Illustrator Paul Plumadore spent two decades coaxing the story of Unthinkable out of ten mysterious images that caught his imagination. When the story was fully formed, he turned to Blurb’s Large Order Services team for help bringing his vision to life, while staying true to his original source of inspiration.
We caught up with him to hear the full story behind a book with some serious history.
1. Where did the idea or inspiration for Unthinkable come from?
After parting from a career as a commercial illustrator, I started making a series of montages utilizing printed matter from the 19th century. They had a mysterious “tell me more” quality; I felt that they were illustrations to an unwritten story. My friend, actor and writer James Lecesne, envisioned an initial concept. Then I took the reins and over the next two decades what began as 10 images and 10 pages of outline, grew into a 176-page surreal fairytale, with over 100 illustrations. Other inspiration came from Penny Dreadfuls, Charles Dickens, Ogden Nash, The Grimm Brothers, and Steampunk.
2. How did you know when you were ready to turn your ideas into a book?
While I always thought of it as a book, thanks to Blurb I was able to print numerous editions in small numbers over the years. Each version would suggest further changes, edits, and new chapters. This process allowed the story to unfold naturally. Once it finally reached a point that it no longer woke me up at night, I knew I was ready to commit to printing a large edition.
3. Why do you think graphic novels continue to be such a popular format for storytelling?
The old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind. In the case of Unthinkable, the illustrations guide the reader’s imagination and flesh-out the characters. Technically, I don’t think it would be considered a graphic novel per se since it isn’t in comic book format—but it’s certainly a heavily illustrated fantasy, with text and imagery sharing equal weight.
4. Which tools did you use to create your book and why?
My art is all hand cut paper montage from 19th and early 20th century books. I sometimes scan these into my computer to make large-scale prints, prepare for my website and social media, and create my books. I find Blurb’s software very easy to use. A few years ago, I realized Unthinkable would be better if I added color to my original black & white images. So, I painstakingly colorized the whole book using Photoshop. I added the writing directly into Blurb’s software from scraps of paper where I would jot down ideas.
5. How did you decide on elements of your book such as paper type and trim size? What factors did you take into account?
I knew I wanted an upscale book that would look good on a coffee table. It had to be large enough to allow the highly detailed images to read well. I found that even the standard paper supplied by Blurb was fine enough to give beautiful reproduction with no bleed through. Over the years, I’ve tried just about every option Blurb offers, including paperback, deluxe paper, Image Wrap hardcover, etc. Being able to print a few books at a time and hold the various options in my hands made it so much easier to make my final choices.
6. Which aspects of the process did Blurb’s Large Order Services team help you with?
Literally everything involved in printing a large quantity overseas, including making sure that my images were printed with a quality consistent with the originals.
7. Did you make use of any of the customization options available through Large Order Services? If so, why?
The Large Order Services team listened carefully to my concerns and helped me to arrange for a special kind of offset printing, which assured that the book would be luxurious, elegant, and free of moiré patterns (a real issue when reprinting printed matter). I was also offered a variety of end sheets, jacket finishes, and binding options. These are the subtle details that enhance the quality and thoughtfulness of the production. Being able to see proofs was also very helpful.
8. How are you marketing and promoting your book?
I immediately made Unthinkable available through my website and it’s also available on Amazon. I’m also approaching speciality retail bookstores and planning some reading/book signing parties. I will also make it available at various galleries where I show my art. And who knows what other avenues might open up.
9. As someone who works creatively every day, how do you stay inspired?
I make images because it gives me a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction, but I never force myself. It seems the more freedom I give myself, the more I desire to go into my studio. Also, since I work with old books, by flipping through some pages something is bound to grab my attention and set me on the road to a new piece. I usually have several in the works at any given time, so when I get stuck on one project, I put it aside and return to another. This way I always get a fresh perspective. As to writing, I enjoy playing with the sounds of words, their myriad meanings, rhymes, alliteration, etc. Much of that comes to me in the state between sleeping and waking, but if I don’t get up and write it down, it disappears before morning!
Thank you, Paul, for taking time to talk to us about your book. It’s inspiring to hear about the amount of work and thought that went into its creation. You can pick up your copy of Unthinkable on Paul’s website.
Printing 100+ copies of your own book? Talk to Large Order Services about your custom design, printing, and distribution options.