For the past ten years, I’ve had the privilege of typesetting books designed by the very talented Katy Homans, so I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for this series. Katy is known for her cover designs for New York Review Books; her collaborations with photographers, such as Lee Friedlander; and her complex, multi-volume catalogue raisonné designs. In addition to being a talented art book designer, she is as generous with her time as she can be.
Tell me a bit about your background, your education, how you got started as an art book designer.
I’ve had a marvelously privileged education. I discovered a love of pattern sewing costumes for high school plays; studied at the rare book library in college; went to work as a letterpress printer for David R. Godine; held various design-related jobs; and finally attended the Yale MFA graphic design program with a semester at the Royal College of Art in London. There I discovered the work of Robert Brownjohn, maverick conceptual designer of ’60s New York and London, and was able to write an extensive thesis about him and his work. Starting at Godine I’d been designing books, so it was easy to keep working while I was in school and then afterwards. Having studied art history as an undergrad has helped me enormously.
Who are some of your favorite artists (whether you’ve worked on their books or not)?
With no exceptions I’ve come to appreciate the work of all the artists I’ve worked with, from Wendy Ewald to Lee Friedlander; Rembrandt to 18th century Indian drawings to John James Audubon to Shahzia Sikander. That’s been one of the great bonuses of designing art books, the opportunity to look closely at such a wide range of material. I try to get to the exhibitions for which I’ve designed catalogues: the originals inevitably surprise and delight.
Please describe a few of your favorite projects. Are there any interesting stories about how you came to work on them? Any big challenges that popped up during the project? If so, how did you handle them?
Collaboration is my favorite medium. I worked on the design of a series of posters for the schools of Tanzania (Wendy Ewald’s project) with a small group of local teachers in a classroom with a dirt floor and one lightbulb. My first major book with Lee Friedlander (Letters from the People) was done with Lee on a xerox that could go to 25%, 75%, or 128% (something like that). The greater the challenge the greater the reward; the conversations keep moving, and we’re all surprised in the end.
There is always a benefit to going on press, and great camaraderie between designers and printers. The most exotic location I’ve visited is Tanzania, but the most unfamiliar approach to art-book printing was a plant in rural Pennsylvania.
Have any of your books received any special awards you’d like to mention?
I have had my share of awards! But the greatest reward is always a successful collaboration.
Are you an artist yourself? If so, what type of art do you create? Would you like to share any of it?
Art appreciator, not maker!
If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
I would have added teaching to my practice.
Katy was also profiled on the Yale Art Books blog.