By Mark Sinclair

Sting in the tale-blog

Wallpaper and fabric subversives Timorous Beasties have collaborated with Vintage Books on the publisher’s new series of nature writing reissues entitled The Birds and the Bees.

The studio, founded in 1990 by Glasgow School of Art textile design grads Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, is known for its bold and bright designs – an approach that has, it seems, translated well to this new collection of five books.

The titles in the series are Bee Journal by Sean Borodale; A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson; Crow Country by Mark Cocker; H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald; and The Running Sky by Tim Dee.

Each book cover makes use of a panel for the author’s name and title which enables the illustration work to come to the fore. Within the five designs there are numerous hand-drawn details from the natural world, typical of the Beasties’ work.


Talking to Vintage’s CMYK blog, Simmons explained that he began the project by drawing ideas for the designs on paper, before scanning them into his computer. “I then separate the drawing from the white, piece the different bits together, then colour them up,” he says.

“We had a pretty clear idea for the background for all the books, and it was going to work very much like some of our wallpapers, where there are different repeats at different scales of pattern. This allowed us to create the full design for the cover, getting less busy on the flaps and endpapers”.

04_Bumble-Bees_colour-Drw_02 05_Starling-Drw_colour_Bits_01

Simmons says his main visual references for the series design were the natural history books by Lizars, the 19th-century Edinburgh-based engravers and printers.

“They started working with James John Audubon on the Birds of America – although it ended up being printed in France –

[and] the tiny, hand-coloured, beautifully printed plates, were a great inspiration,” says Simmons. “I think I enjoyed working on the goshawk most – it’s such a majestic bird.

01_Fruit_Looters_Teal_Linen_fabric_01Fruit Looters linen fabric (teal)
06_Floral-Drawing_Background_01Floral drawing, background
07_Bee-Journal_backgroundBee Journal, background

“It was great working on book jackets, it’s different, in that you need to get a feel for the book,” Simmons continues of the studio’s work in publishing.

“The aesthetic has to work in quite a different way, it has to give the atmosphere, have impact and at the same time be rather small! Also, working on a series, we had to find a way to bring these five very different books together”.

The Birds and the Bees series is published by Vintage Classics (£9.99) on May 5. See More on the project at the CMYK blog at

Birds and Bees set-blog

Read more here:: Timorous Beasties bring the birds and the bees to Vintage’s new nature series