Creating a cult classic field guide

Product Vision · Art Direction · Production

World-renowned bird artist, Keith Hansen, had spent 15 years illustrating artwork for his opus—a field guide to birds of the Sierra Nevada. The pace had slowed and Keith needed a creative collaborator to break through obstacles, sell the idea to a publisher, and ship the book. That's when I came into the story.

My initial role was as a creative director and producer. To get aligned on the vision, I dove into InDesign and started creating visual concepts. We decided on a layout with plenty of room for large images and enough copy for Keith's poetic prose style. I developed a simple database format for the copy and Keith was off to the races—spending the next few years filling in the blanks for each species account. There was initially some creative tension between Keith and his co-author Ted Beedy. We spent many hours discussing different perspectives and incrementally moving toward a shared vision.

Armed with beautiful layouts and a good portion of the copy, we were able to secure a publishing deal quickly. We spent the next two years writing the copy for each species. And for me, getting over a thousand images ready for production. My nights were spent carefully laying out the illustrations and adding captions to help our readers with field identification.

We aspired to create a unique field guide, written from the perspective of an artist and naturalist, rather than a scientist. Our hope was to leave behind a cult classic book that would stand the test of time.

Big, beautiful artwork and entertaining prose were our guiding principles.