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Capturing the essence of a book

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

Wild African honey, Andean tubers, Japanese salt-preserved fish and a unique Anatolian wheat are just four of the nearly forty stories of endangered foods at risk of disappearing that are featured in Eating to Extinction, a book that takes us around the globe and through thousands of years of food history. How would you capture that in a book cover? The design team at the publishers, Jonathan Cape, thought they knew an artist with an answer to that question.

Clare Melinsky lives in Scotland and is one of the most highly respected lino-cut illustrators in the art world. For more than 30 years, she has been making prints in the style of traditional woodcuts but using sheets of linoleum as her medium. The technique is more than a century old. The intricate process – also used by Picasso - involves creating layers of carved images with linoleum and then adding colours at each stage. By using this method, and the gift of a great imagination, Clare conceived the UK cover of Eating to Extinction.

The first step she took was to research the plants, fruits, animals, seeds and numerous products featured in the book and then to create images of them. Using these, Clare created an imagined landscape, one filled with a fantastically diverse range of foods. But how to then add an atmosphere of loss and extinction? The solution came in colour. Clare captured the mood of Eating to Extinction with autumnal colours (it’s worth adding here that the book’s working title when Clare first met it was ‘Last Harvest’).

Clare told me she wanted the cover to have the look of the ‘end of days, not pretty or idyllic but like things were on the edge, threatened, slightly scary’. The fire-tinged, end-of-summer colours provided that look.

I think the cover is perfect and I feel honoured that a truly brilliant artist has made the book such a beautiful thing.

Book covers can feature the work of extraordinarily talented artists, but we rarely know their names. We should.

Thank you Clare Melinsky.


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