on beauty / zadie smith | Skillshare Projects

Vanessa Hernandez

designer / loud laugher



on beauty / zadie smith

i chose a novel by zadie smith – 'on beauty'. so, Z, for zadie. 

originally, i was already planning to use the 'O' from the title to represent the connectedness / diversity in the novel, but after reading, re-reading, and taking a ton more notes than i anticipated, it became more and more clear that Z was the way to go. 

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the story heavily revolves around the parallels between two families living in different countries, and the things that tie them together - among them: patriarchal rivalry, a love interest between children, an unlikely friendship between the wives, adultery.

however, even though there are many similarities, the author very much tries to convey the major differences between the two. one family is english, living in boston (Belsey), and one family is from the carribean, living in the UK (Kipps). the Belsey family is liberal; the Kipps family is conservative. the Belseys feel freed by their political awareness and education; the Kipps' feel tied to their roots in religion and tradition. there are so many differences among each family, yet they are on parallel paths. i really wanted to reflect that in the letter shape: how it is entirely possible to believe that your way is the correct way, that what you believe is what is ultimately true, and that there is possibility that another person / family / entity is doing the exact same thing in their own right. even though there are major differences, the paths are very similar. 

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i decided to go with a shape that was symmetrical and reflective to represent the ties / differences. it was important to me to keep finding these connections throughout the book, and some of the ones that stuck out most were:


– neither native to their home countries
– living in different nations 
– esteemed patriarchal roles / strong matriarchal roles
– deeply-seated in their beliefs and values

– liberal vs conservative 
– agnostic vs christian (orthodox?) 
– mixed-race (belsey)
– apathetic vs enthusiastic

after working through finding a shape that i was happy with, i sketched it again and again, to feel more comfortable with the shape itself and its negative space. 

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i chose colors based on wanting to represent a sunny / cloudy ideation; in the book, it seemed that when one family was 'up', the other was 'down'. there is also a bit of conversation at the beginning of the book regarding the weather in the UK versus the weather in the northeast US, which i kept in my notes. 

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after sitting with this for a couple of days and re-reading some excerpts that i'd earmarked, i decided that the shape was too complex for the story, although i did like that it represented pathways - similar to an old-school subway map, and that was something that i wanted to keep on the project - specifically because of all the 'paths' i've spoken of, but also because there is a bit of travel involved (Belsey father to the UK to retrieve his son, taking the tube, the Kipps move to Boston and having to acclimate to the charlie train system, both families having left their native countries.) i ultimately decided to work with a simpler shape. 

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i drafted many different overlaps, shapeways, and styles, and stuck with something that was close to the original sketch. 

i wanted to convey a sense of movement / divide / similarities / breaking down paths, and i like that the broken lines in the shape feel like broken fences – symbolic of the 'picket fence dream', and how the families try to seem happy on the outside, but are ultimately broken within their own home.

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finished piece:


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