Tied up in knots
Marian Bantjes tried to sneak snakes onto the cover of one of Canada’s biggest magazines. The editor turned them into string

Based in Canada, Marian Bantjes has a client list that includes Pentagram, Saks Fifth Avenue, FontShop and Houghton-Mifflin.

“If I was working more with character or regular illustration of images, I would be more forced to lock myself into some kind of recognisable style,” she says. “I think that most known illustrators are known for their form and style of illustration.

“Because I’m not doing that, and I’m straddling these boundaries of illustration, typography and design, I’m able to really change the work that I’m doing, almost on a daily basis. I have a lot of freedom to explore whatever I’m interested in.”

This doesn’t mean she doesn’t have to keep her clients happy, though. On a commission for The Walrus, one of Canada’s most popular magazines, Bantjes became mischievously fixated on the idea of using snakes on the cover. 

Above Bantjes’ cover for The Walrus; and the 'string' by itself.
Below International graphics magazine Étapes commissioned Bantjes to create a cover for its 15th anniversary, highlight her working process, from sketch to final design in a single piece.

“I thought, it would really be great with snakes – and I really thought I was going to pull one over on them if they allowed me to do snakes,” she explains.

“I knew damn well that covers with snakes on them freak people out. And they almost went for it, but then they ran it by the editors and the editors said no. No snakes.”

Feigning outrage, she suggested kittens instead (“Kittens sell magazines!”) with the kittens playing with string. The string was agreed, but the kittens went the way of the snakes.

“It’s drawn in pencil crayon, and basically I had some red wool kicking around that I twisted around into shapes, and while I didn’t copy that directly, because it would have taken me too long, it gave me a sense for what wool or string does when it’s twisting up into shapes,” she describes.

To get the letterforms right, she employed an often-overlooked device: “I used my imagination.”