02 January 2014

"Walden Warming" Book Cover

This fall I did an illustration for a book cover for University of Chicago Press, and the book is finally out. Titled Walden Warming, it's a popular-science book that compares the meticulous notes that Thoreau made in the mid nineteenth century with current field research on the flora and fauna at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. The author, Richard Primack, and his students at Boston University have discovered that 27% of the plant species that Thoreau documented have now disappeared from the area, and another 36% are in imminent danger of disappearing. Concord's mean annual temperature has risen by 4 degrees, and the flowers and trees awaken much earlier in springtime than they did 150 years ago.

The designer/art director, Maia Wright, wanted to reference the famous title page of the first edition of Walden, which featured an engraving of Thoreau's cabin in the woods.

The idea was to re-imagine Thoreau's cabin after climate change. The publisher wanted our illustration to be in color, so Maia and I decided to try to make it look like a vintage lithograph. I did some research and found a couple of mid-1800s color lithos, and what I noticed about them was a particular type of dot pattern that looked almost hand drawn. Here's an example:

Primack's Walden research reveals three categories of change since the 1850s. One is that some species have become extinct or near extinct, the second is that some 'invasive species' are thriving instead, and the third is that there are now some temporal mismatches (for example, some plants flowering too early for their natural pollinators, or birds showing up too early for the plants they usually feed on). We wanted to show these trends visually but without overstating the case, so we decided to show trees in various phases of leafing, a few invasives (multiflora rose, burning bush, purple loosestrife), nuisance species (starlings) which crowd out natives, and missing species (wood duck and asters). None of these are things that Thoreau would have seen.

Here's the illustration alone:

And here it is as it was used on the cover:

The whole piece is a combination of hand drawing, digital color, and scanned textures. Below is a detail view showing some of the textures, especially the dot pattern, which I created by hand for the butterfly:

I used a Photoshop dot pattern as well (you can see it in the shading of the green area above the butterfly) plus some brush strokes that I scanned in and colorized. Somewhere along the way someone mentioned Audubon, so I looked at a lot of those old prints as well.

Another detail:

I'm not sure that it looks entirely like an old litho, but the client was very happy with the result, so I was happy too.


Amanda said...

What a sad but important book. Your illustration is lovely, and I'm sure you were pleased to be a part of this project. Congratulations!

betsy best-spadaro said...

Hi Annie. What a beautiful illustration! I love it. Congratulations.

Annie B said...

Thank you both. I was thrilled to work on this project.

Paddy Hamilton said...

*Top shed..

Style reminds me of the pre lino block printed oilcloth flooring in a good way.

Annie B said...

Thanks Paddy. I know that you are a connoisseur of sheds, so I take your compliment as very high praise.