What to do when information is aloof, cold even?

What to do when information is aloof, cold even?

A writer sits at her computer. All the information at hand, online or in a stack of documents or books. Information from academic writers. Meanwhile, there is all kinds of consultation and participation, looking for consensus.
What will come out of this?Something all too neutral. Cold-hearted even. I pitch my tent on the edge of a vineyard or tidal area. A lot of fuss, somewhat romantic. But very close to the action.
What will this approach bring me?

Something that feels close.

Refuting presuppositions

In 2016 and 2017, I worked on a book about wine (read more here ), for which I visited 25 vineyards in France and Spain on foot. Often around sunrise or sunset. To do so, one has to make an appointment with the owners of the winery. You then chat with them, for example, when they drive you up the hill in their jeep. Such talk gives you all kinds of insights and refutes your presuppositions. You walk through the landscape, not with a booklet or a map but with a flesh-and-blood guide, full of local and superspecific knowledge. This puts the general knowledge that everyone has on their screens in a different light, it is complemented by stories, by intimacy and character.

Add pepper to taste

That’s how I discovered that interviewing other people who are close to the action all day is a great addition to my own research. It is the pepper that a drawing or a story needs. It takes some work, but the principle is simple.

That’s why I chose an approach that would provide intimacy for the visualization of Geopark Schelde Delta(here): visiting the locations on foot as well as talking to people who are working in the landscape on a daily basis.

Cultivating character

You know, something like that takes a lot of time. And money. You have to be a little smart about that. But designing in a studio with the Internet at hand does not provide enough proximity. A characterful end result must be cultivated.

What you need to tell about the landscape you don’t think up by staying inside.

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Wine up close: harvest in the Languedoc, early in the morning.

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With Soan Lan Ie looking at small and big things in the landscape along the Zwin, Zeeuws-Vlaanderen.


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Interview with Jan Kruijse, seaweed harvester in Yerseke, for the brochure for the Geopark Schelde Delta.

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With Nico de Haan, bird expert, and Rico van der Sloot, industrial designer, exploring for panels on meadow birds, for Natuurmonumenten.

Information with a friendly face

Information with a friendly face

You can shorten and delete until information is very compact. But you can also create a book so charming that readers will sit up and take notice. The pagecount might run up, as long as editing and design helps keep it readable and recognizable.

An example: the craftsman-enthusiast

Louis Kat is an extraordinary man. Immensely specialized. He spends his life honing his knowledge on 1 subject: wine.
He traveled endlessly to France to seek out the right winery. Days of tasting and taking notes to come home with the right wine.

Wijnkoperij Okhuysen, the company he grew, is 150 years old. The story of your business is told best in a book. That is the right form. Still. A book doesn’t fill itself; you need a plan for that.
(Or actually it does fill itself, with all that stuff from the archives. A typical jubilee book tells “everything,” and that’s only fun for friends and family.)

A decision is needed. An answer to the question “what kind of book should this be?

A decision against chaos

Enough clues. The Okhuysen company was built on the travels of Monsieur Louis. We put those travels first and centre. Travel stories are a distinct genre, guidebooks a distinct form. Wine regions are a familiar structure, and each region has recognizable specifics to guide the wine buyer. The plan is ready. It ends all hesitation. All content you thought “should that be in there?” is dropped, or fit in seamlessly. With this plan, the impression of overload, of going in all directions has disappeared. Swapped for a pleasant order. And within the travel stories there appears to be enough variety to never bore the reader. And then there is Mr. Kat himself. He said “I can see my readers just opening the book in the evening, in a nice chair, with a good glass of wine.

“I see it as my text.”

Mr. Kat started writing. From his memory and from old notebooks. A hell of a job. Editing we did together, an intimate process. What happened at the book level (a clear decision) repeats itself at this lower level: ‘what is each individual story about?’ An unexpected encounter, a stroke of luck, a tough fight for that one winemaker’s attention? Having decided that, you can delete, and clarify. The writer was clear about my editing: “I read it as my text, but at the same time greatly admire how you condensed it and summarized redundant information elsewhere. My compliments!”

To bring the book to the present, I visited 25 wine estates to take pictures of the landscape and cellars. The photos and contemporary maps make it clear: you can just go there by following the Route du Soleil.

I failed on 1 point (I’ll do better for you!): the text correction of the hundreds of wonderful French and Spanish place, person and wine names, I didn’t see that coming. Fortunately, team Okhuysen was able to free up time. Saved!

Most important for experts and book designers?

Quiet, prolonged closeness to your subject. Together.
This is how the book gets a soul.

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Monsieur Louis, an expert’s book on finding the best wine.


For photography, I visited 25 wine estates. Here at Guffens, where tradition and stainless steel go together.

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An index of 600 names of winemakers, wines and fields.

Superb vineyards in Bandol.


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After a double page with a photo of the region, each chapter of the book opens with a map and an introduction.




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Map insets, when the vineyard visited was part of a large area.


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All kinds of options for the pages were tested.

This was not the last project where I found myself in the landscape around sunrise.

At work in Spain, Rueda.