Friday, September 17, 2010

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

Many times I receive a manuscript, read it through and just hope I can do the writing justice with a cover design. This is the case with Robin Black's beautiful If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This. As with all short story collections, the difficulty lies in finding imagery that can represent the tone of all the stories.

From the Random House website:

"Brilliant, hopeful, and fearlessly honest, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This illuminates the truths of human relationships, truths we come to recognize in these characters and in ourselves."


The title story is where I originally began. It centers on a woman who is dying of cancer addressing her neighbour, who wants to erect a fence that blocks her driveway. The fence became a visual icon for me in the first round of comps:

The second set of imagery I used was paint strokes, inspired by the story, Immortalizing John Parker. The main character, who is a painter, reflects on her own life while painting a portrait of an aging Alzheimer's patient.

The painterly feel of the comps was what I was asked to concentrate on and from there a series of painted comps was submitted for review. First warm, then cooler colors...

Towards the end, the focus shifted back to an earlier comp with the 9 paint strokes. From there, we adjusted the background color and the final jacket was complete. Seen below is the front cover, spine and back:

A small aside: Initially I used 9 paint strokes because the manuscript I received over a year ago had 9 stories. It wasn't until I showed up for Robin's book reading at Bryn Mawr College that I realized the book had 10 stories.

Friday, July 23, 2010


hello there, apologies for the gap in posting.

First post up for the summer is Connected. This book came to me from Julianna Lee at Little Brown. A interesting project since I already owned the hardcover, bought in part because of how much I liked the hc jacket (designed by Julianna). The direction was to take an entirely different approach than the jacket....maybe something closer to this cover I did many years ago.

Here is a quick summary from Amazon:

Scientists Christakis and Fowler present compelling evidence for our profound influence on one another's tastes, health, wealth, happiness, beliefs, even weight, as they explain how social networks form and how they operate.

My first idea was to form the letters out of groups of people. I spent an inordinate amount of time placing these silhouettes. This was a favorite concept on my part, but was deemed too difficult to read because of the title not reading as one word.

On this comp, I graphically connected the letters and layered them over a crowd of people:

The final cover is a literal interpretation, but bold & iconic. Small figures with an overlying grid showing the multiple connections. Printed a bright orange with the gray printing metallic. A fun project to work on...

Friday, June 18, 2010


Congrats to all the winners, a very beautiful selection this year:

Friday, April 30, 2010

Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto

About a year ago I began a cover project for Graywolf Press called Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto. I was immediately struck by the title. The book has just printed (final cover at the end). Here is a summary of the novel from Amazon:

In a remote, piney wood in Finland stands a convalescent hospital called Suvanto, a curving concrete example of austere Scandinavian design. It is the 1920s, and the patients, all women, seek relief from a variety of ailments real and imagined. On the lower floors are the stoic local Finnish women; on the upper floors are foreign women of privilege—the “up-patients.” They are tended to by the head nurse, Sunny Taylor, an American who has escaped an ill-starred life only to retreat behind a mask of crisp professionalism.

Summer turns to fall, and fall to a long, dark winter. The patients begin to hear rumors about the changes being implemented at
Suvanto by an American obstetrician, Dr. Peter Weber, who is experimenting with a new surgical stitch. Their familiar routine threatened, the women are not happy (they were not happy before), and the story’s escalating menace builds to a terrifying conclusion.

At the beginning of the project my art director at Graywolf gave me several good bits of info to lead me along in my design process: The hospital building and it’s nod to the gothic, austere beauty, seductive darkness, the body and its meat-like reality and the feel of a greek tragedy. All strong elements to work with.

The main element that stood out to me was the body and the surgical stitch used in the story. These factor strongly into my design directions. I also was struck by the title...sounded like writing from a formal invitation. I make reference to this with the panel holding the type. The bright red line is meant to evoke stitching lines:

Stitches & the human body (with it's meat-like quality):

The body sectioned using a woman from the 1920s era and the sewing stitch again:

The nurse portrayed in an austere illustration style:

Revisions came back from this first round and I reworked the comps a bit. On this revised comp a small splattering of blood was added to the "invitation" as well as a new image of the hospital.

A (menacing) hospital bed, with the stitched type on top:

It became clear that the stitched type was liked, but I wasn't happy with the computer generated look on the older comps. I redrew all the stitching by hand for the next round to give it a more organic feel:

The author had an image in mind throughout the process that I hadn't used early on, but was brought back into the later rounds of revisions. The photograph by Elina Brotherus seemed to capture the mood the author was after. I then paired the stitched type over the photo (with the consent of the photographer) and our final cover was ready:

The printed cover with a spot gloss on the title:

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Bluesiana Snake Festival

Every time a title from Counterpoint lands on my desk, I know I'm in for a creative challenge. Their authors are innovative voices in publishing and on my end, it makes for interesting subject matter to work with. Such is the case with The Bluesiana Snake Festival. Here is a short description via Amazon:

"Through a blend of voices — Big Jim Bullshit, Shushubaby, and Brooklyn Bob, to name a few — the musical voice of New Orleans is revealed in its varied dialects, grooves reminiscent of ragtime, jazz, and blues. The result is a look into who these folks are, their ways and beliefs, their senses of truth, and of existence itself. A novel about the joy and beauty of life in the depths, the momentum and narrative heart isn’t driven by a plot — it’s about the trance."

Originally I was asked to consider a piece of artwork, but I felt like it was limiting in it's appeal. Thankfully the publisher and editor were supportive and allowed me free reign to try other directions. After reading the first line of the manuscript it was clear to me the writing was lyrical and rhythmic. Instead of opting to show a straightforward shot of New Orleans, I instead used imagery of a snake which has a mysterious and fluid quality to it.

Comp 1 which has a flat, graphic look:

Comp 2: uses wood distressing and a snake in place of the "S"

And the final approved design using the snake, moon & even a broom representing the street sweepers. I layered the snakes to create the background pattern. Gray prints metallic:

The final paperback mechanical:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An interview

There is an interview with yours truly up at the Covered Up blog. I'm in some pretty great company with the past book designers interviewed. Take a look.

Friday, February 26, 2010

An update

Busy season so far. With most publishers finally wrapping up catalogs I can share some new covers. Next post will be on The Bluesiana Snake Festival since it just went to press!

Science Fiction, gas mask made out of poker chips, cards, dice & Las Vegas sign

Novel, hand lettered & illustrated


Non-fiction, B&W line drawings illustrated by Candace Sepulis


Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Blue Orchard

Sometimes you work on a cover, it gets approved, you're waiting for the email/call to get started on the mechanical and boom....the cover is killed. Why? Well, doesn't matter. Some internal conflict has rendered your cover a no go.

Case in point: a novel, The Blue Orchard.

Summary: On the eve of the Great Depression, Verna Krone, the child of Irish immigrants, must leave the eighth grade and begin working as a maid to help support her family. Her employer takes inappropriate liberties, and as Verna matures, it seems as if each man she meets is worse than the last. Through sheer force of will and a few chance encounters, she manages to teach herself to read and becomes a nurse. But Verna’s new life falls to pieces when she is arrested for assisting a black doctor with “illegal surgeries.” As the media firestorm rages, Verna reflects on her life while awaiting trial.

I was told to make this one "beautiful." Even heavy subject matter requires a pretty cover...

Here are the three comps submitted.

The comp below uses a vintage fruit crate label from my collection. The peach is meant to overwhelm the cover (and the main character, Verna). The numbered lines in the back reference the ledger she keeps of all the patients in the doctor's practice:

Again, I used (more of) the vintage art in a new composition, this time paired with an image of a maid. Verna originally worked as a maid before becoming a nurse.

For the third comp, I mocked up the front & back. Using a vintage illustration of a woman from a stock house as reference, I redrew/recolored the figure to represent Verna. On the front cover I have her dressed as a maid, and on the back as a nurse, each time holding the peaches which are a symbolic of her family orchard.

The top comp above was chosen. A few months later the cover was killed. Too bad, I liked this one...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich

A few years ago I worked on this title for PublicAffairs. This is an incredible story written by Sonia's son. From Booklist:

Reich's Jewish mother lived in the town of Dubno, Poland, as a child. In 1941, when she was 11, she began a four-year journey of running and hiding from the Nazis, coming to the U.S. when she was 16. She worked in candy and clothing factories in Chicago and met the author's father, a survivor of a death march to Buchenwald, on a blind date. On February 15, 2001, when she was living in Skokie, Illinois, she packed some clothes in two shopping bags and fled, believing that someone was trying to kill her, "to put a bullet in my head." She was diagnosed as having late-onset post-traumatic stress disorder, was admitted to a psychiatric ward, and then to an assisted-living facility.

From the author:
"In the midst of my mother's stunning soliloquy of rage and delusion, of anger and fear and accusation," Reich writes, "I finally, belatedly, incredibly realized that this was all about the war, and what awful things must have happened to my mother when she was a child, pursued because she was a Jew."

This was obviously a very moving, disturbing story. The author provided a wealth of photographs of Sonia, though at first we weren't sure if we would use them.

From the first comps (which used a different title at the time) I was taken with the idea of ghosts from the past coming back to haunt Sonia. For this comp, I used a chair with the ghostly image of Sonia as a child overlaying it.

I also created an all type version:

With a title change (so that it wouldn't be put in the Holocaust memoir section), we also changed directions. This time we went with a film reel, the idea of images replaying over and over in Sonia's mind:

From there, the direction was to go back to something more thoughtful, so I merged these photos to create a woman (not Sonia) in front of a window. Still using that ghostly effect:

In the end we did some photo layering again, but this time with Sonia as an adult over a desolate, beautiful landscape image:

I had liked above how the type worked with the image, out of focus and moving, but I was asked to go back to a more straightforward treatment. Final is below: