Hitchcock’s Vertigo – linocut book cover illustration for BFI

I’ve just finished a book cover design of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo for the BFI (British Film Institute). It is part of a series of books on 100 classic films which they are re-publishing this year with new covers by invited artists.

Vertigo book cover – detail

I had never seen Vertigo, and the only other Hitchcock films I’ve seen (to my shame) are Psycho and Rear Window. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it but my illustration features a scene from towards the end.

I wanted to give the reader a feeling of vertigo when they look at the book. (Contrary to popular belief, vertigo is not a fear of heights but a sense of dizziness.) At the same time I wanted to avoid anything too close to Saul Bass’s famous poster design. Instead I took inspiration from the prints of Cyril Power and Sybil Andrews, the famous British linocut artists of the early 20th Century. Here are a couple of examples that show the sense of movement I was after:

Cyril Power – Merry go Round

Sybil Andrews – The Winch

Here is an early rough of my design in pencil. As well as getting the image right I had to incorporate the title and author’s name, something I’ve not done before. I wanted the text and image to work closely together, almost as though the text were part of the image.

Once I got the rough worked out and approved I transferred the image to the lino blocks. The colours were also important to me – I chose red and green which have are strongly symbolic in the film. They are also complementary colours (and the colours of old-fashioned 3d specs!) so they really vibrate next to each other, adding to the feeling of dizziness.

Having transferred the design for each colour onto a separate block (in reverse, of course) I started to carve:

The author’s name was the trickiest part, as I had to get it really accurate (you really notice wonky text!) It is all made up hand-lettering, old skool style!

Once both blocks were carved I inked them up and printed them with varying densities of ink until I was satisfied. They were printed on off-white paper to give it a slightly softer vintage look.

Having printed the red and green, I carved away most of the green block and inked it up again in a warm grey. This was printed over the top of the green to darken the text, the figure and the area at the bottom.

Here are a few of the prints that went wrong hanging on my studio wall.

And this is the final image. Let me know what you think! Of course there are bits of it I don’t like, but I’m not telling what they are 😉 The book comes out some time this year and hopefully there will also be an exhibition of the original artworks at the BFI on London’s Southbank in August/September.

Vertigo by Charles Barr


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13 Responses to Hitchcock’s Vertigo – linocut book cover illustration for BFI

  1. I think it's paragon. Perfect, hand-lettered type, great dizziness, and a really nice retro feel. Now I have to read the book. (A helpful sequence, too–thanks!)

  2. carolem says:

    I have been a admirer of Cyril Powers linocuts for a long time- they all have a real sense of dynamism and movement-I think that your print has this too. Clean lines and a clear, straight idea of what you have been trying to achieve is obviously working.
    Great piece of work

  3. sue says:

    Awesome – has a retro kinda feel yet is clearly contemporary. The lettering is so neat – you must have a steady hand! Love the photos of the blocks – I ahve to admit that the blocks are often my favourite part of a print. Does that even make sense?!

  4. Lizzie says:

    You certainly achieved your aim of giving the viewer a sense of the dizziness. I love the red and green together – they just jump out at you. You're right that the slight creaminess of your paper gives a “retro” feel – it's just great.
    A very successful design I think. If I saw that book on the shelf/shop window, I would certainly want to pick it up and look – which is really what you're trying to do, in the end, isn't it?
    Love it – and it's great to see the stage-by-stage photos and the pictures of your blocks as your design progressed.
    I hope they do have an exhibition of the original artworks, it will be fab!

  5. Linocutboy says:

    Thanks for all the amazingly positive comments!

  6. Jacqui Dodds says:

    Hi Nick
    Thank you for this. I enjoy seeing the processes of printing. What kind of inks are you using?

  7. It's excellent. Well done. I love your color choices!

  8. Isolde says:

    I'm from Margate, and regret that i have not made a linocut since my days at the Thanet School of Art & Crafts in Hawley Square.
    I moved to LA at the invitation of Saul Bass to be his design director in 1978.
    I loved your linocut cover for “Vertigo”, wonderful, well done!
    I have just completed the cover designs for 29 of the re-issue of Len Deighton's novels.
    I look forward to seeing more of your work.
    Sincerely, Arnold Schwartzman

  9. Tanja says:

    Thanks Nick, for sharing your process in such helpful detail. It was inspiring (and comforting?!) to see how many different versions you made. Final result is wonderful – love how you got that crazy vertigo feel and the detail of the figure in the lighthouse plus the rich colour. Congratulations, too, on being selected in the first place. Well deserved all round, I hope you are still savouring it all…

  10. Alan Grobler says:

    Well done! Congrats!

  11. Amie says:

    This is really lovely! I’m so glad I stumbled upon your site, and your art… I’m about to teach an online linocut class. I’m so inspired!

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