Tag Archives: Freehand Books

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.)


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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.


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People Who Disappear

You already indulged my artistic ego by reading my cover design eulogy for Alex Leslie‘s poetic short fiction debut. After seeing the finished book in tangible form, I am done complaining. The approved design exhibits subtle colour shifts and whispery, barely-there type that really fits with the words, which have been described by reviewers as smoky, ominous, and surreal.

I created the ghostly display type by printing the title page (set in Freight Sans by Joshua Darden of GarageFonts) and photographing it out of focus.

The page numbers slowly migrate down the bottom margin, like a flip book, so that the final few folios disappear off the page. The printer thought it was a mistake and paused the job, of course.


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Hold Me Now

I’ve managed to hijack another striking piece of art for a small Canadian literary press.

Julia Skopnik‘s photo titled “my body questions you and your answers are in me” will grace the cover of an upcoming Freehand Books release by Stephen Gauer. Hold Me Now portrays a father’s grief after his son is beaten to death in Stanley Park,Vancouver, and the overt role that homophobia played in the incident.

Now I just have to figure out how to put type on it.

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Not Anyone’s Anything


(Click for detail of the jacket.)

There are three sets of three stories, with three of those stories further divided into thirds. 

Ian’s work is very experimental. The text is embedded with Korean flash cards, musical notations, literal basements, and divided/dual narratives.

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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.

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A story about Alzheimer’s, a mother, and a daughter.

I was fortunate to oversee the design of a graphic novel by the Vancouver-based writer/cartoonist, Sarah Leavitt. Sarah kept detailed notes and sketches for the duration of her mother’s illness, which will be coming to you in book form this summer from Freehand Books.

In spare black and white drawings and clear, candid prose, Sarah shares her family’s journey through a harrowing range of emotions — shock, denial, hope, anger, frustration — all the while learning to cope with a devastating diagnosis, and managing to find moments of happiness.

The font was built based on Sarah’s handwriting.

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Bitter Medicine

I decided to post this as a response to the many skeptical looks I’ve received after stating that I design books for a living.


This is what a book looks like pre-design. Basically, a massive pile of paper containing:
– Multiple versions of the manuscript typed up by the author in Microsoft word
– An editorial “road map” designating what might go where
– Lists with spelling, grammar, and stylistic corrections that need to be inserted from 3 or 4 rounds of editing
– Loose drawings torn from sketchbooks
– A reference guide labeling illustrations (in this case, 240 of them)
– Handwritten notes from all involved on $30 worth of post-its


This is what it looks like post-design and printing.

I designed a 6 x 10″ horizontal landscape format with 5″ wide jacket flaps that hold the author portrait drawings and bios. Olivier Martini is on the front flap and Clem Martini on the back.

The interior layout follows a 3-column grid system, running the illustrations on the verso pages and the text on the recto pages. I broke this rule occasionally to strengthen the dialogue between Clem and Olivier, when one brother’s story needed to take the spotlight.

Over the years, the various treatments Olivier experimented with affected his composure and the steadiness of his hands. So his mark-making changes throughout the book, reflecting side effects of medication like Stelazine.

On the back of the jacket:
“In 1976, Ben Martini was diagnosed with schizophrenia. A decade later, his brother Olivier was told he had the same disease. For the past thirty years the Martini family has struggled to comprehend and cope with a devastating illness, frustrated by a health care system lacking in resources and empathy, the imperfect science of medication, and the strain of mental illness on familial relationships.

Throughout it all, Olivier, an accomplished visual artist, drew. His sketches, comic strips, and portraits document his experience with, and capture the essence of, this all too frequently misunderstood disease. In Bitter Medicine, Olivier’s poignant graphic narrative runs alongside and communicates with a written account of the past three decades by his younger brother, award-winning author and playwright Clem Martini. The result is a layered family memoir that faces head-on the stigma attached to mental illness.

Shot through with wry humour and unapologetic in its politics, Bitter Medicine is the story of the Martini family, a polemical and poetic portrait of illness, and a vital and timely call for action.”



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The Doctrine of Affections

From the perfectly honed decrescendo of a symphony’s string section to the down-home chord progressions at a late-night kitchen party, Headrick’s stories question the subtle differences between hearing and listening, communicating and understanding.
The phrase Doctrine of Affections refers to the baroque ideal that music embodies the most profound emotions and that a single musical movement should arouse a single emotion in the sensitive listener. Staff lines on the flyleaf. The serif face is Linotype Janson Text, released in 1985 and based on the baroque typeface design by Miklós Kis originally completed in the late 17th century. Bits and pieces from the start of the title block that were cut out of some light green, 70’s-era composition paper.
I initially presented three cover concepts: (1) An old photo of some distressed sheet music that I took with my first SLR (a little Pentax MZ6). Scanning the dusty black+white negative brought out a lovely red/orange tinge that I accentuated afterwards. (2) A mandatory accessory on any long walk, complete with the tangled cord. I like the interaction and awkwardness of the type in this one. (3) A simple, graphic approach influenced by some retro composition paper I found.
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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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The cover concept stems from a visual poem by Jesse Patrick Ferguson called “mama” that merges visual art with the written word.

My cover illustration incorporates elements from Jesse’s visual poem called “mama” from the interior. The page numbers run vertically in the outer margins and switch direction in the second part the book. This orientation reflects the structure of the collection, where poems are grouped into pairs and appear at equal intervals in the two halves of the book. The first half contains the Fundamental Tones and the second holds the Overtones. The jacket is a 3-colour job with a spot UV gloss over the title, author name and outlines of the illustration.

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