Author Profile: Beth Gully
“There are two sides to every story.”
Lebanon, Ohio, author/graphic designer/businesswoman Beth Gully has cleverly illustrated that time-honored statement with the publication of her two-sided book, “The Other Side of Christmas.”
Known in the publishing world as an “ambigram,” “The Other Side of Christmas” literally presents the two sides of the Christmas season. Hold the book upright to see a cover featuring Christmas stockings hanging from a mantel. Flip the book over and observe a completely different cover -- a Christian-themed scene of three shepherds following the star to the newborn Baby Jesus.
It’s a perfect way for children to observe the religious side of Christmas and celebrate the secular holiday with Santa Claus, stockings filled with goodies and sleigh rides in the snow.
Gully published “The Other Side of Christmas” in 2014. Her second ambigram book, “The Other Side of Easter,” was just released in November.
The Christmas book is a collaborative effort with Gully as author, ambigramist and illustrator, James Sherron as copywriter and Jane Kors as editor.
Asked what prompted her to create a two-sided book, Gully recalls a visit from Kors, her neighbor who shares a fondness for children’s books including those by the late children’s author Ann Jonas. Jonas incorporated ambigrams in her work.
“Jane came to me one day in 2006 with the idea to create a book using the Santa/Jesus ambigram,” Gully recalls. “Thinking it was a crazy concept, I doodled two lines : a horizontal line and an arch in the sky to represent Santa and the reindeer flying over a town. When I flipped it over, I could visualize Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem. It blew my mind and it became the beginning of this journey as an author.”
Determined to design
It seems Gully was destined for a career in the creative arts.
“In junior high I used to write notes to my friends and would write backwards in cursive so they could only be read in a mirror,” Gully fondly recalls. “I think this contributed to my ability to create ambigrams!”
Then in high school art class she “fell in love” with logo design, which she describes as a “simplistic form of art.”
Not surprisingly, Gully earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Kentucky. Today, in addition to “ambigramist,” she wears the mantle of founder and president of BT Graphics, located in Lebanon.
For a small word, “logo” assumes lots of responsibility. “Shapes and lines in a business logo need to convey a business’s essence, from industry, niche in industry, and audience, to the personality of the business owner,” Gully explains. “This is lot of information packed into a simple design…”
The same can be said for ambigrams, she maintains.
“I think that’s where my strength for creating ambigrams came from. I will find the lowest common denominator of both images in a stylized form and flip it back and forth until the fewest elements can show both images, right side up and upside down, so it can be read,” Gully says.
“John Langdon was the first ambigram designer I connected with,” Gully recalls. For those unfamiliar with Langdon, he is “best known for his ambigrams, most notably those in Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, Angels & Demons,” according to his online biography.
Gully recalls that Langdon “ran a story in Games Magazine shortly after I created my first ambigram in 1992 by accident. About three months later I read his article and learned that the art I created was called an ‘ambigram.’ At that time, his article said there were half a dozen in the world doing this art form…”
“Ann Jonas created two award-winning ambigram children’s books, ‘Reflections’ and ‘Round Trip,” Gully says. “She passed away the year before I launched my first book in 2014…Besides ‘Topsy Turvy’ in the 1800s, I believe I’m the third ambigram children’s author.”
Gully’s fondness for the ambigram resulted in her being recognized in 2013 in “Ambigrams Revealed” by Nikita Prokhorov. Her work was included among that of ninety-four other ambigramists from around the world.
Gully also appreciates the work and experiences of Southwest Ohio children’s book illustrator Jared Lee and children’s author/illustrator Loren Long. They have helped her understand “the mindset of a child and also how and where to promote and sell my books,” she says.
Ambigrams and publishing challenges