Today I’m concluding my interview with Adele Mulford, the art director for Discipleship Journal. Although Adele has a degree in advertising, magazine design has been her passion for the past 11 years. She has worked with several Christian publications, including Moody Magazine, Family Life Today, the Beacon, and Worldwide Challenge. Her designs have been recognized by Print, Society of Publication Designers, and the Evangelical Press Association.
LeAnne: You have a column in every issue of Discipleship Journal called “ArtTalk.” What do you write about?
Adele: “ArtTalk” is a way in which we try to engage our readers on a deeper level with the artwork. Good artwork (and design) has a story behind it. Perhaps we will tell them about the artist who created a particular piece. Or how a piece was created. Maybe there is an interesting story about the design process for a particular story or a visual puzzle that had to be solved. It’s always my hope that we can give our readers a glimpse into the “back story” of the artwork. This builds their understanding of the artwork, thus helping them to then build a connection to the artwork. In many ways, it’s simply a way to educate them and teach them how to see artwork as a tool for their spiritual growth.
LM: What piece of art has prompted the most discussion with readers? Why do you think that was the case?
AM: It’s funny you ask. We’ve had two recent issues that prompted a lot of feedback from readers. The first one was a series of articles about Redemption (November/December 2006). Instead of assigning specific articles or concepts to illustrate (which is how I usually direct the art), I commissioned several Christian artists to meditate on the idea of redemption and then create a fine art piece. It felt scary to totally release my control on the outcome of the art. But the results were amazing. It was wonderful to see how God spoke to each of their hearts uniquely. In turn, I heard from several readers about the powerful impact the artwork had on them. I think that these pieces were unique because the artists had total freedom to create something from their hearts, and our readers seemed to recognize the inspiration behind these pieces. In an ideal world, I would love to see more of our artwork originate from this kind of hands-off approach, but unfortunately, that’s not the reality of magazine design.
The second issue was very recent: January/February 2007. The cover and theme section of this issue was about sex. Since the editorial approach was very honest and straightforward, I felt that the artwork should also echo that approach. I wanted to go beyond the usual vague images that are often the “Christian” approach to discussing sex. I thought a lot about Song of Solomon and God’s unabashed poetry of love. It’s beautiful and passionate, but with a holy purity. So, when I commissioned the artist, Jane Mjolsness, to create the art, I asked her to not be afraid to show the beauty and intimacy of God’s design for sex. Her artwork was so breathtaking, honest, and tastefully done. I loved the cover in particular, which showed a simple line drawing of a man and woman embracing and kissing on a warm red background. Where their lips connect, a warm glow of yellow emanates. I found it to be an incredibly lovely image. However, sex is a hot-button topic, and therefore we had some readers who reacted strongly against the artwork. In fact, a major bookstore chain actually yanked it from their shelves and sold it from behind the counter. We were shocked. In retrospect, I can see that it’s virtually an impossible task to create visuals about sex that would please the masses. And in spite of some negative reactions, we had many readers who said they really loved how the issue turned out.
LM: With a degree in advertising, how did you end up in magazine design?
AM: Oddly enough, I started out studying interior architecture in college but then switched to advertising. I planned to be an art director at some big ad agency, but it took only one summer’s internship to change my mind! My first job was with NavPress (the same company that publishes DJ) where I designed book covers. The former Art Director of DJ needed someone to design one issue for her, so I took a stab at trying magazine design. I fell in love with it immediately. So I moved to Virginia to work for a Christian design firm that did a lot of magazines and gained a lot of experience there. But I’ve always had a heart for DJ. So, when they called me a few years ago and asked me to join their team, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity!
I love that magazine design is a balance of word and image, structure and expression, functionality and beauty. Balancing those dynamics to create a publication that communicates effectively is a process I greatly enjoy.
In my personal life, I am finally finding the courage to try and learn an art form. I’ve spent so many years working with great artists that I find myself being a heavy-handed critic in my own work. Learning to let go of perfectionism and allow my self to relax and enjoy the process has been a challenge for me. Presently, I’m learning oil painting (I’ve always used acrylics before), and hope to take a ceramics class soon!