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The Reader – Dropcap design

Choosing the book – Monday, 11 November

I chose The Reader for a few different reasons:

  • it's a story that relates to the effects of WWII (which has been a topic of interest for me for a long time)
  • it's quite heart-rending, and, as books go, I've never felt certain emotions as strongly as when I read this
  • it's something you can read in a day which, for this project, is great because I'm eager to get started!

Summary of the book

For 15-year-old Michael, a chance meeting with an older woman leads to far more than he ever imagined. Before long they embark on a passionate, clandestine love affair which leaves Michael both euphoric and confused. For Hanna is not all she seems.

Years later, as a law student observing a trial in Germany, Michael is shocked to find Hanna in the dock. The woman he loved is a war criminal. Much about her behaviour during the trial does not make sense. Hanna must answer for a horrible crime, but she is desperately concealing an even deeper secret.

Making notes

As I've been writing things down, I've had a few ideas along the way but for now I've just got lots of words down on paper. My next task will be to go through them and look for good starting points for sketching. I'd read the book in the past but it's amazing what new things you can learn when you make notes e.g. the author refers to Hanna's clothing about three times and it's always blue – twice with pale red roses. So I have a few ideas for colour, and a good 'library' of graphic ideas to work with.

Sketches – Tuesday, 12 November

I took plenty of useful imagery from the book, which went as follows:

Drawing an 'H' (for Hanna, one of the two main characters) as fencing with barbed wire – to relate to the camp where she worked in the SS, but also to relate to her way of locking in a secret.

 

Drawing an 'R' (for Reader). I think an 'R' would also be very fitting because the word 'rose' pops up in the book a few times. Hanna calls Michael 'rose', and she also wears a blue smock with pale red roses on it. So this is definitely something visual that's worth exploring. I like the third one – it's simple, graphic, and it conveys an 'R' (I can play around with colours to make the left portion come forward).

Then back to the 'H' for Hanna, with a combination of roses and barbed wire. Important to avoid it looking like a hard-ass American country style guitar pattern here!

The word 'labyrinth' comes up in the book and it describes Michael's pursuit of Hanna quite well. Although the swastika sits quite well below, I don't think it's fair or even relevant to include it – it's not a central idea in the book. Maybe I'll try a version with a heart in the centre instead.

Drawing an 'S' as part of a cassette. When Hanna is sent to prison, Michael eventually sends her cassettes – recordings of him reading books to her. After drawing the first two images below, I wondered if I could make the tape look like rose petals – I think it turned out quite nicely – and this is probably my strongest dropcap.

Digital work to follow soon! Any feedback is much appreciated – thanks

Update – Saturday, 16 November

After a few more notes and sketches, here are the most promising ones.

I focussed on depicting book pages and also using barbed wire as an ornamental decorative element.

There are a few crossovers that I was trying to work out – the decorative roses on Hanna's blue smock, the fact that blue was also the colour that Auschwitz victims wore, the combination of a rose vine and barbed wire. It's tough to keep things simple.

Building it up with books:

A more dynamic version:

Brining the ornamental barbed wire into it. I think it works if it's elegant and feminine but also quite poisonous – a little like Hanna Schmidt herself.

Finally, removing the book graphics and focussing on the barbed wire/rose vine combination. Again, something that attempts to reflect the beautiful and dangerous Hanna Schmidt.

Update – Sunday, 17 November

Here are some finished pieces so far. I have a couple more ideas on the go in the mean time.

1. I like the simplicity of this, but the good old page fold is everywhere these days.

2. I like this idea of the cassette tape – it's quite low-key in reltion to the book. Also, it may not mean much to people who haven't read the book, but when they get near the end it should become clear.

3. Making the barbed wire an ornamental element, and book pages make the body of the letter.

4. A more illustrative approach

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