Behind the Book with Bridget Callahan

Bridget Callahan found a beautiful way to celebrate her grandmother’s life and culinary traditions in creating The Not-So-Italian Italian Cookbook. Special kitchen memories, family history, and geography are all reflected in elements of the book design—from the photographs to the illustrations to the color palette. We checked in with Bridget to learn more about her book-making process and other design projects.

How did you first get interested in illustration and design?

I’ve been obsessed with art for as long as I can remember. I constantly drew as a kid and was always crafting with my friends. Art supplies were my requested gift on every birthday and Christmas, and my favorite thing to do was go to the art store. I signed up for a graphic design class when I was a sophomore in high school and fell in love with graphic design and digital art. From that point, I knew I wanted to study design in college and go into a creative career.

What was your inspiration for The Not-So-Italian Italian Cookbook?

The inspiration for this cookbook is my Italian grandmother, Felice. Since she died in 2017, my family has been wanting to put together a cookbook of all her iconic recipes. These are the recipes of my childhood and the food we would have for every holiday and special occasion. As a lover of food illustrations and cookbooks in general, I decided to illustrate a cookbook dedicated to her life and these iconic dishes. Since food was such an important part of her life, my goal was to honor the memory of my grandma and create a cookbook that is both useful and beautiful.

Tell us about the process of designing your book. How did you decide on the layout, color scheme, typography, illustrations, and photography? Which design tools did you use?

As this was my Senior Capstone project, the process for this book was a long one! I created a giant digital mood board filled with my visual inspiration for the book. I was inspired by many colorful design-focused cookbooks and lots of different food journal illustrations. I wanted the illustration style to feel intimate and loose to express how personal and special these recipes are. I used old photographs and handwritten annotations so that the cookbook feels more personal and evokes nostalgia in the reader. I chose a tricolor palette to convey the idea of a flag but altered the colors to fit the three different locations that inspired the sections of the cookbook. The blue is reminiscent of the vibrant blue water in Sicily, the red reflects the color that is most prominent in New York Italian culture, and yellow represents the desert landscape of Ridgecrest.

Did you encounter any unexpected challenges when creating your book? If so, how did you overcome them?

I had an unexpectedly difficult time figuring out the illustration style to use for the book. This was definitely the longest process of the whole project. I experimented with illustration for weeks before I finally decided on a style. I tried ink pens, colored pencils, paintbrush drawings, and digital drawings. In the end, I decided to use black gouache paint for all of my illustrations. I then scanned these drawings and changed the color digitally to fit the colors of my book.

What advice would you give to someone making their first family cookbook or recipe collection? Any tips for a book-maker with little or no design experience?

I would tell a first-time cookbook maker to keep the design simple and let the food be the main component. I spent most of my time perfecting the food illustrations rather than worrying about the fonts and layout. The most important part of a cookbook is the food, so make sure that there are beautiful photographs or drawings of the recipes you are sharing. Keep the rest simple.

The Not So Italian Italian Cookbook by Bridget Callahan

You’ve created work in various print formats (from books to posters) as well as multimedia projects. Do you have a favorite project or method of working so far?

It is so hard to choose a favorite project as they all brought their own challenges and rewards. My favorite projects, however, tend to be the ones that have subject matter that is close to my heart. For example, the project “Più Di Te,” an immersive animation video, was inspired by my deep love of Italian culture and music. It still brings me joy to watch that video to this day. My cookbook is also one of my favorite projects because it brings my grandma’s story to life, and it reminds me of the hours we spent cooking together when I was a kid.

What are some things you consider when combining different artistic mediums in one project (e.g. photography, illustration, design, video, print, 3D objects, and sound)?

At the beginning of a multi-media project, I try to strongly establish the aesthetics in a mood board so that I can reference this throughout the entire process. It is important that every different medium reflects this vision so that the whole project remains cohesive. Often, I do this with photographs by editing the colors so that they contain the same colors as the rest of the project. Originally with the cookbook, my photographs were in black and white, but I decided to overlay them with the colors from my color scheme so that they did not seem out of place.

For one of your media classes, you designed a Divination Machine that includes a deck of printed cards and an interactive lightbox. Tell us about the inspiration, design process, and materials for this piece. How did you choose a color palette, font style, paper type, and imagery for the cards to fit the overall look and feel of the project?

The assignment in this class was to make a machine that can tell the user’s future. I did some research on divination techniques and discovered a form of ancient Celtic divination called Ogham Staves that uses a tree-inspired alphabet to tell someone’s future. The basic idea is that the user picks a stick from a set of 25 sticks, each carved with a different symbol from the Ogham alphabet. These symbols have their own meanings and can be used to inform people of their fates. The machine I made has the same basic idea, but I laser cut the symbols into a wooden box and placed LED lights underneath each symbol. The user can press a button and generate a randomly chosen symbol. I designed a set of cards to accompany the box so that the user can discover what each symbol means. I illustrated each tree on the different cards and kept the color palette and the design of the cards pretty simple to let the illustrations shine.

What role does print play in our digital world?

The role of print has changed in the digital world, but it hasn’t disappeared. Printed materials have transformed from a necessity to a luxury. Books and other printed materials have become more of an art object than an everyday item. It isn’t necessary to use printed materials to communicate ideas anymore, so now print is only used for our most valued projects. I also think people have begun to value these items more as the world around us becomes more digital. Printing something brings it into our physical world and makes it more special.

What is the value of self-publishing for aspiring artists and designers?

Today, everyone has the ability to share their work and be seen by the world. The internet allows anyone to post online and gives them the chance to be recognized. Publishing a book should be no different. Self-publishing allows people from all different backgrounds and demographics to see the fruition of their creative efforts and gives them the chance to share their work on a large scale.

Is there a design or book project you’re excited about working on next?

I’m not working on anything too big right now, but I have been asked to design a logo for my cousin’s quilting shop that I’m really excited to work on! I’m done with school for now, so I’m looking forward to making whatever I want, whenever I want!

Have an idea for a new photo book, family keepsake, or creative project of your own? Explore your options at Blurb and start creating today.


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