Craig Ward Breaks Ground on The Washington Post
Yesterday, for the first time ever, The Washington Post bucked their tradition of using a cover image for illustrated typography by Craig Ward. They chose an incredibly divisive topic to jump in with, and something that Craig was perfectly suited for. The cover article dives into the cultural significance of “The N Word,” a word that carries so much meaning, power, and emotion with it that even the euphemism turns heads and stands hair on end. The word has intrinsic, cultural power, and it is Craig’s specialty to suffuse that energy into a visual representation of the word.
Getting to the Monday cover of the Washington Post wasn’t an easy road, but it did happen quickly. “I didn’t know I was going to get it on the cover until Sunday,” he said. “Initially when the brief came in it was for the Saturday Magazine cover. And then Ben Bradlee passed away, so they gave him the Magazine cover.” They then started the process of cancelling the project when just two days before print, they asked to see Craig’s work.
What they asked to see was something different than what he had been working on. Initially the Post and Craig had been honing a final version made from split wood, but the project went into limbo. When Craig got the call, it was to inquire about the charcoal version that ended up on the cover. It was something they had kept as a second option, but didn’t pursue until that phone call.
Usually Craig has more to work with than just one letter. “But this one they really only wanted the letter N. It would have been a different project if they’d actually wanted me to do the word,” he says. “But this was obviously a step removed from that so I was able to think about the emotions around it a little more. Rather than the treatment of the word itself.” The word is violent, explosive. The mere utterance of it has divisive and painful results. Craig distilled that energy directly into his work. The wood was broken with a hammer and required great amounts of force to split the way it did. That energy finds its way into the resulting image, “The subject matter is quite provocative, I felt like it needed to be something kind of divisive and angry and have a lot of emotion to it.” Finally, they went with the charcoal. "We were pursuing the wood one right up to the last minute last week," he says.
Like any editorial project, everything happened so quickly. But it’s rare that such speed is met with such bravery. The Post had never done anything like this, and considering the weight of the topic, it was a surprising move. "It was all very exciting,” he says. “It’s quite flattering, I’m psyched about it really.”