Composing Spreads

Quickie thumbnails, showing plans for spreads. (Sharpie plus digital color)

I have written on the visual correspondent, and the visual essay, before. For a general round up, here is a good place to start. This post will address less expansive material, focusing on the nitty gritty of page design and the use of word and images to build a sequence across several spreads. I am working with students on a visual essay project right now, a version of which I have run for something like 20 years. We take the light rail line to downtown St. Louis, wander around the Gateway Arch grounds (recently massively re-landscaped, and the museum re-conceived and rebuilt) and poke around the less presentable, industrial sites along the river.

The students are tasked with making a cycle of five images, which must be distributed across three spreads. The problem is based on a print magazine format pioneered in the mid-twentieth century (discussed, above links) by Esquire and Sports Illustrated, involving illustrator as correspondent, assigned to a site or event. At right, two examples. Al Parker, 1964; Robert Weaver, 1962. (I have written about the Weaver drawings that formed the basis of this project before, here.)

Five images and three spreads is bit of a math problem: 5 divided by 3 does not yield an even distribution. Below, in the case of the Weaver SI project, we get a single image across one spread, necessitated by the project requirements.

Robert Weaver, Spring Training, 1962.

At the top of this post, I have drawn a set of quick sketches to show how the compositional problem of 2/2/1 might be approached. Below, and right, I have added some blown up versions of these ideas, noted with the letter (A through L) shown in the big set.

Spread Plan D (alternate version)

Spread Plan D (alternate version) Negative shape!

Students: these notes are not meant to be encyclopedic. I have made some doodles and put letters next to them to make it easier to refer to each visual idea. I made these notes in class on Monday and pinned them up for a quickie discussion. They are not Biblical. I am giving them to you here to remind you that you can think with your hands and make big decisions quickly, for testing purposes.

Key idea: the negative space is also a participant. See reversed out negative space in Spread Plan D (alternate version. That Pennsylvania-with-the-super-long-neck-shape is an equal participant in the composition!)

Remember: use the edge! (Your spreads are to by 16x10, trimmed out from 17x11, which means you can print and trim bleeds. That is not accidental.)

There are typographic questions to consider as well. I will try to get back to this post again in the next day or two and update with some thoughts about setting the type.

Before typesetting comes writing. You will need a title, possibly a subtitle, an author/illustrator credit, and five captions for your five pictures.

This is to get you started on composing your spreads. Have fun!

Al Parker, 22nd Monaco Grand Prix, Sports Illustrated, May 11, 1964.

Robert Weaver, Spring Training: Fresh Starts and Old Hopes, Sports Illustrated, March 5, 1962.

Spread Plan G

Robert Weaver, Spring Training, 1962.

Doug DowdComment