Veronica Ditting is best known for her sophisticated editorial design and art direction for The Gentlewoman and also previously Fantastic Man. Since graduating from Amsterdam’s Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Ditting has also worked for a diverse range of clients including Selfridges, Hermès and Tiffany & Co., and White Cube in London, as well as a number of European artists and art institutions. Ditting’s focus is predominately on printed matter, for which she has received numerous awards from both the Best Dutch Book Designs and D&AD (British Design & Art Direction).
Today, Ditting tells us about one of her first crucial projects, the design for the prominent Dutch artist Barbara Visser’s The Complete Incomplete Series publication.
“I met artist Barbara Visser when I was studying at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, she was a teacher of mine at the time. When you’re doing your graduation project at the Rietveld, you’re given three mentors who guide you, and Barbara was one of mine. We were a good match. After graduating in 2005, I ended up being her assistant once a week and I archived a lot of her work.
“As a teacher, the great thing about Barbara is that she always asked a lot of questions. She never told you how to solve a problem, but would encourage you to question the project itself and your own interest within it. Nowadays I still look for my own approach, keep an open mind, and think carefully about what it is that interests me when I’m approaching something new.
“I was amazed when she asked me to work on a book with her—and on such a big commission—when I’d just recently graduated. The book was part of an award from the Royal Academy of Sciences in the Netherlands, and they wanted a monograph of her work. I was amazed, but I also might have been a bit naïve and not realized how big the commission was, in the way that a lot of new graduates often are.
“The project was a real collaboration; we were in close dialogue about what we wanted to do. Barbara had just published a big text-heavy monograph about her entire body of work (video, installations, photography, etc.) and she wanted to have something that felt visually complete and was restricted to just one aspect of her career—so we focused on photography. I knew her archive really well because I’d been the one to archive it!
“In the book, we included Barbara’s sketches, tests, and the ads she placed in newspapers looking for sitters—things that would reveal more about her process and give the reader clues at how to look at the work. We put in much more around the work itself but something more comprehensive.
“In terms of editing the material, fairly early on we thought it would be nice to do it chronologically, starting with the new work and going backwards. We wanted it to have the openness of a magazine – that was important. Hard back would feel final, and because Barbara is often reconsidering and revisiting her work, sometimes even many years later, the choice to make it open and loose was important. That’s why we called it The Complete Incomplete Series.
“For me, paper has always been important—how it feels and sounds, how hard or soft it is. I’d just come across label paper (widely used for wine bottles), and it’s coated on one side and uncoated on the other, therefore it has a very tactile quality. I thought we could use it for the book.At first we thought about printing the research on the uncoated side and the final work on the coated one, but it felt too rigid. To give the whole thing a rhythm, we changed up what was printed on the coated side and the uncoated side of the page. The motto of Barbara’s work is ‘what you see is what you’re looking for.’ We therefore wanted to have a sense of a rigid structure but also we wanted to go against it to make things less tightly defined. We wanted to encourage people to question what they’re looking at. I’ve always liked having strict rules, but I also like adding an element that’s a bit more unexpected and goes against that self-imposed rule.
“It was a nightmare to print, because of the amount of images used which needed retouching, the paper choice and the binding. On the day of the deadline, Barbara nearly got cold feet because someone strongly advised her that it’s best to use matte paper stock, but kept to my opinion. She was happy in the end, so it was a good decision to stay put!
“The Complete Incomplete Series was a significant first project for me because I learned so much about building a strong foundation for a project, something I still aim for. I got to grips with how to edit images and create rhythms and tensions that make the foundation of a book, and how to relate that to text. It was just so extensive. I got to question so many things. For example, we decided not to have an essay at the back of the book but to have a Q&A instead, and that was uncommon at the time. With Barbara, we would question every aspect of making the book, and therefore it was an exceptional project. I learned to question things rigorously. And on a side note, we did the whole thing in only two months!”