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Personal Growth

Vladimir Zimakov: Preserving Print

Book cover artist Vladimir Zimakov talks about collaboration, orchestration, and illustration as a war against the blank page.

It’s hard to imagine a world where books don’t exist. Despite what seems to be a digital-heavy shift in direct response to an increasing desire for instant gratification, it remains unlikely that the world of publishing will ever truly abandon tangible productions of their offerings. If you ask illustrator Vladimir Zimakov – the man behind Penguin and Random House’s cover projects for classics like Melville’s Moby Dick and Gogol’s Diary of a Madman – he’ll probably agree with that statement.

As one would imagine, working with classic literature comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles. “The tough part is always finding a fresh new way to look at things. When I get a commission to illustrate a famous piece of literature, there are many preconceived notions that come with the imagery. How do I find the fine line between a smart and clear approach without making it too obvious? It is extremely important to see what was done before so you don’t end up repeating it and at the same time one can’t help but get a little too influenced, especially if what was done was done really well. So often times I would try to find an influence in things that don’t directly relate to the subject that I am researching and try to look underneath the surface.”Zimakov embraces collaboration, in whatever form it may transpire. “Collaborations can be really amazing. A few years back I did a drawing and my friend, who is a poet, saw it and was inspired to write a poem based on it. She later sent it to me and that inspired me to do produce seven more illustrations. I found this back and forth exchange of ideas quite refreshing and productive. Many ideas in visual art can come from music or theater or film. So I am trying to absorb as much as possible without getting lost in the process. My main sources of inspiration are books, nature and all sorts of artistic media ranging from sculpture to digital animation.”

There is a great quote by Leonard Baskin who said that a piece of paper should be approached as a battlefield.

When it comes to a project, he takes a “bigger picture” approach, rather than isolating himself in a specific role. “The format of a book is what I am fascinated with the most. It’s not just about the illustrations or the text. Rather everything has to be orchestrated just right for the end result to work. This is the most challenging and interesting part for me. It’s not something that can be planned out right away. My mission is to create fresh and interesting solutions in tying the text, image and format together in just the right way.”

It seems fitting that there would be literary analogies drawn about the role illustration takes in the art of bookmaking. “There is a great quote by Leonard Baskin who said that a piece of paper should be approached as a battlefield. You need to come up with just the right plan, charge forward at certain points and retreat back at others. The end result is either a victory or failure. I keep going back to this quote and try to take full charge of the composition and not leave things to chance.”

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