How A Kauffer Book Jacket Was Made

In E. McKnight Kauffer’s hands, a book jacket (which for him was a mini-poster) was designed to be interpreted rather than accepted at face value. He continually struggled with the paradox of how to meet his creative needs, his clients’ commercial interests and his viewers’ aesthetic preferences, all in a limited period of time. In a speech before London’s Royal Society of Arts in 1938 (quoted by Keith Murgatroyd in Print) Kauffer  explained his methodology and resultant angst: “When I leave my client’s office, I am no longer considering what form my design or my scheme will take, but the urgent fact that I only have so much time in which to produce the finished article. I find this irritating, and am often overcome by a feeling of hopelessness about the whole business. On my way home I think, Will my client understand what I propose to do? Will he understand I may not give him an obvious, logical answer to his problem? Does he suppose I have magical powers, or does he believe that I can solve his sales problem as simply as one might add two and two together and make four? I have now reached my studio. I pick up a book. I lay it down. I look out of the window. I stare at a blank wall, I move about. I go to my desk and gaze at a blank piece of paper. I write on it the names of the product. I then paint it in some kind of lettering. I make it larger—smaller—slanting—heavy—light. I make drawings of the object—in outline, with shadow and color, large and then small—within the dimensions I have now set myself.”

E. McKnight Kauffer