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It’s no secret we’re MAD about beautiful books around here, and in recent years we’ve begun to appreciate even more the incredible skill of some of Australia’s best book designers – the often unsung heroes of the publishing game!  Today Lisa chats to the incredible Evi Oetomo, who is a book designer at Lantern, an imprint of Penguin books in Sydney.  Evi is responsible for so many of the beautiful books Lantern has released in recent years, including one of our all time favourites - ‘Things I Love’ by Megan Morton, for which Evi won Best Designed General Illustrated Book at the Australian Publisher’s Association Book Design Awards last year.  SO well deserved.  - Lucy

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The workspace of Sydney-based book designer and illustrator Evi Oetomo. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

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Evi’s black and white illustrative works drawn using Japanese calligraphy pens. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

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Evi with a copy of Alphabet Family Journal, the independent magazine of which Evi is the Art Director, in collaboration with magazine founder Luisa Brimble. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

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Sydney-based book designer Evi Oetomo in her Sydney home office. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

I sometimes think about what my job would be if the internet didn’t exist. It dawned to me that I would probably be a private investigator – an occupation which in equal parts combines my nerdy tendencies with my Nancy Drew detective skills. Being an obsessive sleuth (read: instagram stalker) is how I came across today’s New Kid on the Blog candidate, Evi Oetomo, a senior book designer for Lantern Publishing.

As is the case with any mystery that needs solving, we start off uncovering key clues to learn as much as we can about our subject, and the first clue in the case of Evi O was the book Things I Love by Megan Morton. When first released, this vibrant hardcover coffee table won an army of instant fans, and I was one of them.  Combining a myriad of patterns, paper stocks, typography, and even tear-out gift tags, this book was unlike anything I had seen – it was sophisticated AND fun. Every flick of every new page  presented a delightful new surprise. A book hadn’t made me react this way since the pop-up books of my childhood. And that’s when I made it my mission to find out who was exactly responsible for designing this masterpiece. The answer, Evi O.

Evi is the 28-year-old designer behind many of Lantern Publishing’s most popular and beautiful titles including Things I Love, Edible Garden Design by Jamie Durie, The Garden at Stonefields by Paul Bangay and My Greek Island Home by Claire Lloyd to name a few. Originally growing up in Surabaya, Indonesia, it was Evi’s grandmother who instilled in her a passion for books, with her nightly bedtime stories. At age 17, Evi moved from Indonesia to Sydney to study graphic design, which eventually led her to book design.

‘My parents had always generously planned to send us kids to study and experience living overseas. When I was 17, I went to Sydney and I studied visual communication/graphic design at UTS, thinking that being a graphic designer would be a fun career. I was right!’ says Evi.

Straight after graduating, Evi landed her first ‘grown up’ job as a junior designer at Penguin.  In this role she assisted the senior designer and took on a variety of studio tasks - ‘l now have amazing cutting/pasting paper skills from the early days that I still use!’ Evi enthusiastically recalls.  From this experience, she eventually started to receive her own design projects, primarily designing children’s books, adult fiction and non-fiction, and occasionally some Lantern projects. Her work impressed, and she eventually started working full-time on Lantern titles in 2011.

It must be an exciting but daunting thing to receive a manuscript of carefully considered words and pictures, and from this bundle of rich content, to bring a book to life. Evi is careful to ensure she always approaches each project with a unique treatment – no two books ever share a similar ‘look’.   With meticulous attention to detail, she spends time absorbing the content and narrative of each book before commencing.  ‘To me, functionality is key’ she explains. ‘I always spend a good deal of time understanding the book contents before even thinking about visual design, to decide what would be the best way to communicate the message. Especially as a book designer, I think it’s important for design to not dilute the author’s voice and that I design solely for that purpose.’

In 2013 Evi’s design work for Things I Love won Book of the Year and Best Designed General Illustrated Book at the Australian Publisher’s Association 61st Annual Book Design Awards.  On the same evening she was also awarded Young Designer of the Year!

Aside from working full-time at Lantern by day, Evi maintains and impressive roster of extracurricular side projects!  She is currently Art Director of Alphabet Family Journal, and in her spare time illustrates Japanese-inspired black and white still life line drawings available online here, some which will appear in a collaboration with Australian Museum for the Aztecs Exhibition later this month.

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One of of Evi’s black and white illustrations coming to life.  Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

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Studio details. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.

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Evi at home in Sydney. Photo – Rachel Kara for The Design Files.