Friday, November 20, 2015

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

This week I received a copy of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a new cover I designed for W. W. Norton and art directed by Debra Morton Hoyt. The final cover printed beautifully, thanks in large part to an amazingly detailed painting of Sor Juana from the 17th century (I love her eye staring down the viewer).

The original painting before cropping/recoloring:

Anonymous, 17th century / Portrait of Sor Juana de la Cruz / Museo de American, Madrid, Spain / Photo credit: Art Resource, NY

As a book designer, you go through so many comps in a year, it's easy to forget what you sent in for the first round. Sor Juana was a title I worked on almost a year ago, but I was reminded of the other designs I turned in after receiving the printed book. Luckily, this project had a fairly quick approval process and we moved forward with just slight revisions on the cover above. Here are a few other typographically driven comps I was pleased with (though I fully understand why the final was chosen):

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Price of Thirst

A newly released book about our global water crisis, published by University of Minnesota Press.

The idea was to position this title in the trade market as much as possible, while setting it apart from other covers about the water crisis which incorporate water imagery.

The first option I showed is a graphic approach. The water droplet is multiplied and creates an alarming visual:

The final cover is below. The image, by Amit Dave, is a haunting photo. My art director, Rachel Moeller, described the photograph as succinctly representing the "thirst" and "chaos" of the title. I didn't want the type to overwhelm the impact of the image, so it is clean and bold. The cover type is also incrementally scaled down as as visual metaphor for the diminishing water supply:

Cover photograph © Amit Dave/Reuters/Corbis

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Empathy Exams

Last year, Graywolf Press assigned me Leslie Jamison's extraordinary book, The Empathy Exams. The book has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller, no small feat for a work of essays.

Essays and short story collections can be difficult to design for. Typically, I try to hone in on one of the essays and tie the cover into the imagery and theme of that essay.

The title essay is about the author’s time working as a medical actor, where she would act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose.  I didn't necessarily want to portray the book in a sterile, cold way related to a hospital setting, rather I wanted to evoke the feeling of empathy. I used warm colors and paint to project the rawness of the writing.

A heart, the source of empathy, or at least what we use as a visual for love, was an initial starting point. As a nod to the medical part of the essay, a graphic illustration of a heart is used. 

The photo used below made me think of a hospital setting with different ailments being diagnosed.

Below is an illustration I made of a hospital gown. I liked the transparency and simplicity of the gown, but I assume it came off too cold.

We kept refining the one with the heart, trying multiple color treatments. These comps used hand-painted type (based on a font). I liked the slight indication of pain with the the spiked letters. It became clear the type was not working for Graywolf though, so I refined the lettering for legibility and brought back in the subtle color variations from the original painting.  

The final design is below:

Graywolf Press 2014, Art directed by Michael Taeckens

Monday, November 5, 2012

Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire is an inspiring memoir by Susannah Cahalan, a New York based journalist. Here is an excerpt from the author's site:

My memoir Brain on Fire chronicles the swift path of my illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving my life. As weeks ticked by and I moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit me to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning me to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined my team. He asked me to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing me with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which my body was attacking my brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

The original direction on this cover was for it to be warm, clean, and evocative—something that may allude to the medical aspect of the writing but still look approachable and human. The publisher nixed the idea of a photo of the author on the cover, so these were to be type driven comps.

Here are a few of the 1st round comps:

--> I wanted this comp to have a graphic pattern that might be mistaken for flowers, when in fact the elements are small icons of antibodies. The author explained that her condition meant that the antibodies began attacking her body, so in this case I have them attacking (in a beautiful, non-scary way) the title.    

The author speaks of chronicling her illness through her journal entries (and her father's own entries), so this is a nod to that important writing which was a crucial key to piecing her story together.

A more straightforward illustration....which is developed upon below in the 2nd round.


The initial feedback was that these comps were too clinical, so my art director asked me to try a new angle. They wanted me to not use the brain or make this look more like a memoir, focusing on the survival story and the personal aspect of the book, as opposed to the brain science.

Here, I created a more intimate version of the silhouette. The title is trapped in her head and the painted background alludes to fire. The scattered sunflower petals also show a "burst," such as flames, but are softened in this context.

The author explains how her speech and writing became increasingly incoherent during her illness. I used the title as though the author had written it out over and over, showing the progression of the title growing more and more illegible and then recovering at the end.

I also wanted to try something that would suggest the inner functioning of a brain without being too literal. This image really struck me. I think it evokes a network of neurons without showing anything clinical or technical. It’s amazing how items from nature can call to mind completely unrelated phenomena. I also liked how the hand is reaching up and starting to lift. The one lone flower stretches through the top of the title in a hopeful way.

In the end, none of these comps worked and the publisher chose another designer’s more straightforward approach with an author photo on the cover. I'm happy I had the opportunity to read this inspiring book and design comps for it, despite not having one chosen.

Free Press, Art Director: Eric Fuentecilla

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Success Equation

Last Spring, I worked on this title for Stephani Finks at Harvard Business Review Press. Stephani, as always, gave me the perfect direction...and from there I had a great visual metaphor to draw upon:

The "Untangling" in the sub is really the crux of the book – Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing.

From the beginning a graphic, type driven design was my approach on all the comps. Here are two alternate designs and the final red one. It makes sense the author would gravitate to the comp that includes insets of each of the three topics discussed in the book (business, sports and investing), though it lacked any visual relationship to the word "untangling." I was still hoping for the green one which plays on this theme the best in my opinion, but the final design does make a good fit.

The final jacket

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Designer Genes

A couple years ago I briefly worked on a title called Designer Genes. Here is a short summary from the tip sheet:

The possibility exists that there will arise an elite class of genetically engineered citizens, followed by an era where each generation selects the genetic makeup of the subsequent generation. This man-driven evolution will replace Darwinian natural selection.

This is a compelling concept. The approach needed to be accessible and warm, but sill authoritative. Here are a couple of the options I sent along (forgive the quick photoshop work). In the end they went back to a previous designer's comp. Still, an interesting topic and I was pleased with these two directions.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Hello again / New book project

Signs, Streets and Storefronts is a new book project that recently wrapped up. From Amazon:

Signs, Streets, and Storefronts addresses more than 200 years of signs and place-marking along America’s commercial corridors. From small-town squares to Broadway, State Street, and Wilshire Boulevard, Martin Treu follows design developments into the present and explores issues of historic preservation.

I began with the interior design first and adapted the cover about a month later. Here is an alternate comp from the first (and only) round that is closer to the interior design. The idea was that the blue would be a metallic:

However, the consensus was that this orange cover was more dynamic:


Below is a sampling of the interior spreads. The book is b&w throughout with a color signature. The shapes and angles of the signs are appealing and it struck me that recreating them might be a nice addition to the chapter openers. Once I redrew the lines and integrated them into the spreads, I carried this style element throughout the book on the TOC and  frontmatter. Definitely a fun project (especially placing the Lustig graphics throughout).