Washingtonian Magazine Creative Director Michael Goesele shares the story behind April’s “Where Foodies Shop” cover.
Tell me about the cover story “Where foodies shop”? Is there anything in particular about the content that led you in this direction for the cover?
Readers come to us for our food coverage, which to a large degree consists of where to eat, a.k.a. restaurants. It seemed like a natural extension of that idea to give our readers a well-curated guide (28 pages) to where to buy the best ingredients to enjoy their meals at home, as well. We discussed many different approaches to the cover, from hand-sewing all the coverlines into a canvas shopping bag filled to the brim with food to staging a Renaissance-painting-inspired still-life food shoot to doing an environmental shot in one of the listed venues (cheese shop, butcher, fish monger, etc.). During all these discussions the cold and snow didn’t let up, and everyone kept talking about how excited they were for Spring to finally arrive. That’s when the idea hit: We’d create a visual cornucopia of colors that would get people excited for Spring. The next challenge was to find foods that were in season. We hit the local food hall, Union Market, where we sourced everything that appears on the cover.
Were there other possible cover stories or concepts in the running for this issue?
We had a large “Insider’s Guide to Washington’s Red-Hot Real-Estate Market,” which was an early contender and a cover theme we have done numerous times in the past. But we ultimately decided we wanted to go with a package we hadn’t tried before. That being said, we still gave “Great Places to Live” a very prominent place on the cover. At the end of the day, it worked well to include two very popular topics—food and shelter—on one cover.
Who was involved in the cover production?
The day of the shoot, a massive snowstorm hit DC and shut down the city and the government. Regardless, everyone made their way to the studio for an all-day shoot—photographer Scott Suchman, food stylist Lisa Cherkasky, photo director Diane Rice, staff photographer Jeff Elkins, and me. Thanks to everyone’s dedication, the photos turned out great despite less-than-ideal circumstances. Also, hats off to illustrator Jill de Haan, whose beautiful hand-lettering provided the perfect finishing touch to make the cover really shine.
The bright colors in the food make this cover incredibly eye-catching. Tell me a little about the photo shoot itself. What attention was paid to the food selections, any difficulties in styling the food, etc?
In order to get as much luminosity as possible, Jeff built a massive lightbox that we placed the food on. Everything was lit from above and below, which flooded the scene and helped the colors pop. We wanted to showcase a wide range of foods whose colors would compliment one another. We discussed adding fish or a steak, but we ended up opting for cured meats and clams/oysters. Our food stylist, Lisa, did a spectacular job selecting, prepping, and arranging the various items. We rearranged the setup numerous times, until we felt we had the right balance of objects and colors—and many of the foods had to get switched out multiple times during the shoot because they degraded so quickly once cut open. When we finally felt like we had what we were looking for, we sprayed the produce with water to make everything look über-fresh, as if it had just been picked and washed that very second. It’s subtle, but it made all the difference in bringing the produce to life.
I am really curious how this concept was continued inside the issue. The tease to the cover story on the website reads “Want to make a four-star meal at home? You’ll find great ingredients in our guide to the area’s best butchers, bakeries, cheese shops, farmers markets, and more.” Did you create any maps or infographics to accompany the story?
We did beautifully composed full-page photos to accompany each of the sections, with the goal of getting the reader excited about the range of suggestions from our editors. We also did a two-page map spread on DC’s Union Market, to help the readers navigate all the amazing vendors and resources it has to offer. Then we sprinkled in various charts, illustrations, and fun facts throughout the package.
Washingtonian’s covers exhibit a wide range styles from photo-driven to chalk and hand-drawn illustrations. For instance, the “Local Shops” issue from September 2013 stands out as another memorable cover. What is your team’s process for brainstorming and developing ideas from month to month? How did the process for something like the “Local Shops” cover differ from this cover?
As a city/regional pub we cover many of the same topics from year to year, so it’s imperative that our visual approach keeps our readers surprised and engaged each month when they reach into their mailboxes or walk by the newsstands. The process for the Local Shops and Foodies covers didn’t differ very much. We meet with the editors to discuss the upcoming cover package. We then gauge what the most obvious approaches to those topics are and how we can approach them from a variety of different angles while not confusing or alienating any of our readers. Sometimes it works, and we have a hit on newsstands; other times it doesn’t. Most important is that our publisher, Cathy Merrill Williams, and editor in chief, Garrett Graff, give us the leeway to try new things.
Where do you look for inspiration?
We pay attention to the world around us—in publishing but also beyond, from campaigns to fashion to art and nature. We are so fortunate in DC to have so many fantastic Smithsonian institutions around us, all with free admission. I often find myself walking through the Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn, or even the National Zoo for a dose of inspiration.
[SND regularly features a Q&A on how magazine covers were developed. Have a magazine cover you’d like to share with SND, or want to send a tip on a cover you’d like to see profiled? Contact Courtney Kan at email@example.com.]