In January and February of this year I executed a commissioned design binding on a first edition of George Orwell’s 1984. In a rare spasm of good sense I took photos of the process, and, with the approval of the client, will be posting them along with comments.
I have to admit that I hadn’t read the book previously. When I did, I was struck by both its truly frightening timeliness and the rich imagery that Orwell uses to describe his sad, impoverished world. From this, four images stood out for me and became the basis for the design. Early in the book Smith begins keeping a diary in an illicit blank book. Orwell describes the book’s physicality in detail worthy of any bibliophile, whereupon Smith begins writing in graphic detail about a film showing the sinking of a ship carrying enemy noncombatants. As his mind wanders he finds himself writing “Down with Big Brother” over and over. Shortly thereafter we are introduced to the telescreen, which both receives and transmits images and allows the government to observer everyone in their apartments.. Toward the end of the book Smith’s will is broken in Room 101; we see him finally sitting in a bar, drunk, writing “two plus two equals five” on the table and realizing his love for Big Brother. Finally there is the iconic title itself. After a number of thumbnail sketches it was time to produce a definitive design.
As usual at this point I generated a full sized armature as a scaffold for the design. For more info on this technique, check out Jay Hambidge’s Elements of Dynamic Symmetry and The Painter’s Secret Geometry by Charles Bouleau (which seems to be very difficult to find at a reasonable price these days; hence, no link). And if you really want to see how great artworks can be produced based on the geometry of the rectangle, go here.
Variants were worked on tracing paper over the armature until the final design (above) came together. You can see the two rectangular elements of the door sign for room 101 and the telescreen over the title. I originally thought that the 19 and 84 elements might range above and below the surface of the binding, but that didn’t work out.I wanted a skin with flaws, and ordered a third quality gray skin from Talas.
Next: endpapers and preparation for sewing.