Beautiful Books: It Begins With The Body

Poet and illustrator of the collection It Begins With The Body (Book*hug) Hana Shafi sits down with designer Kate Hargreaves to ask how she incorporated a “small binder of mine filled with my poems and weird line drawings” into a hybrid book about body positivity and decolonization that showcases all of the raw beauty of Shafi’s work. (BONUS: we have some of Shafi’s artwork to share, too).


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When I began putting together a manuscript for it It Begins with the Body, it was incredibly important to me that this be a unique hybrid book—poetry and full-page illustrations. I remember the first meeting I had with Jay and Hazel at Book*hug, where I was nervously flipping through a small binder of mine filled with my poems and weird line drawings that have become a signature style of mine. The best poetry doesn’t necessarily need images to accompany it in order to paint a strong, compelling picture for the reader, but I believe the interplay of text and visuals brings an especially immersive experience to the reader. When Kate Hargreaves, the designer of the book, first sent the finished cover I was blown away by it. It encapsulated everything I had written, the journey I wanted to take the reader in and beautifully embodied the way that combining text and illustration is an art form itself. I decided to ask Kate about her process, and her philosophies on the interplay between text and visuals. 
Hana Shafi: I think I had sent a couple of options of illustrations from the book that might be good for the front cover. Why did you end up choosing the legs and flowers illustration? 
Kate Hargreaves: The illustration of the legs and flowers stood out to me immediately, even before I had read the manuscript. Something about how pen and ink lines in an illustration of hair, underwear, and a belly can feel so much more real and relatable than the overly smoothed and touched up context we usually see bodies in. Once I read the manuscript, I was even more convinced it was perfect for the cover because I think it really speaks to the sense of inhabiting a body and grappling with how that embodiment feels, what it means and how that changes and grows over time. HS: This is kind of a similar question, but what was your process like on the design of the back of the book and the inside of it? I love that the inside of the front and back cover uses the line work from one my pieces and thought it was such a unique design choice of yours that you decided to incorporate that design into the inside covers.KH: The back cover needed quite a bit of space to include copy and blurbs, etc., so it was a bit of a challenge. I knew I wanted to use a piece of the art from inside the book, but I had to find something that worked with the image on the front cover and also allowed for enough space for all the necessary text. The bathroom stall ended up being perfect because the stall door gave me all the room I needed, and I love the way the legs echo the legs on the front cover.  For the inside covers, I didn’t want to give away too much of the art in the book because I wanted the readers to experience it alongside the poems and in the order that you arranged it. However, I wanted to add some visual interest to the inside covers and also maintain consistency with the style of the line work. The geometric pattern seemed like the perfect way to incorporate the illustrative style without giving everything away.
The interiors of It Begins with the Body. HS: I’d love to know what you think about the relationship between visual art and text. Obviously with designing book covers, there’s a lot of text that needs to be incorporated into it and making that cohesive with the visual art is definitely not an easy feat. KH: I think balancing the two can be difficult. I tend to try to give any design element, image or text, a lot of breathing room and white space, and sometimes, depending on what needs to be included in a design, that is less possible than others. However, whatever the parameters, I think that considering how the art and text interact is absolutely necessary. A title on a book cover will look awkward if it doesn’t have an obvious relationship to the art. A lot of the time, I think about textures and how to make text and art feel like they are moving in and out of one another. * * *We’ve also included some of our favourite of Shafi’s illustrations from the book (so enjoy this sneak-peek!).
“Coffee Shop”
“Shed My Skin”* * *Thanks so much to Hana Shafi and Kate Hargreaves for this interview, and to Hazel and Jay at Book*hug for supplying these images. It Begins With The Body is available now.For more Beautiful Books, click here.