Event Recap / First Friday Club with Evi O

Evi-O’s lush, boldly inspired designs can be found on books like Nam Le’s short story collection The Boat, chef George Calombaris’ recipe book Greek, and the tea connoisseur’s favourite T2: The Book.

This March brings us the return of First Friday Club, with this month’s guest Evi O. Evi is an award-winning book designer and artist who launched her career with Lantern, an imprint of Penguin Books. Her lush, boldly inspired designs can be found on books like Nam Le’s short story collection The Boat, chef George Calombaris’ recipe book Greek, and the tea connoisseur’s favourite T2: The Book. She now works with OetomoNew, a design studio focusing on publication design, which she co-founded in May 2016.

The Centre’s Membership and Development Officer Sherry Landow spoke with Evi about how she started out in book design, her collaboration with writers, and the process from inspiration to finished product.

… On her entry into the world of book design

‘I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to make books.’ As a child, Evi felt a pull towards beautifully designed books. She recalls receiving an elaborately crafted Snow White pop-up book, which fascinated her. All the elements, she says, seemed ‘magical’. She was also obsessed with drawing. ‘Although,’ she admits, laughing, ‘I wasn’t very good at it.’ That would come later.

When she reached university, she enrolled in a business degree – and then pulled out at the last minute to study design via the UTS Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication. Her family was more than a little apprehensive about this unconventional move. ‘I promised my mum: if this career doesn’t work out, you can find me a rich husband,’ Evi jokes.

After her degree finished she met with Deb Brash, ‘a legend of book design’, Evi says. It was enough to help her get her foot in the door at Lantern and begin to build up her skill set. Her lucky break was with Things I Love by interior designer Megan Morton, which was crowned Best Designed Book of the Year at the Australian Publishers Association (APA) Book Design Awards 2013.

… On collaborating with writers

Visual books present a unique opportunity for writers and designers to collaborate. When designing a richly visual book, whether it’s a book of recipes or an interior design collection, ‘every page’, Evi says, ‘is an expression of the writer’s personality.’ Working on T2: The Book clarified this for her. Evi says she realised that there was no way to truly separate out the design of the book from its contents. If you’re a book designer, you have to be actively involved in the story the book is telling. ‘Basically,’ Evi says, ‘the visual becomes the content in the end.’

… On the difference between working through a publisher and working directly with the author

In the traditional model, designers don’t communicate directly with authors: that’s the role of the publisher. Sometimes it can be frustrating to have to go through an intermediary, and Evi enjoys the transparency and clarity of vision you can develop when sitting down with an author and figuring out the project together. This creates a space for the kind of creative collaboration Evi loves. Working directly with the author also allows for a faster turnaround time. In contrast to traditional publishing, which can take between six months and two years to produce a visual book, Evi, working as a freelance designer, can work in collaboration with an author, editor, and proofreader to produce a book in six months.

Of course, freelancing isn’t without its downsides. When Lantern closed in 2015, Evi and her fellow designer Daniel New were prompted to start their own business, OetomoNew. The early days of the business were very busy; not knowing when work would dry up, Evi and Daniel felt compelled to take on as many projects as they could. ‘You want to accept everything,’ Evi exclaimed. ‘You end up working like a horse!’

… On where she finds her inspiration

Often the first stage of Evi’s creative process is internal and doesn’t look like very much from the outside. ‘I like to read the contents [of the book] and do nothing for three weeks,’ says Evi. Then she’ll get to work, ready with ideas prepared by her subconscious mind. She finds all sorts of things inspiring: from conversations to ordinary objects. And, of course, Evi says, ‘reading inspires me a lot.’

… On her favourite part of the process

It’s the feeling of satisfaction she gets from holding the final product in her hands. ‘Seeing the book on the shelves,’ Evi says, ‘after enough time has passed not to be anxious about it!’

… On the best advice for aspiring book designers

The first step is meeting people who will get you to where you want to be. If you’re persistent and prepared to do the work, you can make the connections you’ll need. ‘Be pushy,’ Evi says. ‘Just bang on the door.’

You can browse through some of Evi O’s amazing material, including full spreads of her books, at her website here. Her design studio OetomoNew is over here.

Don’t forget to RSVP for our next First Friday Club event!

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