the scheme evolved into a printed and debossed title. Coupled with the smaller trim size, printing the image directly on the cloth binding lends the book a warmth and tactility that feels more akin to a classic work of literature (figs. 9 and 10).

Figure 9. The scheme evolved into a printed and debossed title.

 

Figure 10. Printing the image directly on the cloth binding lends a warmth and tactility to the book.

 

Roy Brooks operates the graphic design studio Fold Four, which specializes in designing exhibition catalogues for art institutions and publishers. He received a bachelor of graphic design degree from North Carolina State University. Upon graduation he moved to New York City, working first for the Whitney Museum of American Art and, later, the international design consultancy Pentagram. The following four years were spent in Chicago working under the moniker Field Study. Fold Four was founded in 2005 and continues to pursue projects primarily in the cultural sector. Current clients include the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Erin Monroe on Gorey’s Worlds

The illustrator, designer, and writer Edward Gorey (1925–2000) is beloved for his droll, surreal, and slightly sinister drawings. While he is perhaps best known for his fanciful, macabre books, such as The Doubtful Guest and The Gashlycrumb Tinies, his instantly recognizable imagery can be seen everywhere from the New Yorker to the opening title sequence of the television series Mystery! on PBS. Gorey’s Worlds delves into the numerous and surprising cultural and artistic sources that influenced Gorey’s unique visual language.

The book accompanies an exhibition, curated by Erin Monroe, that runs through May 6, 2018, at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.

What was the motivation behind Gorey’s Worlds?

This book was inspired by Edward Gorey’s personal art collection, which he left to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art upon his death in 2000. This is the first project to closely examine the artists he collected and admired. The book coincides with an exhibition of the same name, Gorey’s Worlds (on view through May 6, 2018), but the content goes beyond the scope of the exhibition. The plural of “worlds” is meant to reflect the richness of Gorey’s life and the imaginative texts and illustrations he created.

What are some the artists Gorey collected? What are some of the more prevalent themes and ideas?

I asked those very same questions when I began my research in 2014. In short, it’s eclectic and slightly peculiar, which should come as no surprise given Gorey’s aesthetic. There are 73 works of art that represent a wide range of makers. The content is primarily works on paper—prints, drawings and photographs—a few oil paintings, and a few small textiles. The artwork spans nineteenth-century drawings to contemporary art of the 1970s and 1980s. The familiar names include Eugène Atget, Charles Burchfield, and Manet. There are lesser-known contemporaries of Gorey’s, such as Albert York, and unidentified folk artists. In terms of technique, much of the work resembles Gorey’s densely cross-hatched drawings. The artwork is predominantly black and white and small-scale, again echoing Gorey’s own work.

I expect the collection to be macabre and gothic. Is it?

Some of it, while others were quite humorous and whimsical. There are many strong affinities with Gorey’s illustrations, but there are also big distinctions.

For example?

Well, for one, there are no images of children in any of the artwork he collected, whereas the majority of his stories involve children or invented animals/creatures acting like children.

How did that distinction inform your research? Did it change your approach?

It was critical, to me, to not be too literal and only look for visual connections, for example. It helped deepen my understanding of his work and accept that the relationships might be entirely impossible for someone like me to detect. Gorey layered ideas and concepts so densely that peeling away those layers isn’t easy.

Another example is how the ballet is literally absent from the bequest. It isn’t as if his art collection is filled with Degas ballerinas, yet Gorey watched nearly 160 performances a season for almost 30 years under the direction of George Balanchine. His ballet-watching, to me, helped shape his figures that are posed “just so,” deliberate, expressive, like a dancer. His drawings are typically horizontal, stage-like. Beyond that, Gorey knew of the museum’s early history with the ballet in 1930s, and this in part inspired his gift to us.

How did you learn about Gorey’s ballet obsession?

One of the writers for Gorey’s Worlds is Robert Greskovic, a dance critic and friend of Gorey’s. Robert’s essay is a touching remembrance of Gorey’s reactions to various productions, costumes, etc., and revealed the degree to which he noted every single detail that contributed to mood of the performance.

Who else wrote for the catalogue?

Given Gorey’s ties to many different cultural arenas, I felt it was important to engage different perspectives on his work. Arnie Arluke, a specialist in human-animal studies, discusses animals in Gorey’s work, and Professor Kevin Shortsleeve delves into Gorey’s connections to nonsense literature and surrealism. My essay presents principal groupings that emerge in the artwork Gorey collected, such as French art and American art, for example.

Was either of the other authors familiar with Gorey’s work before the project?

Yes and no. Kevin studied Gorey’s work for his master’s thesis, but this project presented a new angle on Gorey for him. Similarly, Arnie knew of Gorey’s work, but freely admitted that applying his knowledge to visual art was far different than the scientific research and papers to which he was accustomed.

Were you a Gorey fan before this project?

I wasn’t familiar with his work until this project. When I look back at my childhood and even teenage years, I realize I liked “Goreyeseque” books growing up.

Such as?

I loved Roald Dahl, and since my mom was Canadian, I read the funny (slightly dark) stories of Dennis Lee, a Canadian children’s author and poet; years later, I read the Lemony Snicket series. I love murder mysteries, and my favorite movie in high school was Clue. Turns out Gorey loved Tim Curry, too….

Going back to your research, what was different about this project?

Trying to get to know Gorey as a person and how he lived with his collections was a departure from my normal approach. I tracked down photographs of his New York City apartment, to look at what artwork hung where, for example. I also spent time at the Edward Gorey House in Yarmouth Port, on Cape Cod. The staff has many of the curiosities Gorey collected, such as vintage objects, rocks from the beach, tarot cards, etc. They also let me spend the night in the house, in Gorey’s bedroom! I can attest there are no bats or menacing creatures lurking about, at least none that I witnessed.

What do you hope people will take away from this book?

For the first time, readers will have a chance to step into his artistic mindset, to look at the artists that sparked his imagination. Edward Gorey is more complicated than people realize. Many assume because his work is moody and dark that he, too, was reclusive and weird. I found far more humor, more absurdity, than anything.

Erin Monroe is the Robert H. Schutz Jr. Associate Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. She is the author of Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond.