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Behind the scenes: Rob Weychert on the Archive by Day and Night

Interview by Krista Stevens

Each issue of Contents features an original visual design, based on the issue’s theme. Rob Weychert designed the beautiful dual identities for our Archive issue — one each to evoke the archive by day and the archive by night.

The Library as a Map features the bright textures of the archive by day, while On the Virtues of Preexisting Material features the more muted, moonlit palette of the archive by night.

In this interview, we asked Rob to tell us a little about his theme design process for Issue 5.

KS: What does the theme of Issue 5 — The Archive — evoke for you? How did these concepts figure into your design process?

RW: This was a rare instance where I went with the first and probably most obvious idea: books. The kind of person who cares about archiving is prone to have a profound emotional response to a large collection of books; it can be overwhelming to see a huge accumulation of knowledge made tangible. So I wanted the design to tap into that emotion.

KS: The “day” vs. “night” versions are subtle, yet distinct. What can you share about the thinking that went into achieving each aesthetic?

RW: The “day” version is bright, cheerful, and inviting. It looks fun without sacrificing seriousness. There is work to be done, and joy to be found in that work. The “night” version is essentially the “day” version under moonlight. There are extremely subtle textural differences, too – wispy color shifts that make everything look “off” in a way that’s hard to pinpoint, like in a dream.

KS: What can you tell us about your artistic process in conceiving the “day” and “night” versions of The Archive’s theme? We understand that there was math involved.

RW: The goal was to depict a great volume and variety of books. To do that without turning it into my life’s work, I had to systematize the process. Beginning with the “variety” part, I created a system for the books’ dimensions that had three variables – height, width, and thickness – with five values each, which allowed for 125 unique book shapes (Figure 1).

Figure 1: 125 unique book shapes are the foundation of The Archive’s themes.

Next, I arranged the books randomly in nine rows and peppered in a fourth five-value variable: hue (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Archive begins to take shape.

Now it was time for the “volume” part. I mapped a five-color palette to the five grayscale hues, assigned each of the nine rows a number, and repeated and arranged them spatially according to a sudoku puzzle. This would keep each row from appearing right next to a copy of itself and keep the pattern from being easily discernible. I repeated chunks of the sudoku pattern randomly until I had a vast field of thousands of seemingly unique books (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Repetition and color add depth to the archive by day’s theme.

The rest of the process was subtractive, pulling books out at the macro and micro level to form organic shapes that would frame the content. The final touch was the texture, meant to evoke the coarse cloth used in bookbinding, which also subdues the dimension implied by the isometric illustration.