My First: designer Bruce Usher and illustrator Antti Kalevi team up to make a publication


In partnership with

To celebrate the launch of Arjowiggins’ new digital range, we have partnered with the creative papers manufacturer to offer two emerging talents the opportunity to work with an established graphic designer to create a new publication that showcases the work of the participants and the potential of new digital printing techniques.

For the first book, type foundry and design studio Colophon Foundry / The Entente worked with photographer Sophie Mayanne on Twenty-Two, a chronological narrative tracking her journey as a photographer from graduation to today. Designer Bruce Usher took a very different approach for the second book, working with illustrator Antti Kalevi to create a visual poem, translated using a key, for the duo’s first joint publication, I Can Speak with Shapes.

Communicating through Skype and an emoji-heavy stream of instant messages, Bruce and Antti documented their working process for us from idea to digital printing. Here’s what happened next.

The Idea

As a self-confessed “fan boy” of Antti’s distinctive illustrations, Bruce was the ideal designer to bring Antti’s illustrations to life in a publication. “I immediately didn’t want to spoil Antti’s work with typography everywhere and a layout that wouldn’t let his work speak,” Bruce explains. Inspired by Antti’s past work and Paul Cox’s book Abstract Alphabet: A Book of Animals, Bruce decided that the idea could be pushed “far, far further” by making a poem with shapes.

Antti drew a shape for each one of the 26 letters of the alphabet, and Bruce got busy writing a simplistic, “childish” poem. It was decided that the poem would be spoken through the shapes. A key was printed at the back of the book so that after making their way through the poem, the reader would discover that there was an another, linguistic way to read it.

“It’s a book with abstract images, but it also tells a story at the same time,” Antti tells us over Skype. “It has a key on the backside of the book that you can use as a tool to study the symbols."

“The whole point of it is that it’s a picture book and then you get to the end and there’s a punchline,” Bruce adds. “There’s a key and you go back and read it and interpret it in a totally different way.”

The Typeface

“Part of the problem was trying to come up with a concept that took Antti’s work in a slightly new way, but without decorating it with typography or with a structure that would spoil it,” Bruce explains. By taking Antti’s illustrations and making them into an alphabet, Bruce found his way around the problem.

“Usually I just get given the stuff and design it,” Bruce admits, “but I didn’t want to work like that with Antti. We’d be adding captions for the sake of it and we’d be coming up with a typographic title which would make his work look worse. Every time I had seen his work I didn’t feel like it would benefit from having anything added to it. Seeing typography next to Antti’s work sort of made me feel like using graphic design as a decorative tool would be redundant and it would have to be conceptual.”

Still, I Can Speak with Shapes is not entirely void of text. “There’s a key in the back that uses a typeface,” Bruce points out. “That requires a typeface because it’s a piece of information that you need to be able to use to understand the book. But other than that we tried to keep it to Antti’s hand because it’s so beautiful.”

The Colours

By working with Antti’s signature colour palette, the duo made a book which remains honest to Antti’s work. “I have quite a clear colour palette that I prefer to use with my illustrations,” Antti explains. “I have for example a few different types of red that I stick with, and it’s a personal way for me to keep my style.”

The Paper

Bruce and Antti picked paper from Arjowiggins’ new digital range. Selecting Curious Collection Skin i-Tone Extra White 380g for their cover. The pair decided to contrast it with lighter papers for their inside pages – Curious Collection Matter i-Tone Goya White 270g and Curious Collection Matter i-Tone Andina Grey 270g.

“We looked through and there were some stocks that I had a feeling that Antti would like, and then we whittled that down,” Bruce says. “The main choices for the white papers were textural choices rather than colour choices. There was an original idea that we would have a torn edge on every page so the illustrations felt a bit more ad hoc and loose and the physical thing would feel like a sketch book. I think that idea is still there with the rough paper we’ve used.”

When choosing between different white papers for I Can Speak with Shapes, the decision was harder than Bruce and Antti had first anticipated. “Once we realised that a fully white book might be slightly repetitive, we were torn between andina and camel: they both seemed to work really beautifully with Antti’s work. Part of the challenge was to make sure that the colours didn’t pull too close.”

Digital Printing

Digital printing played heavily into the production of I Can Speak with Shapes. “We wanted to push what you could do with digital printing on the papers. Obviously if you print CMYX on those pages flat, the colours won’t match with the colours on the other pages, so we worked with Brighton printers Generation Press to get a layer of white on all the pages where we have that different grey paper. We printed a flat white first, so it was the same as printing onto white paper, and we got the bright, beautiful colours that Antti uses on every page.”

Arjowiggins Creative Papers has refined and extended its range of digital printing papers to offer graphic designers greater creative freedom with new sizes, colours, textures and finishes, plus easy selection with a new reference book. With digital technologies breathing new life into the medium of print, this digital range of papers allows designers to take advantage of custom print runs and quick turnarounds, while widening their creative options and retaining exceptional print quality. To find out more about the range, click here. 

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About the Author

Bryony Stone

Bryony joined It's Nice That as Deputy Editor in August 2016, following roles at Mother, Secret Cinema, LAW, Rollacoaster and Wonderland. She later became Acting Editor at It's Nice That, before leaving in late 2018.

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