interview with Mr. Dog's designer: Cynthia Wigginton

Greetings, Readers!

Today I’m delighted to share an interview between our publisher, Betsy, and our book’s designer, Cynthia Wigginton. As you’ll learn, Cynthia’s creative talents aren’t limited to graphic design. She’s also an incredibly accomplished musician with some amazing stories from her rock and roll* life. Enjoy!

Your faithful friend,

 

* Betsy had to tell me what “rock and roll” meant, but she assured me that you’ll understand.


designer and musician, Cynthia Wigginton, photo © Bart Nagel

designer and musician, Cynthia Wigginton, photo © Bart Nagel

 

Betsy: What were your favorite books as a little girl? Are there any in particular that have inspired your interest in book design?

Cynthia: I've always been an avid reader, so this is a tough question! I admire the work of so many authors, illustrators, and book designers. In terms of illustrated picture books that I was fascinated with as a child, three come to mind. The first would be Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy World. I would spend hours poring over the elaborate spreads while looking for his cast of familiar characters as they appeared around the globe.

The second would be Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. His illustration in its loose hand is so evocative, emotional, and distinctive. Recently, I was surprised to learn that Bemelmans was not French, but an Austria-Hungary born American writer and illustrator. Also, the heroine, Madeline, is meant to be American rather than French. What an odd thing! I'll have to go back and read the original book again from that perspective.

The third would be a book that I no doubt filched from my older brother, How to Care For Your Monster by Norman Bridwell. In this case, it was mostly the writing that caught my attention and the idea that monsters might need caring for. It's a liberating idea for a child who gets scared in the dark. The illustrations are great, too, in a Scooby-Doo sort of way.

How did you get started as a book designer? What do you most enjoy about the process?

The work that I've created as a graphic designer has been more diverse than with most graphic designers, I think. I don't consider myself exclusively a book designer even though Adam and I've recently completed our tenth children's book together (Are We There Yet? | Chronicle Books | Spring 2016).

After graduating from UC Davis, I landed in London to work for a fashion photographer. At that point in time, I thought that I wanted to be a professional photographer. But quickly, I realized that I was more interested in fusing imagery with written word in the form of design. After returning to the States and a short stint in advertising, I landed a job working at a music merchandising company where I spent seven years designing all forms of music collateral.

My silkscreened poster from that period for the band Oasis appears in the book, The Art of Modern Rock (Chronicle Books | Spring 2005).  You might also be familiar with my Bob Marley image from the same period. As I was on payroll, I didn't retain the copyright to the design and it was licensed off. You can probably buy it on a coffee mug in a shop near you. I see it everywhere now.

Cynthia Wigginton's poster for Oasis

Cynthia Wigginton's poster for Oasis

 
Cynthia Wigginton's iconic Bob Marley image

Cynthia Wigginton's iconic Bob Marley image

 

From my rock merchandising job, I moved on to magazine design. It was at Red Herring magazine as an Associate Art Director where I started fine-tuning my typographic skills. From there, it was an easy jump to book design. Adam and I worked on our first book together, My Friend Chicken, which Adam also wrote (Chronicle Books | Spring 1999).

What I like most about design is seeing all of the elements come together in such a crystalline way. The end result becomes its own entity and acquires its own personality. Perhaps I'm a bit of an animist.

What was your design inspiration for Mr. Dog? Tell us about how you and Adam collaborated to bring the book to life so beautifully.

Interior spreads from Mr. Dog's Christmas featuring a number of Cynthia's wonderful design details, from the faux bois patterning to the use of Victorian era frames, letter forms, decorative flourishes, and even the aged look of the paper. The design strikes the perfect balance between Victorian style and a more contemporary sensibility.

Interior spreads from Mr. Dog's Christmas featuring a number of Cynthia's wonderful design details, from the faux bois patterning to the use of Victorian era frames, letter forms, decorative flourishes, and even the aged look of the paper. The design strikes the perfect balance between Victorian style and a more contemporary sensibility.

Adam is a very flexible illustrator who can work with many mediums in a variety of styles. With so many options available, it can be a studied task to decide what might be the best approach for any given project. In the case of Mr. Dog, I found myself particularly drawn (pun intended!) to Adam’s sketched renditions of the characters and encouraged him to render the final illustrations with the same crowquill and ink technique. It's such a natural fit for a story that was originally published during the Victorian era.

In general, ours is a fairly organic process. My studio is across the hall from Adam's. We often call back and forth and ask each other for opinions, thoughts, and ideas. The illustration is, of course, all Adam's. I do my best to make sure that things come together in a way that makes sense for the project at hand with supporting typography, layout, and graphics; for example, adding the faux bois texture to some of the pages in Mr. Dog was an idea of mine. It makes sense as, after all, much of the story takes place at the Hollow Tree Inn. And you, Betsy, deserve full credit for the cloth cover concept for Mr. Dog, along with shepherding the book to final production. You did such a great job.

What are some of your other favorite book projects with Adam? With other illustrators?

I have a soft spot for all ten of the picture books that Adam and I have worked on together. The creation of them generally takes at least a year and sometimes much longer. Their 'stuff' ends up being spread around our house and studios and hung on our walls. They truly become members of the family. And then they leave home and head out into the world. But if choosing favorites is a must, they would be (after Mr. Dog, of course!) The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme (Sterling | 2009) and Mom and Dad Are Palindromes (Chronicle Books | 2006).

Cover for The Monsterologist: a Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

Cover for The Monsterologist: a Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

 
Award-winning monster stamps endpapers for The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz / illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

Award-winning monster stamps endpapers for The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz / illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

 

The former includes such beautiful writing by Bobbi Katz. The project also presented lots of artistic challenges for both Adam and me. The end paper design won a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators and the cover of the book was included in AIGA's 'Top 100' show. The latter, Mom and Dad Are Palindromes by author Mark Shulman, also involved unique artistic and typographic challenges. I love the way that it came together with Mark's farcical wordplay.

Mom and Dad are Palindromes by Mark Shulman with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

Mom and Dad are Palindromes by Mark Shulman with illustrations by Adam McCauley and design by Cynthia Wigginton

 

Although I'm open to working with other illustrators on book projects, I tend to prefer working with my in-house partner, Adam. I do enjoy working with a variety of illustrators though; for example, on album art with the very talented Christian Northeast out of Toronto, Canada. I've designed two album covers around his amazing work and hope that his schedule allows for further collaboration next year.

In addition to your amazing design talents, you’re a very accomplished musician. You’ve worked with some really cool folks over the years, and now you front your own band as singer/songwriter. Tell us more about all of it!

So yes, I create music in my parallel life. Adam does as well and we play in a band together, Bermuda Triangle Service. That's not to say that music and visual art don't intersect. I've designed the album packaging for all of the Bermuda Triangle Service records. We put out a new record last year entitled Yoo Hoo which is currently doing well on iTunes and Apple Music. Adam and I have also played independently in many bands. In fact, we met at a show where Adam was drumming as part of a band called Little My, which was named after the Tove Jansson character. I was playing violin with Richard Buckner as a member of The Doubters. I started studying classical violin at age seven and have been playing, writing, and making music ever since.

Album packaging for "Yoo Hoo," the latest album from Cynthia's band, Bermuda Triangle Service Illustrator: Christian Northeast Designer: Cynthia Wigginton

Album packaging for "Yoo Hoo," the latest album from Cynthia's band, Bermuda Triangle Service
Illustrator: Christian Northeast
Designer: Cynthia Wigginton

 

To tell all of my rock and roll stories would require many more interviews, but certainly a memorable night was opening for The Pogues at The Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco in 1987. It was with my first band, The Bedlam Rovers, and I was primarily the fiddler. This was perhaps our third show ever, and The Pogues were performing with Joe Strummer of The Clash. It was a rather terrifying night in many ways as we were playing this historic venue, very early in our band's existence, with our heroes. There were also loads of skinheads in the audience and my dad was positioned amongst them for this sold out show. Courtney Love was purported to be in the balcony. Later in the evening, our drummer was ejected from a side door. I'm not sure what happened there as Andrew is the most peaceable of guys. My dad ended up in jail and he is an upstanding citizen. After we left the stage, Joe Strummer told us, 'Nice set, kids.'


Cynthia Wigginton works out of San Francisco, California. She is currently studying web coding at the California College of the Arts under Chris Koehler. Bermuda Triangle Service's latest record, 'Yoo Hoo', can be purchased on iTunes or via CDBaby. Adam and Cynthia's upcoming picture book with author Nina Laden, 'Are We There Yet?', can be pre-ordered via Amazon. And, of course, you can purchase Mr. Dog's Christmas right here! Say hello to Cynthia directly at wig@cynthiawigginton.com