Monday, August 24, 2009

An Interview with Nikki McClure

It's always exciting to see a book change from an author's manuscript into the physical object you can hold in your hands and show to your friends. I've been fortunate enough to work with some truly talented artists and designers during my life in bookmaking, and it's exciting to introduce you to a new project from one of them.

Homegrown Whole Grains is a book about one of the few remaining frontiers for the home gardener: the cultivation, harvest, and processing of wheat, barley, rye, amaranth, quinoa, and other plants seen more frequently in the bulk bin than in the backyard. This is a real honey of a book, and it features a stunning wraparound cover from Nikki McClure.

Nikki is both a talented artist and a truly nice person to work with. And I think that this reflects a critical component of her work — beneath her rich, arresting, graphic style is a strong personal interest and participation in the subject matter. It's an integrity that gives her artwork honesty and vitality. And this is why it's doubly nice to work with Nikki — not only do you get a beautiful, well-crafted piece, but you get the satisfaction (almost pride!) of knowing you're working on a project of mutual enthusiasm.

After the book was finished and the first advances came back from the printer, I asked Nikki a few questions about the project. In her answers you can get a sense of this enthusiasm for the people, projects, and pleasures that motivate so many of us at Storey. Thanks again, Nikki, you’re the best!

— Dan Williams, Art Director

What drew you to the subject matter of the book?
It is a subject that I am curious about. I am always looking for food to grow that can be stored for winter when local food is harder to come by. Every year our lawn gets smaller and the area for growing edible plants gets larger. Next year = wheat! Also, wheat is such a lovely form to cut out.

What, if any, unique challenges did this piece present?
Making the person not look like anyone. I had to remove the hat. [The woman on the front was wearing a hat in Nikki's first version, but it was causing some confusion and had to be removed.] She is a sane person dwelling in a city who dug up her lawn to grow grain for bread. It is a perfectly normal way to garden. Yes, YOU can do it, too.

What inspires you these days?
The bicycle-powered thresher in this book. Fields of wheat. Blueberry picking all day long. Digging up potatoes. I am working on berry picking every day now until the leaves turn red.

What are you growing in your garden now?
Kale, kale, kale, and more kale. Some magic beans I traded use of art for (10 different heirloom shell beans).
Mint for winter tea. Carrots. Potatoes. Tomatoes. Raspberries. Apples and Asian pears are ripening, and plums are done. The front yard is full of withering strawberries (we had a drought and a heat wave). Tarragon, rosemary, thyme. Poppies. Wild berries. Hazelnuts (for the squirrels); sunflowers (for the chickadees and squirrels).

Finally, is there any significance to the house’s number, 416?
Yes. It is my mother-in-law's home. She moved in across the street and has a nice sunny patch perfect to grow wheat in. She was all ready to dig it up and start planting this spring, but I told her we had to wait for the book to come out. She has a little garden instead. But next year — bicycle-powered threshers!!

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