Hundreds of illustrations by Fincham Press cover artist Rudolf Ammann are now available to download and reuse, with licensing that lets you take, remix, and play, for free!
In spring last year I was invited to join an unusual comedy project which trained artificial neural networks on several years’ worth of historical Edinburgh Fringe festival programmes to generate new virtual show listings. My brief consisted in developing the brand identity and building the website, but, having familiarised myself with the project, I suggested that the purely textual show listings should also be accompanied by illustrations, which I’d be happy to create and supply. Eventually, ImprovBot.ai went live at the start of the Festival in August, and for three weeks kept churning out a dozen illustrated AI-generated show listings a day. The images are now available for creative re-use as non-restrictively licenced stock Illustrations. Here’s some very brief discussion and a few pointers to the various ways of getting hold of the images.
Producing digital illustrations by the hundreds requires a certain serial approach to their manufacturing, so it helps to have archives on hand that can be drawn on for visual elements to tweak and recombine. I have documented some of the elements in the ImprovBot.ai series elsewhere. In this post, let me just point out some areas of overlap with my book cover artwork for Fincham Press.
As a designer and a visual artist I have been collaborating with ImprovBot.ai’s project lead, Melissa Terras, for more than a decade. Prior to ImprovBot.ai (see Melissa’s account of her recent adventures in AI, incidentally), we’ve worked together on a variety of projects, including her book published by Fincham Press, The Professor in Children’s Literature, which I typeset and whose book cover I designed. This cover, based on a drawing by W. Heath Robinson, is among the elements I’ve remixed repeatedly as part of the series’ ‘extras‘ (fig. 1).
The extras, as their name suggests, are perhaps not very central to the ImprovBot.ai series. By contrast, ‘moresque patterns‘, an ornamentation style that was in wide use across Europe for much of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, are a core element. They appear frequently, often occupying a middle ground that holds a composition together.
For many pieces in the series, I passed historical moresque patterns through algorithmic deformation filters, thus experimenting further with an imaging technique I had first used on the cover of a recent Fincham Press anthology, In which Dragons Are Real But (see full cover art).
Many instances in the series (e.g. fig. 2) resemble the initial Dragons cover in that the computationally deformed moresque patterns remain the dominant element.
Some of the illustrations are more complex in their composition, featuring moresque patterns along with other elements, such as mojibake and glitch captures (e.g. fig. 3).
The whole set of Improvbot.ai illustrations is available for reuse and can be picked up individually from the project website and the Twitter feed. The images , briefly reviewed by category on a separate page, can also be browsed by these categories. The categories most suitable for re-use are probably these:
The illustrations are distributed under the CC-BY-NC licence, the image set on Pixabay under even less restrictive terms.
Reuse? Feel free to let us know about it!
Some of the images might be suitable for book cover art, a blog post illustration, or they might inspire you to simply play with them and produce a few remixes of your own. If you find a use for them, feel free to drop us a link and let us know via any of the Fincham Press social media presences!
Let me tell you about a meeting I had three years ago with two-hundred and fifty young people between the ages of eleven and eighteen. I was the guest speaker at the opening of the tenth annual Mare di Libri book festival for young readers, held at Rimini, a seaside town on the north-east coast of Italy. It’s an extraordinary, indeed inspiring event, organised almost entirely by a group of the young people themselves, based on the town’s children’s bookshop. They decide which authors they want to invite, look after them while they are there, organise the meetings, a bookshop, and other activities over a four-day period in June. Groups of young readers from many parts of Italy attend, along with interested adults.
At one point in my talk I said,
Look, I’m eighty-three. I’m probably the last of the traditional book people. And you are the first of the new book people. The readers who read books on iPads and mobile phones. For me, these are new, almost strange devices. You take them for granted. They’ve been around since you were born. They’re not a novelty, just part of your everyday life. A teacher recently told me the worst punishment for pupils’ misbehaviour is to take away their mobile phones and ban their use for more than a day.
Because of that, I’m wondering whether your experience of reading stories and novels or anything in fact is different from mine. And if it is different, how it’s different. So, let me tell you about my experience and then perhaps you will tell me about yours.
For a start, I do read digital books, on my iPad. But what I’ve discovered is that if a book really matters to me, matters so much I want to read it again, want to roam through the pages in any order, want to find particular passages again, and even mark words or sentences or paragraphs so that I can easily find them again, then I buy a traditional printed copy and read that instead of the one on my iPad.
There’s something else. I don’t find reading a book on my iPad as satisfying as reading a printed book. It’s as if the book on my iPad doesn’t exist. Whereas a printed book has an individual identity. I can hold it in my hands. It has a feeling and a smell. And when I’ve read it I can keep it on my bookshelves, and see it and take it down and look at it again whenever I want to. Easily, quickly, a pleasure in itself.
Books that I value become part of my life, part of myself, and I want them with me. They are companions. That is not true, for me anyway, about books on my iPad.
At this point the audience, who had so far been quiet and attentive, began to react. Some were nodding, some began muttering to their neighbours. One called out ‘I do that!’
I was so surprised that I stopped and said, ‘Are any of you like me? Do any of you start reading an eBook and then decide you want it as a printed book?’ There were cries of ‘Si! Si!’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Do something for me. Please hold up a hand if you prefer reading a book that matters to you as a printed book rather than as an eBook.’
Almost everyone in the room held up a hand.
‘And if you start reading on screen, how many of you then buy the printed book?’
The same crowd of hands went up.
We spent the rest of the time talking about the differences. We agreed that when you want information quickly, and in brief, online reading is best. We agreed that young people nowadays write and read vast amounts, because they are always busy sending messages on their mobile phones and finding out what they want to know by using search engines. But we also agreed that if you want to read carefully, with lengthy concentration, if you want to think about what you’re reading while you’re reading it, if you want to imagine what you’re reading, when it’s a story, and feel as well as think, and if you want to read something that is long, then the printed book is far better than an eBook or any other digital form.
This was face-to-face living evidence of all I’d read in Maryanne Wolf’s Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century, and Reader, Come Home, which make clear for those of us who are not specialists in neuroscience just how different the experience is of reading a text in a traditional book, and digitally, and why. At its heart, it’s the difference between what Wolf has called ‘deep reading’, and superficial, quick reading. What was inspiring was the conscious distinctions those young readers were making about reading as a valued, necessary activity. And as well as that, their passionate love of reading fiction, poetry, and other forms of narrative writing.
I was with them for four days. Time and again they came up to me in ones and twos to talk about what we’d said in that opening session, and what they thought of the books they were reading, and of mine. I watched them in the bookshop, where ten of the older organisers acted as sales assistants, introducing other young people and adults too to books they thought especially worthwhile.
It made this dinosaur feel that he was not at an end of a culture but part of its evolutionary developments. They were particularly interested in the novels and books published ‘for’ them – the books I call youth fiction, which in my estimation are not merely ‘for’ them but belong to a literature with its own poetics, its own special qualities and identifying features. This is the fiction I write about in The Age Between, in which I try to set out my own experience of writing novels of this kind, and my reading of books which are examples of the literature.
Working in a library school, the UCL Department of Information Studies, for 15 years, I was aware of the growing and swirling discussions about Open Access, and have been part of the wider OA community for a while: one of the journals on whose editorial board I serve, Digital Humanities Quarterly, has always been fully open access with no publishing fees, and is now 11 years old. I’m reluctant now to publish any of my research in journals which are paywalled.
False barriers to access, and gatekeeping, are hugely problematic for the dissemination of research, as are the financial models which profit massively from academic research without giving much back into the system. When it comes to books, though, the costs of production obviously make OA discussions much more difficult, and it’s very much a live discussion in the UK academic community: now that open access book publishing is going to be mandated, who will pay the book processing charges?
My first book, Image to Interpretation, came out in 2006, and mainly sold in physical copies. Like most monographs, it had a short print run – 300 books or so – and they have mostly sold out. I get a royalty cheque for £2.73 or so every six months for the electronic version of the book, which still sells occasionally. I’m incredibly proud of it, but I was aware that it could only ever reach a small audience.
Picture-Book Professors was a research project that grew out of online discussions, as it stemmed from a few jokey asides on Twitter, and then moved to corpus building on Tumblr. It was carried out always in the public eye: an early blog post on the topic of how academics are featured in children’s literature had a large readership, and it was only afterwards that I was persuaded I should write it up properly. It seemed to me that it had to be open access: why would I condemn all that work and what had been a public discussion to only 300 sales of a text?
I exercised my privilege, though, and fought hard for support: given the grant income I had brought into UCL during my time there, I successfully argued that my employer should pay the £6,762 to cover the open access book processing charge with Cambridge University Press. It is still rare for universities to give this type of support to academics, particularly in the Arts and Humanities, and I’m aware of the level of support I’ve had here. There’s new ground to be worked out, too: how to deliver this material best is a live discussion with CUP as I write this!
The accompanying book, The Professor in Children’s Literature: An Anthology, is also available in open access. I see this very much as an exercise in showing your workings out — the equivalent of “open science” when you are dealing with a topic in literature. It’s also about how digitised material can be curated and repackaged to bring together a resource for others. This is the first fully open access book from Fincham Press, and they are exploring what this means for them, too. I don’t mind saying that there will only be a short physical print run, which I’ve paid for, but for this book the freely available digital versions are really the main product, with other copies being made available in print on demand, as readers might want them. In lots of ways, I’m taking the open access book discussion for a walk; seeing how far I can get, and how much I can play in this space, while being cognisant of having access to resources which allow me to do so.
Experience as an Author
One of the surprising things has been that people — publishers, libraries, authors, illustrators — have been baffled by my request to feature their work in an open access volume. The monograph has many images — 32 — and 25 or so had to be licensed, with fees to be paid, as they were in copyright. Rare items also had to be digitised on demand from libraries and archives. That mechanism and fee structure is well known (if variable), but adding “and can I make it available for free online?” to the equation caused many publishers, and even leading libraries, to stutter. There are a few items I could not include as I could not get electronic distribution rights to the images, even though I was happy to pay for them.
In the end, the rights fees added up to over £1500. These are books that needed resources behind them! It also took months to obtain these rights clearances, as the open access question added much time to the process.
In general, knowing from the start that you want this to be an open access text informs your style of writing — I hope the texts are academic ones which are written in an accessible manner, even with humour in places. I think it has changed the tone and tenor of how I wrote the books, knowing they would be out there, at some stage.
Open Access Books in the Humanities
We are at a juncture where the sands are shifting: the major funders and government bodies are moving towards requirements for open access monographs. We don’t have a choice; we have to embrace these requirements, but there is a lot of work yet to be done about who will pay the costs for production. I believe that most universities could afford to absorb the costs of open access monograph production, much in the same way that they pay for lab costs or scientific equipment: it should be viewed as a centrally borne cost necessary for creating and sharing academic knowledge. It shouldn’t happen that individuals are asked to pay these costs themselves, as that is untenable. I can see people are concerned about how their personal costs will be met — and it is up to universities and presses to grapple with this. The danger is the open access premium: that only those who can afford to publish in open access will reap the benefits of having their work made accessible to a wide audience, and we have to keep our eyes open to that, as the academy needs diverse voices (as Picture-Book Professors and The Professor in Children’s Literature say!)
I can’t understand why anyone would be nervous about offering their academic work to a wide audience. Books take years to write, and academic books never make much royalty money. Why would you want to hide it away and restrict access, if you can allow as wide an audience as possible to get free access to it?
Recently, Fincham Press interviewed four candidates vying for a paid internship, and I got to play co-interviewer alongside my colleague. This was the hardest thing I’d ever had to tackle during my time at Fincham: because I knew how these people were feeling. I didn’t – and still don’t – feel authoritative enough to help decide who should join us, and who shouldn’t. I’ve been working here for over two years, and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in the same position as these four. With this in mind, and the fact that this piece should have been written at least a year ago – though perhaps that’s appropriate, when I think about the delays and pushbacks you’ll always find in publishing – I decided to write about my experience as an intern, and subsequent progression to managing editor.
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I sent my CV off two years ago. I wasn’t expecting to get picked, at any rate. I had visions of the interviewers, if I got that far, humouring me to fill their equal opportunities quota. I hadn’t had much experience, besides one publication to my name and fiddling with a hospital radio magazine. I don’t do posh talk, which I’d always thought was a prerequisite for working in books. I’m a council estate girl, and my way with words is still a bit more profane than might be acceptable in a regular office. Even now, I try to rein it in when talking to colleagues.
I did have enthusiasm, though. And I was hoping for some interview experience in “books”. The interview experience would be something to work on when stepping out into the big wide world, doing proper adult things, and going through a number of other interviews. The ideal scenario would be nailing one, resulting in that ‘real’ job that so many people had been pressuring me to get, real networks, and a real mortgage. Well, maybe not that last one. I’m a would-be academic and writer working two part-time jobs – get real.
My internal reaction, then, when they told me that I’d been successful went something like this (cleaned up for blogging purposes):
“Bloody hell, really? No. No. Brilliant! Nobody look at me, I could be the next Max Perkins! Oh. But I’ve still got so much to learn. Ah.”
I’d forgotten the whole point of doing an internship before I’d even started – you learn on the job. I did, however, feel that I needed to prove myself to my lecturers, who were now going to be my colleagues, so that they felt that they hadn’t ballsed it up. I admired them, and continue to do so – perhaps more so now after working with them and realizing just how much goes into working in their field. I needed to prove my worth in that environment, to which I wanted to dedicate a considerable portion of my lifetime.
A few things initially drew me to Fincham. It was a small, independent press using the university as a base. It was run by a couple of my lecturers, with a designer who was brought in from outside to make everything look pretty – though I’d soon learn he does so much more than this, as we all do. They had already put out two anthologies of student work, and at the risk of sounding like a bit of a mercenary, I thought I might have a better chance of getting published if I was “in there”. What drew me most, though, was its goal – this wasn’t a money spinner. It was just a small bunch of academics who genuinely wanted to put the work of their students out there – to get it read. This unorthodox business model came with a far more informal approach to the submissions process – no cover letters required, just send in something you’ve written that you’re proud of. Some of the works were also competition winners, and others put forward by lecturers so that more modest students could have a chance to see their work in print. I’m sure you’ll agree the result is eclectic.
There was a lot of admin at the start. There still is. I don’t think I’ll ever stop having to gently (and not-so-gently) remind colleagues, both in-house and out, to do things so that production/promotion/target of choice can progress. This can be irritating, but such is the nature of the work: everybody has their own little jobs, like components of an engine. And if you’re waiting on oil, then the pistons can’t function correctly, and that engine will eventually seize. Everything gets held up. In this way, plans fall through and some deadlines will get pushed back. Nobody in the team is able to work for Fincham on a full-time basis, and there have been a few times where complications in our everyday and professional lives resulted in delays of some description. These things are, sadly, inevitable. This realisation is possibly the most practical thing I’ve learned during my time here.
However, the blow can be softened. The only way to tackle a number of little things, which will inevitably build up into HUGE things, is to be as efficient as you can be. In reality, I’m bloody lazy – but in work, writing or otherwise, I’ve always written everything down. Longhand. This might just be how I function – I take things in better when I have an actual thing to read or write with, and not a screen to ogle at. Regardless, if there’s one tip I would give to anyone who asked me, it would be to write everything essential to you down. You’ll absorb the information better, and have a record of it – remember that a piece of paper can’t get wiped along with your hard drive (as long as you don’t lose it, duh!)
Production continues to be the most fascinating process for me. I know that I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to see it from two perspectives: as writer, and as editor. This has proved exceptionally useful to both sides. Proofreading has become second nature, and I pay far more attention to formatting my work than I ever did before working for Fincham. Potential editors will be grateful for a nicely formatted piece, free of spelling and grammatical errors. It’s disguised as common sense, but, having worked on three anthologies of student work, there are always a few that manage to sneak past the writer’s guard and onto the page, only caught by the careful combing-through of editor and production assistant. Sometimes not even then – we did a promotional stunt to coincide with April Fool’s Day. You might argue that the joke was on us. We’d left one hundred misprinted copies of our third anthology, Purple Lights, all over London, and invited the public to spot the error and tweet it. The public were far more discerning than we could ever have imagined, and threw up a whole bunch of other little niggles that all of us had failed to spot during production. (FYI: the error we were looking for was a piece that had somehow vanished entirely, yet the author was listed in the list contributors – no, we still don’t know how that happened, either.)
While fascinating, and often finicky, every new publication that comes along forces my brain to work that little bit harder. Last year, the Fincham production schedule was increased twofold as we launched two new open access academic journals. I felt lucky to be part of them – the International Journal of James Bond Studies is the first in its field, and RoundTable was cutting-edge in its make-up, edited by research students at the university. In theory, it should have been easier to compile a journal issue than an entire anthology. The reality, though, was that putting a journal together was way more complicated than compiling a book. There was a whole new legal side we had to familiarize ourselves with. Which was the correct Creative Commons licence for our open access journals? What’s with the alien hosting platform? How do we get our journals indexed so they will actually reach people likely to use them? Not to mention there were a number of additional technical hitches and a lot more of that chasing up business – and we are indebted to Ubiquity staff who held our collective hand through it all.
It makes sense, then, to conclude by rounding up what I’ve learned in all of this. The short answer: everything. I used to suffer with telephonophobia. This went undiagnosed since childhood, but I’d always experienced chest pains and frequently tripped over my words when forced to answer a call, even to family. Necessary, lengthy phone calls with our printers and other outside entities ensured that this was cured for good. I can organise volunteers for events. I can organise actual events, for that matter. My fondest memory comes from the very first launch I was involved with. It was for the second Fincham publication, Screams and Silences. We were all sitting on the floor like hippies in a commune, having listened to the final reading of the night. My lecturer-colleague got up and gave an end-of-event speech, thanking everybody in attendance for their support and warmth. She then proceeded to invite me up to stand with her, claiming that the event wouldn’t have been possible without my input. I was humbled; yet the applause told me that maybe I could do anything I set my hand to. Or at least have a pretty good crack at it.
I also have also learned what goes into making not just a book, but also an academic journal, and a website. My eye for design and perception of “how things look” has been altered forever after working with our fabulous designer. I’ve also learned a great deal about people – working with our two senior editors, both with their own distinct personality types and work methods, has given me even more practice in human interaction. You can get on with anybody – you need only find the right communication.
I’m now entering my third year with Fincham Press; my second as managing editor. We’ve just welcomed a new Publishing Assistant to the family, and I’m looking forward to working with her. I know that I can empathise with and support her as she, too, has her own, unique learning experience. Perhaps it will be a bit like the one I’ve just described, or perhaps not. Two things, however, are certain:
We will continue to share the voices of Roehampton with the world – and in that endeavour, we’ll never stop learning.
When we founded RoundTable, we wanted to make sure that the journal had a unique voice and look. One of the ways that we achieved this was through a cover image designed by our very own Anne Malewski. Anne is a talented illustrator and she has done work with a range of musicians and organisations.
In order to begin the process of creating the cover, Anne met with her co-editors to discuss the concept. She then produced a number of design options which she presented to the team (see some drafts below). There was a lot of discussion and debate as we all liked different images but we agreed that the chosen image best represented our theme and provided a strong visual image for the first issue of RoundTable.
Every time I log on to the RoundTable site, I am delighted to be greeted by Anne’s image. I think it helps makes our journal unique and entices readers to explore the first issue.