Jez Burrows wrote me to tell me about his new book I Am The Friction he collaborated on with his girlfriend, artist Lizzy Stewart. I was so excited about it I wanted to know more. It’s a series of ten short stories and illustrations. Half of the stories were written by Jez inspired by Lizzy’s artwork and the other half is Lizzy’s artwork inspired by Jez’s stories. The stories are pretty short and sit opposite the illustration on the page. To match the interesting concept, the book has two covers and the sections meet in the middle for the end. I asked Jez and Lizzy if they would tell us a little bit of where they got this idea and what it was like working together on it:
First off, tell us a little bit about your backgrounds- what you do, where you live, how you met?
Jez is a freelance graphic designer and Lizzy is a final year illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art (Jez just graduated earlier this year from the University of Brighton). We’ve known each other for a few years and as of September, both of us will be living together with some friends in a nice flat in Edinburgh.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with the idea for this book?
For ages the only thing we’d really done together were posters for shows happening in Edinburgh, which were fun, but we wanted to make something more substantial that really inspired us. Lizzy had recently finished a project at ECA swapping stories and illustrations with a creative writing course in East Anglia, and the process just seemed to neatly fit what we wanted to do.
The book has a really interesting format as well. Can you explain the format and why you chose to design it this way?
In the very beginning (probably Christmas 2007) it all looked so much different in our heads. It was going to be a much smaller format, and housed in little Gocco printed envelopes (which were actually made and never used). But we kept the project in our heads while we were busy with other work, and in time it grew into what it finally became. The choice to make it a two-sided affair with two covers came very late; it just seemed like the neatest way to separate the two processes (stories to illustrations, illustrations to stories).
For these stories you were both inspired by each others art form. Can you both explain separately what the process was like looking/reading each others work and then developing your own based on it? Were you able to see/comment on each others works in progress or did you only get to see the finished versions? What were your initial reactions to each other’s work? Were there any moments like- I didn’t imagine it to look that way, or -that’s not the story I expected?
(Lizzy) We were so lucky that the whole swap process worked so well for us. It could easily have gone so wrong but as it was we were able to keep a fairly regular exchange going which seemed to help in keeping enthusiasm up. I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the stories in my inbox and then it was a matter of reading and rereading until I knew for sure what I wanted from it (I think it was always important to us that we were both able to come up with the kind of work we wanted to do rather than bend to each others tastes). When we were done and it was time to swap again there was always this moment of trepidation; â€˜have I ruined his story? Is he going to be angry that I missed his favourite bit?’ (though I don’t think I ever worried that he had ruined my image) and then the â€˜really? Is that what you got from that? That’s so cool’ conversation where we gushed over the nice things that we had found in each others’ stuff. That was the biggest joy of the whole thing. The fact that on their own each piece (story or illustration) was nice but when they were put together they became so much bigger and better; you are able to see more in the illustration when you read the story and occasionally the illustration highlight something in the text you may have missed. And that’s pretty good I think.
(Jez) I sent a few early versions of stories to Lizzy but they changed a huge amount over the time we worked on everything, and I think we mostly left each other to our own devices. I was never disappointed with any of the images; the stories were quite sparse so it was great to see them fleshed out, not to mention Lizzy often seemed to focus in on lines that I’d grown sort of attached to as I was writing.
Jez, these stories are very short, sometimes only five paragraphs. Is this a common sort of length for you?
I’m not quite sure yet. I have no idea if I’m a writer or not; this is the first time I’ve felt even slightly happy with anything I’ve written, and mostly I feel like they’re just sketches of nice ideas. I think perhaps the shortness of the stories is a result of me not wanting them to outstay their welcome.
Lizzy, which story/illustration set is your favorite in the book and why?
Sometimes I think my favourites are the ones where we managed to completely match the image and the story and there’s a happy serendipity about it all like with the Orchestra set or ‘the Son of the Tree..’. But then there’s also something wonderful about the pairs that aren’t completely literal; where the illustration is based on one of the more obscure lines in the story or vice versa. I guess the one that makes me happiest is ‘the Sad Battle of Willard & Ford’ (the drawing of the two elephants and the horse). The image comes from a super sparse sketch I did at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh of these really battered old tin toys and when I gave the coloured version to Jez to write about they were still very much tin toys to me and I couldn’t work out how on earth he would write about them. Then this story comes back to me and its so much bigger than I thought it would be but somehow retains some of the sad stillness of those museum toys. It was also the last pair to be completed and it came about really quickly and neatly and seemed to finish things off perfectly.
The cover is gorgeous. How was the book put together? Did you get it printed somewhere or did you do it yourself?
Thanks very much! The covers were all Gocco printed over two coffee-fuelled evenings in Jez’s bedroom in Brighton, while a local printer very graciously handled the inner pages. They were all then hand-bound by a very patient and wonderful lady named Helen (who’s actually the bookbinding technician at Jez’s former university). Seeing all of them finally bound, trimmed and stacked in a pile was absolutely the best moment of the whole project.
What’s next from you two?
Lizzy is about to start her final year at college and is thus readying herself for some serious hard graft and many sleepless nights in the studio. Jez is planning some top-secret personal projects while working on commissions and editorial work. Together we just recently finished our issue of Running Amok, which is an awesome little zine series published by Analogue Books in Edinburgh, and we’re finishing off work on our next book (which is mostly Lizzy’s project) The Way We Yell Into The Forest.
This book is really wonderful and you all should get a copy here. Thanks so much Jez and Lizzy for taking the time to talk with me. And I can’t wait to see what you two do next!