Category Archives: Things I took photos of

Queen’s Park

Ebooks need covers too.

I just gave Garry Ryan‘s first two Detective Lane Mysteries fresh faces in time for their Kobo debuts. I hope the books will be reprinted one day too, if only for the deep designerly satisfaction that will come from lining up the matching spines on my shelf.

The aesthetic for the series is being pieced together book by book, keeping with the same greyscale photographic approach and hairline type as the latest instalments, SMOKED and MALABARISTA.

(See the original Queen’s Park cover that was published by NeWest Press in 2004.)

(See the 2006 cover here.)

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Santa Rosa

Santa Rosa: A Californian county, the Portuguese name for Saint Rose, an extinct community in Edmonton, and more recently, a book.

Taking full advantage of that fantastic Fall light, I set out to replicate the sense of otherworldliness and subtle nostalgia in Wendy McGrath’s new novel. The young narrator seeks the answers to these questions as she tries to make sense of the disintegration of her parents’ marriage — a process echoed by the slow disintegration of their neighbourhood.

The excerpt that sent me outside, looking for a chain link fence:
“The picture of the family as they walked the parking lot pavement was overexposed. Taken into the sun. Too bright. Too hot in some spots. The girl could feel the bottoms of her feet begin to warm. She had to squint against the sunlight shining on the chain link fence on either side of the entrance against carnival rides that roiled against the sky against the Ferris wheel an aperture perpetually open on her adventure.”

From Jamie Hall’s review in the Edmonton Journal on 04/17/11:

“And I thought there are many streets and houses and families and kids who have this sense of dreamlike attachment to a time that has passed.” In the book, which McGrath describes a “poetic narrative,” the narrator knows something is wrong but has no insight into what that is and has no way of articulating it. It’s not unlike any child observing the adult world, says McGrath, which to young minds can often be baffling, sad and at times frightening.

Looking for a place to live for just $10 per month?

(Courtesy of the City of Edmonton Archives.)

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Award-winning mystery writer, Garry Ryan follows up SMOKED with another Detective Lane adventure. Malabarista is the Spanish word for street performer or juggler, and an appropriate metaphor for Lane’s latest role handling the new obstacles thrown his way.

And so, another comical photo shoot involving myself as the only available/willing model, a tripod, a timer, a ring cut out of black cardboard, and the realization that juggling is rather difficult.

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Grayling Cross

The best way to describe the challenge associated with this project is to quote the knowledgeable Paul Buckley from Penguin’s latest stunning, narcissistic book design endeavour: Penguin 75 Designers, Authors, Commentary (the good, the bad…). Buckley observes that “multiple parties wanting different things often lead to covers with rather literal visual interpretations… a scene from the story – this is not always a bad thing, but can lead to imagery that is a bit predictable.”

Which is what my first attempt at a paranormal mystery cover was. Unfamiliar genre territory. I made a mess first, just to get it out of my system.

Then I set out to make an eerie image that suggests a supernatural presence without employing any of the usual SPACE channel platitudes. The Press expressed an interest in taking a different direction from Froese’s first novel on the same theme, which has an off-puttingly dark and murky cover. The drawback of this quirky, light approach is that it doesn’t convey the genre with sufficient clarity.

I ended up photographing a jar of bath salts by request of the author, basically re-creating one particular unnerving scene from the book. I abstracted the object as much as possible with the camera angle, framing, and focus, in an attempt to gain fictitious approval from Buckley at Penguin.

At the very least, I think it successfully avoids pushing the fantasy element too explicitly. (Oddly enough, this is the second photo shoot that I’ve coordinated in my bathtub in the last year.)

My favourite detail in all three sketches is the title block. I nudged a printout of the title on a scanner bed as the bulb passed over, creating a slight blur in the text.

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Dustship Glory

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A rapid, irregular heartbeat rhythm.

And a good way to describe the central relationships in Arrhythmia, which is full of scandalous love affairs, conflicting cultural values, and betrayal.

Near the beginning of my process, Alice’s best writing buddy, Mark, a Kansanian who lives in Denmark, mentioned that if the title is in upper-case, then the R’s will look like Finnish-language gargoyles. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make that work with Hoefler’s Requiem.

Nevertheless, my fabric cardiographies.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting this novel since I finished Alice’s 2009 collection of short stories, Ruins & Relics.

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Butterflies in Bucaramanga

On the scanner bed: one tangled net + a photo of blue sky + the long and unpronounceable name of a municipality in South America.

A suspenseful thriller about a mining executive who is kidnapped by Colombian renegades, caught in a collision between Western corporate imperatives and revolutionary politics. I used a tangled net to link the insect-related title to the idea of captivity. I was originally working with the preliminary title, The Butterfly Effect, but there are already at least a dozen novels, numerous self-help books, and one really bad Ashton Kutcher movie that are already unsuitably referencing chaos theory.

For those of you who are astute, it is indeed a fish net, not a butterfly net. But the story is about capturing human beings, not insects, so it could potentially work.

And, a similar notion for a very different kind of book from Jason Booher. (Both books have the same release date, so no need to play the “who did it first” game.)

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Drift Child

Cover proposal for an upcoming NeWest Press release that develops around a boating incident. The lifejacket alludes to water without actually showing it. (I feel like ominous coastline imagery is a little stale for aquatic-fiction.) The vest will either come to someone’s rescue or share in their demise: Dramatic + poetic at the same time.

There is friction surrounding whether this cover suites the story and author’s tone of voice. This cover design is a grand departure from Rosella’s first novel along the same theme. No question that it would jump off the shelf, but is it a misleading sell?

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Here Is Where We Disembark

Clea Roberts is a poet from Whitehorse and this forthcoming collection focuses on the North, incorporating historical threads and ecological concerns. We came to a consensus that the cover should be sparse, cold, speak to both the past and present, and possibly incorporate landscape or water.

While reading the manuscript, I recalled a black + white photo series I did a few years ago with my old Pentax SLR. It must have been mid-November and I was lucky enough to witness (and capture on film) a lake freezing over. I set up a tripod on the dock and took a new shot every couple of hours over the course of two days. The water was still open on the first night (really cold…) and by morning, the surface had started to ice over.

A contact sheet for one of the (many) rolls of film:

I made two covers using these negatives:

Some blatant product pushing for Kodak:

They both represent the book nicely. The reader is first greeted with an environment that is unknown, isolated, and a bit haunting. The publisher picked the first, more simplistic cover. (Reinforcing a typical industry standard: When presented with multiple options, the client will almost always pick the designer’s least favourite design. So don’t show anybody anything you aren’t completely happy with, exclamation point.)

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This past weekend, the author of Aphelion and NeWest’s GM joined me with glue-sticks in hand to make bands which will wrap around review copies of the book. The line “cross the pond” playfully obscures the title and reinforces the continental drift scene I tried to orchestrate with the stones:

“Aphelion” is the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid, or comet at which it is furthest from the sun. The poems encompass the idea of physical/emotional distance and contrast the human and natural world. Each poem is grounded in the landscape of either Europe or Canada, depending on where she was writing at the time.

To achieve the high contrast lighting in the photo, I placed the stones in their groups on blue tissue paper inside my bathtub, using the contained area and white fiberglass walls to control the depth and direction of the shadow.

The stones in my cover photo was inspired in particular by two consecutive poems in the collection called “Petroglyph Trail” and “Letter to Nancy”:

“light catches the stone
just     so
revealing hairline fractures
small imperfections

dusk breaking
across marble
your absence”

I paired Gill’s Joanna with Barnbrook’s Priori sans and serif.


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From Ice to Ashes

I just came across one of my discarded cover mockups for this thriller novel. I never presented it to the publisher because of the questionable readability in the title. But I like the texture (created by scanning in crumpled saran wrap over top of the type)


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A Magpie’s Smile

I recently designed the jacket and interior for a chronological police thriller written by Eugene Meese that takes place in Calgary in the 1970s. I shot the cover photo using a magpie feather I found in my backyard, bending it to create the concave shape. The word “smile” in the title block was sculpted out of floss (a little facetious maybe) and is accompanied by the typeface Galliard, which was designed by Matthew Carter in 1978 and later licensed by ITC.

It’s always a challenge to make a mystery cover that evokes a sense of suspense without falling into that conventional clichéridden thriller category. (No blood, bullet holes or all caps necessary.)

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