I make books for a living. Most my time is spent doing layout design, plus photo manipulation and some illustration. When I tell people I design books, they always assume I just place words on a page. If that was my job, I would have driven an ice pick through my eye a long time ago, just to alleviate the boredom.
When you look at a book, magazine, billboard, or something of that nature, you don’t usually think of the process that goes into it. There is so much media out there, a lot of people think that printed material just “happens,” as if some gigantic, magical machine is pumping out what they read and see everyday. Along with this obliviousness, often comes unrealistic expectations and, in many cases, outright stupidity.
My editor found a painting she wants to use for the cover of a 4th grade textbook I’m designing on Pennsylvania history. The image belongs to a museum. Don’t be fooled. Just because someone works at a museum does not mean they are sophisticated and intelligent. In fact, when you see small, yellow buses parked outside a museum, don’t assume they are for “special” children on a fieldtrip. It’s just as likely that the buses transport in the museum employees.
So the museum agrees to give us the rights to use the painting on our cover. There’s an enormous fee, of course, there always is for this kind of thing. But then the museum decides that we can only use the image if we agree not to put any type over it. This is when you begin to question their intelligence. It’s a BOOK. Books have titles. There is going to be type. Finally, after my editor explains this to them and I send a mockup of how the title does not detract from the image, they agree to make an “exception.”
Problem solved? Hardly. They contact my editor again and tell her that we must show more of the old lady’s feet at the bottom of the painting. They don’t like the fact that the old woman, a tiny obscure element in the foreground, is cropped at the ankles. Did I crop the painting? I did no such thing. Why, then, do they accuse me of ankle slicing? I looked on the internet for other prints of the painting and every single example depicted a feetless grandma. Perhaps Edward Hicks painted no feet! I would think the museum people, who own the painting, would know this. In frustration, I grabbed my digital stylus, drew on some feet, and emailed it to my editor. Drawn-on cartoon feet are better than no feet at all, right? My editor was amused, but didn’t pass on the email to the museum. Too risky. If these people’s sense of humor is on par with their intelligence level, then we’d be in big trouble.
It will all work out. If the version of the painting they send us has feet, then by golly, the children will get feet! If not, no feet for them. What are feet anyway, if not fleshy entrails for our socks? Answer me that, museum.