Excerpts from Nikolai Gogol’s The Diary of a Madman – 10 years



This book that I’ve created as a Grad student at Central St. Martins’ is celebrating 10 years! The experience of creating it was magical and it opened quite a few doors for me. This was my entryway into the publishing, illustration, letterpress and Fine Press book world. The book was handset with metal type, the illustrations were done with linocuts and everything was printed and bound by hand in the college’s print shop and in my tiny room in an East London flat. It took about 7 months from start to finish and I made enough prints for 20 editions of the book. Since then, those books have been exhibited and found their new homes all over the world – England, France, Netherlands, different parts of the States (one of the last ones was on it’s way to Missouri last week).


I’ve done quite a few book projects and have a few in the works right now, but the experience of doing this one is always fresh in my memory. Everything was new. The feel of metal type, sounds of proof presses, smell of printing ink, finger cuts from lino cutters… That feeling of uncertainty, trial and error, constant mistakes and revisions, something completely new, unexpected and real.



Pictures from an Exhibition

A couple of weeks ago, I have participated in a 2-man art exhibit with a fellow illustrator Igor Karash. What brought us together was the work that we have done for The Folio Society, a British publisher of illustrated books.


The Folio Society is known for producing beautiful books and working with illustrators from all over the world. Back in 2010, its art director, Sheri Gee approached me to create illustrations for Gustav Meyrink’s classic The Golem. In 2012, Igor Karash won the House of Illustration Book Competition. The winning prize was a commission to illustrate The Folio Society’s edition of The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter.


The illustrations were done in completely different styles (Igor used watercolors and mine were linocuts), but there were some similarities in the subject matter that we have worked with. Both books by Meyrink and Carter revolved around dark and mystical themes. Also both authors used traditional tales, myths and legends as a source of inspiration.


Illustrations from the Golem by Vladimir Zimakov

Besides being book illustrators and working with the same publisher, what also tied us together were our Russian roots and our Texas experience. Igor lived in Houston for a long time after moving to the US and I have spent a bit of my formative years in Dallas, where my parents still reside.


Illustrations from The Bloody Chamber by Igor Karash

We were introduced earlier this year by Sophia Grinblat, the president of the Russian Cultural Center in Houston. She was the one who proposed that we do a show together at her gallery, which was located in the heart of the city’s art district.


It’s always tricky and challenging to do group shows, especially when the artists live in different cities and have to fly in a few days before the exhibition for installation. This time, I wasn’t so much worried. After briefly talking to Igor over the phone for the first time, I knew that we were on the same page with this.


When I have to exhibit and install the show in cities other then mine, the first stop after the plane lands is IKEA, which has the best deal on frames. You can also count on them for having a bunch of them in stock. That way one can carry a whole exhibit of graphic works in a large folder or a roll. Igor took a very similar route.

With the generous help of a fellow Houston artist Boris Kaplun and the staff of the gallery, Igor and me were able to frame and install the whole show in one long day.

There’s always something that breaks or needs to be matted right during the installation, and as the fate would have it, the only business that was open within two blocks on a Thursday night was a frame shop…


Igor has exhibited original drawings, prints and sketches for The Bloody Chamber.


Since my prints for The Golem were smaller, I have also decided to show the illustrations from Meyrink’s Walpurgisnacht, Andersen’s The Nightingale, Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and some of the work that I have recently done for Amanda Palmer.




Also on display was some of the most recent stuff that I am currently working on inspired by ancient myths and the writing of Alexandr Chayanov. In a typical manner, some of those were finished the night before I boarded the plane for Houston.



The opening night was held on Friday, April 5th.



The Folio Society was very generous to send the Russian Center copies of our books for signing. We set up a table in the middle of the gallery showcasing the books and prints.


And here’s a photo taken at the very end of an exhausting but gratifying day.

Zimakov Karash

Vladimir Zimakov & Igor Karash (photo by Lola Vayner)

Go here to see all illustrations from The Bloody Chamber and other works by Igor Karash.

Here you can see all of my illustrations for The Golem.

This is the site of The Folio Society, where you can check out all the great books that they publish.

More about Russian Cultural Center and Caviart Gallery is here.

You Must Go and Win!

Vladimir Zimakov book jacket

This is one of several posts to come that will talk about my work with Alina Simone. Alina is an amazing person, musician and writer from New York City. We’ve met back in 2002 at one of her shows in Brooklyn. We’ve been in touch ever since. Over the years, I’ve designed a few CD and vinyl jackets for her albums, as well as a tour poster. In 2010 her collection of essays was going to be published by Faber & Faber.

At first Alina asked me to do a mini-graphic novel insert for the book. Then I was approached by Charlotte Strick, the Art Director at Faber & Faber and a wonderful designer, to do the cover art.

Zimakov graphic novel

Above is a little glimpse of the graphic insert that I did for the book that illustrates the life and times of Yanka Dyagileva, a Russian musician who had a huge influence on Alina (she actually recorded an album of Yanka’s cover songs a few years ago). In the future posts I’ll talk more about the process of creating those illustrations. I wanted to share a small part of it now, since one of the main graphic elements for the cover was inspired by the depiction of the smoke coming from the smokestacks, a typical scene of any small industrial Russian town.

Alina Simone draft

Here is a little excerpt from the synopsis of the book:

“In the wickedly bittersweet and hilarious You Must Go and Win, the Ukrainian-born musician Alina Simone traces her bizarre journey through the indie rock world, from disastrous Craigslist auditions with sketchy producers to catching fleas in a Williamsburg sublet…”

The writing was great! After reading the first chapter and discussing the book with Alina and Charlotte, I knew that the cover needed to capture a lot: humor, irony, tragedy, the setting of the main events and the overall tone of the book. Alina had this idea of having an amp on fire, which would be symbolic of a lot of things that she talks about in the essays. Charlotte suggested to try and use the type in a similar way that I have used it in one of my previous projects, “The Book of Sound”.

I got down to work and presented a few drafts. Though we went with the idea of the amp on fire, the other ones didn’t go to waste. The draft on the right has inspired the cover for Alina’s next album.

Zimakov vinyl design

The title of the book and author’s name were originally done on a letterpress using wooden type. Once again, I’ve used the facilities at the Otis Lab Press, gathered letterforms of all shapes and sizes and made a bunch of prints.


type impressions

Later those impressions were scanned and digitized. The prints themselves were almost eaten by my daughter.

eating type

Once the typography was resolved, I moved on to carving the lino to create the main image of the smoke and the amp.

smoke lino

Those I printed in the studio using my little etching press. One of the challenges with the image came up as I was working on the smoke and the typical Russian church domes, that we decided to use for the cover. Since the domes are used so much to represent Russia, my job was to give them enough subtlety so the image would not appear to be cliche.

linocut Zimakov

I used the technique of “ghost printing” (when the plate is run through the press several times before the final impression is made) in order to achieve this. The smoke and domes started to appear distant and ghostly, yet still had the necessary presence.

ghost print

The image was designed to wrap around the spine and go on to the back. Here’s the final file combining the physical print and type.

You Must Go and Win cover

You will notice that the final cover includes a quote by Neil Gaiman. An interesting coincidence is that I was introduced to Neil around the same time I saw that quote on the cover for the first time.

Did I mention that this book is great? It is! Get your copy here.

The Call of Cthulhu in 3D

HP Lovecraft cover

Back in 2010 I was approached by Matthew Broughton, a senior designer at Vintage, to do a cover for The Call of Cthulhu by the great H.P. Lovecraft. This was going to be one in a series of 5 classics that they were releasing that year that would feature a 3D cover. This was the really cool part! Each book would come with a pair of 3D glasses and obviously the cover needed to be dimensional. I was quite intrigued by this challenge and got down to work.

Zimakov Cthulhu sketch

After brainstorming, a few pencil sketches and ink drafts, I moved forward with the lino. In addition to the image, we decided that the title should also be carved out.

HP Lovecraft Cthulhu

linocut title Call of Cthulhu

I usually print proofs and drafts on my little etching press in the studio, the final printing in this case was done at the Otis Lab Press on one of their Vandercooks.

Vandercook Zimakov

Once everything was printed, scanned and digitized, I skewed the type a bit to give it more of a dramatic look and make it fit with the image more. At this point the trick was to get the image working with the 3D glasses (final version on the right).

Call of Cthulhu printmaking linocut

After some internet research and looking through tutorials I reached out to my good friend Jim Campbell for some tips with this. Jim’s an expert. He collects antique photographs and gives them a 3D effect (some of this stuff can be seen here). Jim was quick to respond with some pointers.

3D tutorial

Then it was on to more Photoshop for me. I first broke down the image and title into many layers, depending on how close or far I wanted them to appear. Bellow are the two main separations, but there are quite a few little sub layers within them. Those were placed on top of one another using the Multiply blending mode (third image).

3D separation linocut

From that point on it was a matter of sitting in front of the screen for a few hours with the 3D glasses on and shifting layers left and right, up and down. Don’t want to get too technical here. The main trick is this: the more the red and cyan layers are off-register, the closer that part will appear to the viewer, the more they are in line with each other – the farther the image will be.

Cthulhu Zimakov

If you get your 3D glasses out you can see the effect, however your monitor colors might be off. So the best thing to do is get the book and see it in person. The 3D glasses come with it!