Three days + 16 illustrators = 3,750 drawings

The Church of London took a hands-on approach to creating 2,500 bespoke covers for the latest issue of Google’s Think Quarterly: each one is a different section of a huge floor drawing made by 16 illustrators over the course of three days

Detail of the poster insert included with the new issue of Think Quarterly: the grid references reveal the drawings used on each of the 2,500 covers

The Church of London took a hands-on approach to creating 2,500 bespoke covers for the latest issue of Google’s Think Quarterly: each one is a different section of a huge floor drawing made by 16 illustrators over the course of three days…

Each cover of TQ comes from a different part of the original drawing

The new issue of the Google TQ publication has “people” as its theme and from the outset, says Church of London publisher/MD Danny Miller, the designers discussed how to bring a sense of community to the project. “We decided to create a huge image that would work across as many as 2,500 different books and see if we could chop it down into individual covers, so that no two people received the same piece of cover art,” Miller explains.

TCoL worked with YCN to assemble a team of illustration talent for the project. They then met up at a warehouse in Haggerston, East London to be briefed by consulting designer, Jeremy Leslie, on the theme of “technology bringing people together”.

Close-up of the grid

“We mapped out the overall canvas on the floor of the warehouse, but didn’t show any of the illustrators the actual borders of each cover,” says Miller. “We just tried to maintain even coverage overall, safe in the knowledge that the covers would kind of choose themselves, rather than us choosing them.”

This one minute ‘making of’ film shows the size of the canvas:

The full poster insert showing thumbnails of 2,500 individual cover sections

Leslie admits that the project became far larger than the team had initially anticipated. “Two and half thousand individual pieces that also hold together as one complete piece is such an abstract idea,” he says.

“Even when you break that down as a grid of 50 x 50 covers it doesn’t seem ‘so’ tricky. But extrapolate that in real size and you get an artwork something like 12 x 8 metres. We spent some time on the mathematical possibilities: we reduced the size of everything to about 45% real size, so it was more manageable.

Poster insert and inside front of the new issue, showing the scale of the original floor drawing (see illustrator with pen, bottom left)

“We worked out we needed a minimum of 1.5 drawn characters for each cover, which meant getting artists who could create approximately 3,750 individual characters. By that stage you’ve left the art room and moved back to maths class: ten artists x 3,750 characters = 375 each. How long would that take? If they each drew one every five minutes that would take about 30 hours each. It got complicated!”

Instead of marking out a tight grid of the individual covers, it was agreed that a set character size would be used throughout. “We didn’t want the group to mimic being one artist,” says Leslie, “but to bring their own characterisations to the piece, and we set parameters so their individual contributions worked together. We provided an endless supply of black Sharpie pens so everyone had the same line style, and asked them to move about the space so that all their contributions were mingled rather than each individual having their ‘own’ corner.”

Leslie says that by way of a direct brief, he “wanted characters doing daily activities. They could be realistic, fantastic or humorous, but needed to be light rather than heavy. There were a few pretty obvious no-nos: no nudity, sex, violence. We were working just after the riots so that was off-bounds, too.”

 

The outlines of three characters appear on one of the opening spreads; they can be pushed out so they stand on the page

 

The key issues, he says, were to maintain scale and good positioning, filling each cover neatly without leaving some with apparently random lines. “We wanted each one to carry a face or character somewhere without being neatly ‘contained’ on the cover – we wanted the lines to cross from one to another.

“To add a tech element, he explains, visual references to Google and their products were also included. The theme of how their technology can help ‘bring people together’ was loosely interpreted: “there are eighties brick phones as well as modern phones and tablets, along with playful visual linking between the devices,” he says.

After three days of drawing the canvas was photographed in 100 sections and pieced back together in Photoshop, with minor retouches and tidying up – a process that took two weeks in itself. TCoL then worked closely with the printers to ensure that recipients would be able to find their individual cover on the larger drawing, included as a poster insert, via a set of grid references. The reference is included on the back of each issue.

“The complications were in the planning and the finishing,” adds Leslie. “The actual execution was pretty painless other than some sore wrists. For all the maths involved in working out what was needed and the technology required to digitalise the artwork, it is a pure piece of raw creative work. Sixteen people doodling with felt tips.”

The illustrators who worked on the project were Ryan Chapman, Jasper Dunk, Dale Edwin Murray, Daniel Frost, Matthew Hams, Yasmeen Ismail, Jean Jullien, Chetan Kumar, Paul Layzell, Maggie Li, Dominic Owen, Hattie Stewart, Toby Triumph, Robbie Wilkinson, Paul Willoughby, and Dan Woodger.

Here are some of the inside pages from the issue, also finely illustrated throughout. More on the People issue of Think Quarterly at thinkwithgoogle.co.uk.

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