Anyone who’s gone to middle school might remember notes passing back and forth during class and the horror of one being discovered, then read aloud.
Graphic designer Beth Hoge Gully, 55, a George Washington High School graduate, is no exception, but she had a unique way of protecting her privacy way back then — writing backwards.
“My friends would have to hold it up to a mirror to read it,” she said.
That unique talent, plus a fine arts degree from the University of Kentucky and 25 years of experience owning and operating BT Graphics in Lebanon, Ohio, has lead her down an unexpected path. Last fall, Gully authored and illustrated a children’s book, “The Other Side of Christmas,” which will be presented at Taylor Books, 226 Capitol Street Saturday at 1 p.m.
“The book tells the contemporary Christmas story with Santa Claus in one direction, from front to back. Then, at the end, the book is flipped upside-down for an ‘aha’ moment, as the same images tell the chronological Christmas story of the birth of Jesus,” Gully explained.
Gully said she “absolutely” discovered ambigrams — words or pictures that look like one thing from one angle and something else from another angle — by accident, when she walked into her office after lunch and there, on the floor, was the Christmas card design she’d been working on that read “happy holiday.”
“When I picked it up and looked at it, it was upside- down,” she said. “I noticed the ‘y’ in ‘happy’ looked like the ‘h’ in ‘holiday.’
Intrigued, Gully manipulated the original design to create the finished product which reads “happy holiday” right-side-up as well as upside-down.
Only about 100 ambigram artists are recognized internationally, according John Langdon, a professor of typography at Drexel University who designed graphics for Hollywood films, including “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons.”
Gully is one of them.
In fact, her book has been acclaimed internationally, winning the 2015 GOLD Award for Summit International Awards Competition and other awards.
This success, however, has been a long time in coming — more than 20 years in fact.
It began in 1994 when, following a “faith awakening,” Gully sat down to create her first ambigram “on purpose” — a Christmas card with images of both Santa and Jesus.
“First I started the Santa picture. Since all Santas have a beard, I drew that. When I flipped it upside down, it looked like clouds,” Gully said. “Next, I drew the iconic Santa hat. When that’s turned upside- down, it turns into a medallion. Then I drew the mustache on Santa. In every picture I’ve ever seen of Jesus, his hair is parted down the middle, and that’s what the mustache looked like upside-down.”
“This was the launch-point for the book, but I didn’t know it at the time.”
Eventually, Gully began creating note cards, book marks, and other gift items featuring the Santa/Jesus ambigram and other mirror image words.
Then, in 2006, while having dinner with her friend, Jane Kors, who became the book’s editor, the discussion turned to an expansion of Gully’s work.
“I was always a big suppporter of her Santa/Jesus picture,” Kors said. “I just felt that there was much more to offer.”
So, there — right on the spot — they developed a plan for a book and Gully starting putting her ideas to paper.
“I started drawing on a napkin,” she said. “That picture of stockings hanging on a mantle that I sketched on the napkin became the cover of my book.”
Kors said it was “incredible to see her think of objects” that could be drawn as ambigrams for the book and bring them to life so quickly.
Gully, unsure of her abilities, kept the project on the proverbial back-burner until a group of Christian business owners encouraged her to complete it in 2013.
Since self-publication in September 2014, Gully has appeared at 35 readings in 24 stores, selling more than 3,800 books.
“From a child’s perspective, turning the book upside down is an unexpected moment,” Kors said. “They are quick to figure out that the Christmas tree and ornaments from the first story has become the wisemen in the second story — that the new pictures become a new story.”
During her stop at Taylor Books, Gully will do a live reading, host a question and
answer session, give each child a Santa/Jesus card and pass out take-home coloring sheets to help children explore the world of ambigrams and encourage them artistically.
“Seeing things upside-down comes naturally to me,” she said. “I don’t know if I use math [in my drawings] or not, but I have the ability to look at something in both directions and find the lowest common denominator. Then I keep tweaking it until it works.”
“I want to start getting kids to think about ambigrams,” she said. “It’s has to be good for the brain — any kind of puzzle has to be a healthy exercise.”
Gully plans to publish her second book, “The Other Side of Easter,” by 2017.
For more information, visit her website at animotionlogos.com or her Facebook page at facebook.com/TheOtherSideofChristmas.
Reach Marta Tankersley Hays at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1249 or follow @MartaRee on Twitter.