Category Archives: Things that got my hands dirty

The Wealthy Farmer

“How to Manage Your Land and Run a Profitable Farm” . . . as told by a man who studied business management and originally scoffed at the idea of farming as a legitimate way to earn an income. (Also note that he was not an outdoorsy guy and was addicted to fast food, which make for intriguing prerequisites.) After a really successful transition to food-grower/hoe-holder, he shares his business model.

The author envisioned the cover as a photo of himself standing in front of his farm with a pitchfork and a handful of money. But unfortunately/fortunately this photo shoot did not happen, so it was my turn to come up with an idea. Since the emphasis of the book is on profitability rather than raising chickens and feeding your family, I upheld the dolla billz, combining them with garden tools to make a creative ‘$’ in an illustrative style.

(You’ll notice this post is categorized under both “Published” and “Rejected” since the manuscript has been delayed and I’ll be waiting on approval for a while.)

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Social Democracy After the Cold War

Offering a comparative look at social democratic experience since the Cold War, this volume examines countries where social democracy has long been an influential political force — Sweden, Germany, Britain, and Australia — while also considering the history of Canada’s NDP.

The editors wanted to use the Socialist International rose-in-fist image on the cover. My proposal for a more informal and inventive interpretation of the organizations’s poetic logo was approved.

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Dance, Gladys, Dance

Five Steps to an Ordinary Life:

1. Get a real job.
2. Stop seeing the world as a series of potential paintings.
3. Learn how to talk about the weather.
4. Do the things that normal people do.
5. Figure out what normal people actually do.

The synopsis for the 2012 NeWest Press release: 27-year-old Frieda Zweig is at an impasse. Behind her is a string of failed relationships and half-forgotten ambitions of being a painter; in front of her lies the dreary task of finding a real job and figuring out what “normal” people do with their lives. Then, a classified ad for a ’78 phonograph in the local paper introduces Frieda to Gladys, an elderly woman who long ago gave up on her dreams of being a dancer.

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Hobohemia and the Crucifixion Machine

Although it sounds a lot like the name of a punk rock band, it is actually a book based on Todd McCallum’s Queen’s University doctoral thesis. It examines homeless men and the provision of public and private relief in Great Depression era British Columbia.

McCallum is currently researching comic books and so he steered me in that direction, suggesting a graphic illustration in which the city is surrounded by hobo jungles, as if under attack. I liked the atypical approach; most books on this topic go with a black+white photo of unemployed transient Vancouverites standing by the tracks.

I became fixated on cardboard throughout the drawing process and so my backup plan (let’s face it: the comic is rather informal for PhD-wielding author being published by a university press) involves positioning shipping icons in a way that suggests economic downturn, followed by relief, followed by Fordism-style labour camps and job creation.

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An examination of New York’s distant/not-so-distant history of violence.

The poems in Andy Weaver’s collection were composed somewhat mechanically, by cutting up, warping, and adapting existing texts. The title piece is chance-generated poetry inspired by the classic turn-of-the-century criminal study, The Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury. Weaver took the first and last line of each page, typed them out as a series of couplets, and then whittled the poem down to its current state. I emulated Weaver’s writing technique on the cover — piecing together touristy photos from my visits to NYC, some burlap, and an old Draft Riot illustration — until I ended up with this


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Murder in the Chilcotin

For the third book in Roy Innes’ mystery series, I etched the cover image and title into an inked board using various pointy objects:

The interior chapter numbers are also carved by hand, based on FF Quadraat by Fred Smeijers.

I designed the last installment in 2007 using the same illustration technique. The setting is important in both books, so I found a way to describe two contrasting environments in a similar visual rhetoric: Downtown Vancouver and the cattle ranching district of West Caribou, British Columbia.


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Playing with dirt for a collection of plays by Ken CameronHarvest, My Morocco, and My One and Only.

This cover concept is my “anti-blue-sky-prairie-scene” approach: I raked loose dirt around to generate two victorian-style silhouettes. The suggested dialogue between the figures reflects the relationship between Cameron’s mother and father in the title play. All three plays have central male-female relationships actually, so it represents the collection nicely. (But unfortunately leaves Cameron’s reinvention of Marilyn Monroe out…)

Just two days before we go to print, it is decided that a pot leaf needs to make an appearance on the cover. Marijuana = shock appeal and marketability, apparently. Design briefs work much better at the beginning of the process, not at the end. Nevertheless, I went digging through the garden for art supplies, again.

I prefer my original concept, but author trumps designer on this one.

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14 Tractors

John Deere inspired.

Low bow to Gerry Hill and NeWest Press for snaring the Poetry Award at the Saskatchewan Book Awards last night.

The word “tractors” in the title block was hand-drawn. The rest of the 14 tractors appear on the back of the jacket.

The interior is full of visual material pilfered from vintage tractor manuals and photographs taken by Shelley Sopher.

I was originally aiming for an understated prairie poetry feel with the cover, but playing with the visual aesthetic of the retro John Deere manuals was so much more fun. The end result is unavoidable on the shelf.

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Gerbil Mother

A sardonic look at motherhood and the family dynamic through the eyes of an unborn baby narrating from inside her mother’s womb. The one client stipulation for this cover was “no fetuses on the front, please.”

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Seal Intestine Raincoat

My cover illustration for a cautionary tale with a bleak portrayal of socio-economic collapse resulting from an unsustainable way of life.

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