The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin with illustrations by Simon Pemberton is a Folio Society edition published in 2010. Hannah Brown bound this copy in 2011 as a full leather binding in yellow goatskin with black back-pared leather onlays. Embroidery is done over the onlays with silk and metallic threads in gold, orange, purple, brown, white, black and rust. Frosted acrylic ‘windows’ were lathe-turned, hand-pierced and drilled then set into the front and back boards. The larger ant’s eyes are gold-plated, hand-shaped and patterned brass pieces, inserted through the book covers. The smaller ant’s eyes are tooled with gold, additional tooling in both carbon and gold using handmade finishing tools.
Edges are painted with acrylic and tooled with carbon and gold foil. Endpapers and doublures are soft-plate off-set printed with a design of walking ants, appearing to move around the acrylic ‘windows’. Both elements are tooled with gold foils.
I’m completely blown away by the design on this book. Can you talk more about your initial concept and how you approached making it a reality?
The book is a direct account of the author’s travels in Australia. In the book there are references to honey ants, which is what I decided to base my design on. Honey ants (or ‘repletes’, as they are also known) are ants that are gorged with food so that their abdomens swell enormously. Other ants then extract nourishment from them, they function essentially as living larders. They are found deep underground and are valued highly during time of little food and water.
I was amazed by these insects and wanted to draw attention to the fact that they have peculiarly large abdomens. I had by chance recently ordered some samples of frosted, coloured acrylic and this seemed a perfect material to use to illustrate their bodies. I used a metal working lathe to turn the frosted acrylic into discs, and cut corresponding holes into the boards before insetting the acrylic in. I really liked that fact that the bodies seemed to light up when the covers of the book were opened.