JIM NEWITT: Print and Surfing

14 Nov 2012 0 Share

BIG SKY WIRE is a regular Coastalwatch column produced by Michele Lockwood & Andrew Kidman. This week, Michele Lockwood speaks to Art Director Jim Newitt about making beautiful books around surfing.

Living in the modern world of free digital everything, the work of people like Jim Newitt has become increasingly important. Independent artists, publishers and book stores have found it more and more difficult to stay afloat and often what makes the difference to their survival is the irresistible allure of a beautifully crafted book. As a graphic designer, art director and small-scale publisher, Jim is making a name for himself as someone with a skilful eye and an intuitive sense for creating truly beautiful works in the world of printed matter.

CW: There is a real craft to what you do. As a designer, you really know how to walk the line between letting the work speak for itself, letting it breathe, while creating an intriguing presentation.  It is a classic representation of making the difficult seem simple. Do you have any mantras when it comes to designing?

JN: I'm really interested in the craft of bookmaking — it’s one of the oldest crafts there is and is just as relevant today as it ever was, perhaps more so. A well-made book is an experience.

When it comes to design, I can't say I have a 'mantra' as such, but I've always felt the content should come first; you must be sympathetic to the material you’re given, and allow images and texts to sustain their intent, impact. If the design intrudes on the meaning of the material — especially when you’re dealing with artworks — then you've gone too far. Fashion and trends are also difficult things to avoid in design. A lot of design is made for the sake of novelty but I tend to think looking good, is better than looking different.

When you art directed the film Last Hope for Spunk Records, the final product was so fresh. You blended a simple layout of duo-tone & Helvetica with a beautiful title font of your own design, you let the photos take as much space as they needed and housed it all in a clever cardboard package. When taking on a project such as this how do you go about it? Do you sit and let it sink it for a while or do you jump in, get started and see what happens from there?

Every project arrives with a brief – a concept or message to be communicated. There is also always a set of parameters I have to work within, usually determined by a budget – a particular format, page count, colours etc. So in a way, it’s a simple matter of problem solving; finding a solution. I also think, if you take the time to understand the content thoroughly, that clarity will run through to the end product. Maybe the fact that I'm a surfer gives me a better understanding of some of these projects.

You’ve recently designed a book with the legendary John Witzig for Rizzoli. What was it like to work with him? When you are given weighty, iconic imagery such as this do you ever get sweaty palms at the keyboard hoping not to stuff it up somehow? Does Rizzoli, the publishing house, have much to say on how it is to be presented or do they give you free reign?

Rizzoli actually went looking for a designer that surfed, which might have given me an edge. I definitely felt the weight of responsibility. John's images are just beautiful and absolutely iconic; they have a real historical value in showing his unique perspective on that period (1960s to '70s). I felt it a privilege to be given the opportunity to work with the imagery.

Rizzoli predetermined the physical proportions of the book and the editor briefed me as to how they envisaged the design; the book was to feel very 'classical' for example. I then went away and worked up several rounds of designs, which were each critiqued by the editor and publisher, as well as John over a period of months. It was a necessarily slow process, I think to allow the book to grow and find its form. I also think all those involved were very aware of the need to try and perfect it. There is a certain feeling of, 'we're only going do this once, lets do it right'. Rizzoli were very involved in every detail of the design, which I hadn't anticipated but eventually treated as great opportunity to learn from them. I have a great deal of respect for the editors and the publisher; Rizzoli produce some of the most beautiful books in the world.

John and I had a good rapport in the end. He has a great sense of design too, but also loved seeing his own material interpreted by someone else. When I heard he was thrilled with the work I had done, it was just so gratifying; it meant a lot to me. He very kindly gave me a beautiful print as a gift by way of his appreciation, which is something I'll treasure forever. It was a dream project in every sense.

What other projects have you had your hands on recently?

I've just finished a book with Andrew (Kidman), which is now the third one we've done together. By chance, Andrew’s interest in making books seems to have gone alongside my own. I think he considers a book as a means of making something lasting, perhaps in response to modern surfing media, which is so often ephemeral, or throw-away.

Similar to working with John (Witzig), Andrew has been someone I have admired for years and so it’s always a real pleasure working with him. He often comes to me with a very clear idea of what he wants to produce. But we also have a pretty good working relationship, where I can speak openly and critically to him and visa versa, which makes for a good collaboration.

We’ve also been working on The Spirit of Akasha, Morning of the Earth 40th Anniversary project, throughout the year and into 2013. At the moment, everything is very much a work in progress. I'm looking forward to seeing the film evolve and beginning to shape the graphic identity, which is a big responsibility on my part! Morning of the Earth is absolutely sacred to surfing — I think we're all very mindful of that. However, I think it’s a really interesting concept in itself, to examine surfing sub-culture today; if such a things still exists.

I also recently made a book with photographer; Patrick Trefz called, 'Surfers' Blood' published by PowerHouse books, New York, which seems to have been well received.

As a surfer, I feel very fortunate to work with those few independent voices in surfing; I think they are vital to the survival of an authentic culture.

I would imagine in your field of Graphic Design/Art Direction that you are only as good as your last project. So how do you negotiate, in the unfortunate circumstance of having clients with bad taste and forceful opinions? How do you to keep your design integrity when faced with a situation like this?

Design is really collective work. And collaboration is all about the nature of compromise, but equally collaboration does not mean consensus! You just have to know what to compromise and equally what is worth fighting for. Blind pursuit of your own ends, which excludes the possibility that others may be right does not allow for the fact you are always dealing with a triad- the client, the reader and you.

What is Point-Never? Why zines? Tell us about Art Book fairs that you have been involved in….

'Point Never' was a title I gave to describe the notion that creativity, or art making is an ongoing, even infinite process, not a means to an end. For a few years, I curated, designed and published a small fanzine of the same title, which explored the idea.

Zines (or fanzines) are a great format for expressing and distributing your own ideas. In my case, I think designing and making zines sort of preceded my interest in books. There is a thriving scene surrounding zines and self-publishing; lots of fairs, events, shops. They are a very accessible, affordable means of making or collecting art, whereas original artworks or art books can be very expensive. Everyone is very supportive and encouraging of one another, which I really love. I took part in the Tokyo and New York Art Book Fairs this year and next week I'm doing a little event in Paris, as part of the Paris Photo 2012, celebrating small-publishers from around the world.

Who is Peter Sutherland?

Peter is an artist, based in New York (petersutherland.net). He works in a variety of media but is perhaps best known for his photography. We had worked together in the past and earlier this year we produced a small publication, which explored the theme of 'new ideas of nature'. My hope is to produce a set of publications under this same theme — each one financing the last — with each artist nominating an environmental, or social cause to which a portion of the proceeds is donated. Peter chose to donate to ‘Pedals For Progress’ for his publication.

What do you enjoy about surfing? How does surfing in your current hometown of Santa Cruz differ from your surfing life in your motherland of England? Do you think English surfers have a unique relationship with the ocean?

Just that release it gives you from the everyday. I think it helps keep me balanced in lots of ways. Anything that keeps us a little more attuned to the natural world is a good thing in this day and age. But it’s much more than that too — I'd still call myself a surfer above all else.

Santa Cruz is so very different from my home. When I first moved here, it took me a long, long time to adjust to the pace of the waves. Growing up on the channel coast of South Devon, England, we had a lot of short period, storm surf, often with gale force winds and driving rain. I came here to find south swells, 20 minute lulls, no wind and kelp; just the polar opposite! I love the big northwest swells in the winter here though — they remind me of home.

I think every surfing nation probably has its own spirit and England is no different. Perhaps it’s because I live abroad, but I do get a sense that England, or Britain is beginning to celebrate its own surf culture and history, rather than simply follow the U.S or Australia, which is really great to see!

What is your earliest memory?

I can't remember a bleedin' thing... maybe something from way back last week, if I'm lucky and it sticks!

For more from Big Sky Wire click the link: Coastalwatch |Coastalwatch Plus

Tags: Jim Newitt , point never , last hope , big sky wire , michele lockwood (create Alert from these tags)

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