Bob Gill Lends a Hand

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There are few things more rewarding to an art director than working with someone you respect, and in that sense, my tenure at Print has seen an abundance of rewards. In the February issue alone, I got to hang out at the Pencil Factory “art directing”—i.e., chatting up the many great, friendly designers and illustrators in residence there—while Ross Mantle created wonderful images of the spaces and people. I tagged along with the talented Hilary J. Corts while she captured Oliver Munday, a past collaborator, in his studio. I assigned illustrations to both R. O. Blechman and his son Nicholas. I even got to be a pain in Seymour Chwast’s ass while I dithered over the direction and theme of our new back-page illustration. However, getting the chance to work with a personal hero proved to be one of the most satisfying collaborations of my career.

Cover design by Bob Gill. Illustrations by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni and Bob Gill.

Like many designers, I have long been in awe of Bob Gill’s work. In November 2011, I even wrote a review of his latest book, Bob Gill, So Far. Shortly after we published the review on Imprint, I got a call from the man himself, upset that I had misrepresented an aspect of the book. I frantically worked to correct the error, all while thinking, Bob Gill just called me! He knows who I am! As disappointed as I was with myself over my error, I couldn’t help but take it as a compliment that he saw the article and took the time to not only read it, but to correct me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that it wasn’t entirely my idea to have Bob Gill design the cover of the February issue. Shortly before we started planning the issue, he had e-mailed our editor in chief, Michael Silverberg, offering his services. For us, the decision was a no-brainer. Why not have one of the greatest designers and illustrators of all time design the cover of our illustration issue? I called to offer him the job, and he graciously accepted. We talked about the general theme of the issue and the minor requirements (skylines, logo, UPC codes, etc.), and he said that he’d present sketches to me about a week later.

The following week, on a cold and blustery day shortly before Thanksgiving, Mr. Gill came by our office, portfolio in tow. He then presented me with the “sketches.” I was slightly unprepared for what I was about to see. I was already incredibly nervous about receiving a design legend, one of my personal heroes of the field, one of the fiercest critics of design, and one third of Fletcher/Forbes/Gill—the firm that would eventually become Pentagram. More to the point, I was nearly crippled with the anxiety of art directing someone so smart and witty. What does one say to a designer who, in the 1960s, almost single-handedly started the design revolution in London?

He opened his portfolio and presented me with a paste-up of the cover. One elegantly witty idea, and no more. This would be the cover; there would be no going back to the drawing board (in this case, very literally). Of course, the idea was so solid, how could I not accept? I made some minor comments, we talked about the presentation of the pop-art hand, and we decided to add the creamy background color to the image (a rather superficial, but pragmatic, decision). Afterward, he stayed to tell me about the founding of F/F/G, and the London design scene of the ’60s. I was perfectly content to check out for the day and just listen to Mr. Gill tell stories about his career.

Round one

Round two

A few weeks later, with the cover entering the final stages of production, I stopped by Mr. Gill’s home office to present him with the final. We enjoyed some coffee while he told me more about the history of F/F/G, reminisced about Alan Fletcher, mentioned seeing his friend Charlie Watts perform with his band at the Barclays Center, and held forth on the state of design today.

In the end, I am incredibly proud of this cover as an image, and happy that designers like it. However, what went into designing this cover was even more enjoyable, and constituted some of my most thrilling moments as an art director.

Bob Gill biking up Fifth Avenue. Photograph by Joe Marianek.