Are You Ready to be Lucky?
This book falls somewhere between a novel-in-stories and an interconnected short story collection. At the outset, the editor described the structure as something like a pinball machine. You never know exactly which character you’re going to get, as they pop up and then disappear, in a relentless pursuit of happiness, trying again and again to get it right. The three male silhouettes on the circular bumpers represent the men Roslyn ricochets between: Harold, Duncan, and Floyd.
One of the stories (called “In Which Floyd’s Speedometer Surpasses the Million Kilometer Mark and Friends and Acquaintances Reduce Their Clutter”) even shares pinball game terms in the footnotes. For your delight and education:
Thwacker: A funnel-shaped device where the ball enters at the wide top and spins to the narrow bottom.
The backbox: The backbox portion of the table serves two purposes: to hold the main electronics of the game. And to attract players.
Nudge: A method of trying to control the ball by moving the machine.
After many hours and coins spent on “research,” my arcade illustration was declared unduly frivolous — a far too literal depiction of “luck.” So it was GAME OVER for me. (Couldn’t resist.)
Shallow Enough to Walk Through
The narrative of Marissa Reaume’s forthcoming novel incorporates some typographic styling: the main character, an aspiring writer, uses
strikethroughs to eliminate events and parts of her life that she doesn’t like. I wanted to work with this same idea on a type-dominant cover.
During my read-through, I found the perpetual grey skies and struggling characters to be pretty bleak, and was having trouble reconciling my interpretation with the colourful chick-lit presentation the publisher requested. So, stubbornly, I failed with my first three attempts, which were deemed too drab and muted. I was asked to try again, to incorporate a photographic image of a woman somehow, and to shoot for something more arresting, urban, and whimsical. So I re-read the MS and focused less on the puddles and more on the lively, energetic scenes: dancing and hot pink toe nails are featured prominently in the plot.
A fun fact: when you paint letters on paper with nail polish, it basically never dries. Seriously, 5 days and counting, and it’s still tacky.
Arigato Tokyo / This is War
Playwrights Canada Press is working closely together with the Banff Centre Press to co-publish three plays by three different authors. They were seeking unique designs for each book that relate visually as a matching set. I started with the first two, by Daniel MacIvor and Hannah Moscovitch, which will be released in the fall. The third, by Colleen Murphy, will follow in spring 2014.
The first direction relied on construction paper cutouts, simple objects, and a limited colour palette of red, green, and brown, to tie the books together. For MacIvor’s cover, I was determined to render a scene from the last act, in Carl’s declaration to Yori, when he describes a marble-sized world that exists only in his head and his struggle to not fall off. For Moscovitch, I chose stools to represent the four Canadian soldiers being questioned by an unseen, unheard interviewer about an traumatizing occurrence in the Panjwaii desert.
The selected direction proposed plain black silhouettes adorned with emblems from each play. It’s a flexible system that should lend itself well if PCP & BCP decide to expand the series in the future.
The Ends of the Earth
A poetic guide for the apocalypse. Jacqueline Turner’s work touches on technological disasters, environmental nightmares, and broken relationships.
She sent along some photos, taken with her phone, of an earth as seen through an urban grid. (This particular globe is in the lobby of the Fairmont hotel in Vancouver.) I tried to conceptualize this using a fish eye lens, a topographical map, and some grid paper, but wasn’t happy with the result which felt really flat despite the curvature.
My next turn played up the technology theme with unravelling loops of wire. Still wasn’t thrilled at this point.
Because the collection juxtaposes urban settings with deserted islands, I set out looking for a windswept, double exposed photo for use on the cover. Here is one of the passages from the “Castaway Series” in the collection that influenced the look and feel of the cover:
“dear sailor every night the stars speak of you. the north star seems particularly infatuated with your image and whispers adagio as salty spray hits your worn back. a moment here is eternity light folds into waves and this world is rebuilt second by second, an ephemeral mirage. the tissue of our connection floats on the wind, a lost kite that may some day be returned to its flyer. i have cast out many strands, dear sailor, i have told the stars this story.”
Letter From Brooklyn
The cover of Jacob Scheier’s last collection, More to Keep Us Warm, featured an illustration by Jason Kieffer. He generously provided some great sketches for consideration and I jumped in with some concepts of my own as well.
Instead of a Brooklyn street scene, I thought a view from the street, looking up, might be less conventional and better matched to the author’s voice. I was inspired by the line “how Brooklyn makes me nostalgic for the moment I am walking inside of” and the way Scheier contrasts the bridge on the skyline and tree branches bent over the streets. A busy scene with lots of traffic wouldn’t achieve the same sense of loneliness.
I was trying to veer away from imagery of the Brooklyn bridge, but I think it becomes quite interesting when abstracted as a pattern. When turned on its side, the bridge cables look like telephone wires, connecting people on the left and right.
Then there’s my “letterhead” idea, which I don’t believe anyone liked.
The Lays of Marie de France
The author introduced this collection with the following words:
Marie’s subjects are the charms and difficulties of love of various kinds and the way goodness and wickedness are rewarded and punished in a complicated world. But it would be a disservice to her and to the poems to try to extract a philosophical or political “position” from pieces that are, I think, written as entertainments and deliberately mixed in approach and attitude. One might think of these poems as toys for adults, for they are decorous variations on themes from fairy tales and Märchen.
And then he sent along a fantastical picture of a werewolf for use on the cover.
Using futuristic folklore imagery on the cover seemed incongruous with the lyrical translations of twelfth-century french lais inside. I wanted to describe a creature of fable in a style that doesn’t contradict the era quite so loudly. So I roughed out a tail with some ink, leaving the face of the beast to the imagination, and paired it with the most geriatric typeface I could find (though it’s still a few hundred years younger than the High Middle Ages) Bruce Rogers’s calligraphic Centaur.
The Miracles of Ordinary Men
This is a spiritually complex novel about a man named Sam growing wings and a woman named Lilah finding meaning in violence and pain.
Sam periodically sheds feathers, which crumple and turn into black dust as they fall to the ground. I combined feather and dust imagery on the cover to show this disintegration, but also to imply creation (like a phoenix rising from the ashes) so that the cover references the transformation of both characters, not just Sam. (The ash in this case is graphite powder shaved onto my scanner bed.)
My other draft focuses on only one of the story lines. Sam is forced to rip holes in all his shirts to accommodate the wings, which is exactly what I’ve done in order to show, in a simplified way, how his metamorphosis has produced “a great gaping hole where his life used to be.”
A Guide to Growing Marijuana Indoors
Originally we thought the best solution for the cover of this handbook might be to avoid grow-op, basement, and marijuana plant imagery entirely. However, the sales folks laid down the verdict: my designs look like they belong with fiction rather than a non-fiction gardening book. Plus, it’s not at all evident that we’re splurging on a 4-colour interior. I was hoping the market differentiation would be viewed as a positive thing, but not so. Comparable titles have photo-based covers, so that’s the direction we went in, using a foliage snapshot the author supplied.
I just don’t think anyone appreciated my artificial grow-light mise en scène.
Restless White Fields
Barbara Langhorst’s unsentimental collection of poetry revisits a violent personal tragedy. Over the course of the book, we learn that the author’s father shot and killed her mother, then committed suicide.
Treading lightly around such difficult emotional territory, it was a challenge to determine the right marketing approach for the book and how much information to reveal about the traumatic subject matter.
My initial idea, a few wispy pieces of Kleenex, was fuelled by a line from the collection: “your steps corner the bed your living death fades forgotten in tissue paper slips.” It was considered too amorphous, not drawing a strong enough connection to grasses in a pasture like I intended.
The gunsight concept went too far the other direction: overly aggressive and emphatic. The author wanted to focus on the themes of healing and rebuilding, rather than the brutal event itself. The final cover removed the weapon reference, leaving just the cold, blanched field and some translucent type.
The typeface is Goudy’s lyrical Deepdene, with some very sexy ligatures.
The Crimes of Hector Tomás
This is an epic novel — both the physical size of it, and its ability to induce traumatic nightmares — about disappearance and deception, family and nation. Exiled by his parents to the isolated countryside, Hector is accused of terrorism — a crime of which he is innocent, yet ruthlessly punished. As he tries desperately to extricate himself from the violence perpetrated by a brutal political regime, he realizes that freedom can only come at a terrible price. It’s one of those books you have to take breaks from in order to regain some sense of calm and morality.
My first comp anchors the title on two levels potentially: as a tally of crimes committed by Hector Tomás, or as scratches in a cell wall where someone is being held and tortured.
The second, which you will see on shelves this September, hides eerie scenes behind letters, obscuring a medley of images relating to violence, male and female figures, and trains.
The Shore Girl
The Shore Girl follows Rebee from her toddler to her teen years as she grapples with her mother’s fears and addictions, and her own desire for a normal life. Through a series of narrators — family, friends, teachers, strangers, and Rebee herself — her family’s dark past, and the core of her mother’s despair, are slowly revealed.
Rebee and her mother usually escape their problems at night, ricocheting around rural Alberta in a busted white van.
Another concept I presented was derived from the preliminary title “The Shore Girl Clippings” which refers to the nail trimmings that Rebee saves in a jar and carries around from place to place. She also has a slightly mangled hand from when her mother refused treatment for a broken finger. These character traits were just begging for a collage of some sort.
Martini With a Twist
This project came with a title pun of sorts and a too-good-to-be-true brief: “just do some kind of bold, colourful, perhaps Art Deco-style all-text cover.” I went straight to the typeface Bifur, originally designed by Cassandre in 1929 and recreated by P22 in the 90s. The ‘Y’ letterform already looks a bit like a martini glass, it only needed minor adjustments.
About the plays: Absurdity reigns in multiple award-winning author and playwright Clem Martini’s newest collection of work: five plays spanning two decades, from 1989 to 2009. A lonely elephant handler befriends the half-blind woman who drove through his yard, a severed head in a suitcase life support system is given a second chance at life, a quiet shut-in wrestles with the jealous ghost of his wife, a young woman with the ability to smell lies struggles to make new friends, and a mismatched pod of whales in the Pacific Ocean struggle with identity, love, and interspecies dating. With a sharp tongue and impeccable comedic timing, Martini’s characters resonate beyond their impossible situations, their fears and hesitations all too human.
The other concept I was asked to mock up is a whale swimming inside a martini glass. I gave it a go, I really did, but it somehow evolved into a martini-fuelled photo shoot using the glass I was drinking from to obscure the title.
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.
Witness to a Conga
“You really can’t say no to a conga. Ever.”
Witness to a Conga, The Oculist’s Holiday, and Happy Toes — three plays originally written for the Edmonton Fringe Festival by Stewart Lemoine — soon to be coexisting between covers. Proficiently described by the publisher as “unexpectedly emotional explorations of marriage, love, and family.” Look for copies of the book at the Fringe this summer.
In the title play, Martin Lowell’s impending wedding, and his indecisiveness on the subject of including a conga at the reception, stirs up memories of his parents’ divorce and the great, unattainable love of his life. I set out to make a simple, linear dance seem more confusing and complicated than it actually is. The footsteps give the sensation of being on the outside of the fun, observing/discerning/learning from a distance.
I considered this next sketch rejected when the playwright admitted to not seeing a pair of glasses in the set of conga drums like I intended.
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.
And Me Among Them
Ruth grew too fast.
The protagonist in Kristen den Hartog’s new novel is a girl with gigantism. From a bird’s-eye perspective, Ruth recollects her struggles to connect with other children in small-town, post-WWII Canada, and observes the lives of her parents, Elspeth, an English war bride and seamstress, and James, a mailman.
My first concept comes from a particularly compassionate moment in the book, when a boy takes the laces out of all his shoes and ties them together to make an extra long pair for Ruth. Shoelaces appear again in a less sentimental way after a bully ties Ruth’s shoes together to trip her at school. And once more in an excerpt that is so good, it needs to be reproduced here:
They boarded with their arms linked, and their two stories together were like strands made into a knot; you cross them, you tuck one under the other, and cinch them close. So simple, and yet it took me forever to learn how to tie laces. I thought I would never know, and then one day it came to me. I thought, That’s all? Because it had looked so complicated for so long.
Second idea: Ruth’s homemade pants that are lovingly pieced together by her mother, who unstitches and refashions her own dresses to make her daughter’s patchwork clothes longer, bigger, wider each time she grows.
In the selected cover, I was playing with the idea of Ruth existing in an awkward space between her home on the ground with the rest of the world, and the sky. At one point, her father renovates their house, lifting the roof off to raise the ceiling height.
The Doctrine of Affections
Playing with dirt for a collection of plays by Ken Cameron: Harvest, 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.
The Political Economy of Workplace Injury in Canada
Instead of focusing on workplace safety (hardhats and goggles) or going gruesome like a lot of the Workers’ Comp. ad campaigns do, I decided to hit a sympathetic note with injury related imagery.
(1) Okay, I just mocked up the cast using a stock photo. I’ve done a lot of things to get a photo for a project (including tying my little brother to a chair, coating a person’s face with charcoal, persuading the director of the University bookstore to open the doors on a holiday and sell me medical equipment… to name a few.) But sneaking into a hospital to write on an injured person seemed excessive.
(2) I fashioned a book with the title on the front and then bandaged it up. I considered using band aids, but the gauze really gives the impression it’s holding something fragile together when wrapped around to the back of the jacket.
(3) A prime example of what I like to call opportunistic typography:
Personifying letterforms and then decapitating them.
(4) The approved concept exhibits the title on the greeting card in a looming get well soon bouquet. The sombre tone suits the content and alludes to injury and consequence without showing it.
From Bricks to Brains
Absolutely thrilled to be playing with LEGO in the name of literature.
(1) My challenge was finding ways to reveal LEGO as a psychological tool, not a toy. The first concept shows an inventory of pieces, leaving the final fabrication up to the imagination of the viewer.
(2) This next idea resulted from two things:
First – The LEGO robot I was attempting to build fell apart suddenly.
Second – When I’m lacking inspiration, I usually attempt to put type on something that isn’t suppose to have type on it. (also known as vandalism to some) I wrote on the blocks by hand, but it looked too unmethodical, so I covered it with a bold sans serif. (Thank you, Erik)
(3) A change in direction: Juxtapose the personal with the mechanical, I rendered the familiar building blocks as a pattern instead of a tool. However, the drawing style is a little too juvenile for graduate level psychology.
(4) Okay, I’ll put a robot on it. The final cover employs a rendering of a LEGO robot discussed in the text, cropped to abstract the form slightly.
Sometimes it’s nice to rescue a rejected cover idea by using it for the back of the jacket or interior design somehow. I placed an inventory of LEGO pieces isometric-projection-style on the back instead, creating a nice before and after relationship with the already-constructed robot on the front. We printed a spot gloss over the red lines and text.
“little windfall apples / green cherry bombs / each with unlit fuse”
(From one of Richard Stevenson’s poems.)
I think the imagery that these lines evoke is really interesting. However the publisher felt my apple-bomb was a little enigmatic and could be mistaken for a Christmas ornament.
I possess a natural aptitude for taking out of focus photographs, which actually worked in my favor here. The lack of focus obscures the object, but the imagery is still too direct.
My first two photographic attempts were abandoned for an illustrative approach that suits Stevenson’s work better. The square format (5 x 5″) provides symmetry and generous white space around each of the five-line poems.
It was a two colour job using orange and brown ink on yellow paper (mohawk via) with a linen finish. The interior includes a few colour pages. I lifted the orange/yellow hues from the original photos and then placed the colour back on top of greyscale versions, resulting in sort-of-duotones.
No blood, weapons, or other cliche imagery allowed.
The cover mocks take different visual approaches to the same concept, using matches to tie in with the title and suggest a potentially precarious situation.
The cover of Smoked was recently acknowledged as one of Lambda Literary’s best book covers of 2010. (Residing humbly in the list among some really impressive work by Rodrigo Corral Design, Jason Booher, Eric Hanson, and Chip Kidd.)
We came up with a fun but potentially perilous marketing strategy: matchbooks.
More matchbooks here!
Canadian Literature at the Crossroads
“One more time, with panache,” the editor requested after rejecting my first two ideas.
This is the first book to gather essays by Barbara Godard, one of the leading figures in the field of Canadian studies. Her work has been instrumental in interrogating the normative ways in which we think about Canadian culture.
Below are two initial mockups for the cover design followed by a photo of the final product. It was a challenge to make use of the prominent Canadian art piece while achieving the “panache” (client’s expression, not mine) that the editor was looking for.
[ art = “Sans titre.” Marian Dale Scott, Acrylique sur toile, 213 x 101cm, Printed with permission: Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec]
The sans serif is Priori Sans designed by Jonathan Barnbrook in ’03.