Thursday, June 27, 2013

My Very First Book Covers Designed on a Mac

Way back in September 1992, when I was a Senior Designer in the St. Martin's Press Art Department, we received our first-hand glimpse into the future: a Macintosh Quadra 950. As a Wizard of hot wax paste up and mechanicals, and a Ruler of the Rapidograph pen and T-square, I looked at this warm gray hunk of circuits with both awe and fear. I poked and prodded this tower of power like primitive man's first encounter with the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The evolution of design had begun. Thus Spake Steve Jobs.

Excited to play around with this new toy, I launched the page layout program QuarkXPress 3.1 and stared at the screen. OK, now what?
I had a snapshot that I took at the Metropolitan Museum of (spoiler alert), Perseus with the Severed Head of Medusa (end spoiler), and I figured out how to use a digital scanner. But I couldn't figure out how get the image into Quark. Then I remembered that one of the designers here, Nat Estes, mentioned a file format called tiff. I resaved the image as a .TIF file and VOILA! Somehow I got it in there. I stumbled blindly, but excitedly, exploring and applying every dropbox menu filter, discovering how to manipulate type and image; alignments and spacings; boxes and rules; colors and tones. Right in front of my eyes. WOW. This is going to change everything. The Mac gave us new tools to slay monsters.

Below are my first mockup designs created digitally on a Mac:

2001: A Space Odyssey: The Dawn of Man

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan (Outtakes)

by Del Quentin Wilber / Picador

A minute-by-minute account of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan

I worked with Ron Edmonds's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of President Ronald Reagan at the moment of the shooting. I thought that the image was recognizable enough for me to abstract. To suggest the book’s close-up, in-depth exploration on this event, I cropped tightly into the expression on his face. I wanted the immediacy of a news event unfolding, so I converted the image into newspaper printing, halftone-dots. I chose a large dot pattern to further abstract the image and get you even closer. All of the type elements were placed in the repeated dot shapes that suggested gunshots. In the end, this was probably too sensational of an approach for this book.


Read photographer Ron Edmonds/AP Behind-the-Photo account of his Pulitzer Prize-Winning photograph.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

SMUT: stories

by Alan Bennett / A Picador Paperback Original

Cover illustration by Christopher Silas Neal

One of England’s finest and most loved writers explores the uncomfortable and tragicomic gap between people’s public appearance and their private desires in two tender and surprising stories.
In The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson, a recently bereaved widow finds interesting ways to supplement her income by performing as a patient for medical students, and renting out her spare room. Quiet, middle-class, and middle-aged, Mrs. Donaldson will soon discover that she rather enjoys role-play at the hospital, and the irregular and startling entertainment provided by her tenants.
In The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes, a disappointed middle-aged mother dotes on her only son, Graham, who believes he must shield her from the truth. As Graham’s double life becomes increasingly complicated, we realize how little he understands, not only of his own desires but also those of his mother.
A master storyteller dissects a very English form of secrecy with two stories of the unexpected in otherwise apparently ordinary lives.

My idea? SMUT = British Reserve + Sex

I liked the approach of taking proper teacups to represent British stiff upper lip reserve and arranging them in a sexually suggestive but subtle way. My initial approach was photographic.

Earlier comps:

But it was looking too stiff and needed more whimsy. I thought the wonderfully talented illustrator Christopher Silas Neal was the perfect person to render this concept without making it look too trashy.
Originally I wanted him to depict just one set of teacups caught in a sexual position rendered with plenty of details, as in the photographic approach. But when I saw all of Christopher's great "cupping" sketch ideas I laughed. I couldn't choose just one. So I decided to include several of them in the design and kept them as simply drawn silhouettes. I'm surprised we didn't try any ideas with a tea bag. Next time.

Christopher's sketches:

An alternate comp using a hand-lettered title but decided to keep it austere:

Tiffany Gibert of Books Matter Blog used our cover to pick out her outfit.

Alan Bennett reads 'The Greening of Mrs Donaldson' from his new book SMUT:

Alan Bennett Defies Expectations With 'Smut'
by NPR Staff / All Things Considered, January 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Words Like Loaded Pistols

by Sam Leith

Art Director: Nicole Caputo // Basic Books

A hilariously entertaining exploration of how people have taught, practiced and thought about rhetoric—the art of persuasion—from Aristotle to Obama.

Rhetoric is all around us. It’s what inspires armies, convicts criminals, and makes or breaks presidential candidates. And it isn’t just the preserve of politicians. It’s in the presentation to a key client, the half-time talk in the locker room, and the plea to your children to eat their vegetables. Rhetoric gives words power: it persuades and cajoles, inspires and bamboozles, thrills and misdirects. You have been using rhetoric yourself, all your life. After all, you know what a rhetorical question is, don’t you?
In Words Like Loaded Pistols, Sam Leith traces the art of persuasion, beginning in ancient Syracuse and taking us on detours as varied and fascinating as Elizabethan England, Milton’s Satanic realm, the Springfield of Abraham Lincoln and the Springfield of Homer Simpson. He explains how language has been used by the great heroes of rhetoric (such as Cicero and Martin Luther King Jr.), as well as some villains (like Adolf Hitler and Richard Nixon.)
Leith provides a primer to rhetoric’s key techniques. Words Like Loaded Pistols, you’ll find out how to build your own memory-palace; you’ll be introduced to the Three Musketeers: Ethos, Pathos and Logos; and you’ll learn how to use chiasmus with confidence and occultatio without thinking about it. Most importantly of all, you will discover that rhetoric is useful, relevant – and absolutely nothing to be afraid of.

Alternate color palette:

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Lolita Cover Project

by Vladimir Nabokov

The Lolita Cover Project, John Bertram and Marco Sonzogni, editors.

John Bertram and Marco Sonzogni are publishing a book on Lolita covers and asked a slew of cover designers to contribute conceptual covers.

slew also slue
noun Informal
A large amount or number; a lot: a slew of unpaid bills.
Origin: 1830-40, Americanism; [Old Irish Gaelic sluagh or slúag, crowd, throng, multitude, army, host.]

Here is mine:
I’d like to invite you to participate in a book that I am editing called The Lolita Cover Project which uses images (specifically, ‘conceptual’ book covers) and essays about Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to addresses the challenges and limits of representation (and mis-representation), and the relationship of a book to its cover. The Lolita Cover Project will feature 50 new ‘conceptual’ covers by leading graphic designers specifically commissioned for the book; critical essays on design and representation by Nabokov scholars, artists, art theorists, and designers; and the best submissions from Venus febriculosa’s Lolita Book Cover Contest (In 2009, after discovering Covering Lolita, Dieter E. Zimmer’s online collection of Lolita covers, I sponsored, through my website Venus febriculosa, a book cover competition for a new cover for Lolita. Subsequently, my essay on the competition was published in the ‘Nabokov Online Journal.’).

Many leading designers are on board to provide new covers including:
Mark Abrams, Keira Alexandra, Geetika Alok, Helen Armstrong, Andrey Bashkin, Rachel Berger, Kelly Blair, Yeju Choi, David Drummond, Aliza Dzik, Elaine Fong, John Fulbrook III, Xavi Garcia, David Gee, Elena Giavaldi, Kate Gibb, Elena Grossman, Kathryn Hammill, Lauren Harden, Margot Harrington, Jessica Helfand, Jennifer Heuer, Karen Hsu, Matthew Jacobson, Agata Jakubowska, Jamie Keenan, Philip Kelly, Ely Kim, Gregg Kulick, Chin-Yee Lai, Sueh Li, Ellen Lupton, Mary Voorhees Meehan, Mark Melnick, Peter Mendelsund, Dan Mogford, Catherine Nippe, Linn Olofsdotter, Ingrid Paulson, David Pearson, Caroline Rismont, Diane Shaw, Isaac Tobin, Transfer Studio, Jenny Volvovski, Michel Vrana, Jennifer Wang, Chip Wass, Adrienne Weiss, Barbara deWilde, Gabriele Wilson, Ben Wiseman, Graham Wood, Henry Sene Yee, and April

Lolita is one of my favorite all-time books. Many of the existing covers designed from around the world, showcased here at Covering Lolita, put the focus on an eroticized image of Lolita. I wanted to avoid that and focus on Nabokov's writing. The opening paragraph is one of the most famous.
I went for a light, innocent fragility so I chose Archer Light for the typeface. Although Humbert Humbert, a middle aged man, is seen as the obvious manipulator of young, under aged Lolita, he is also manipulated by Lolita. I filled the type in an innocent baby pink color and towards the end of the paragraph, the tone and color gradient shifts to darker red and finally black to suggest the novel's downward spiral of darkness. I especially like how her name bookends the paragraph. With "Lo. Lee. Ta." taking on a menacing syncopated stabbing rhythm.

The 100 Best First Lines from Novels.

An excellent post by Designer Extraordinaire Peter Mendelsund discussing the process of jacketing works of fiction using Lolita as a case study.

The Paris Review Interviews with Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Fiction, No. 40. Interviewed by Herbert Gold

Nabokov on different Lolita covers:

Vladimir Nabokov discusses his brillant novel "Lolita" on "Close Up", a circa 1950's CBC program:

The Police singing "Don't Stand So Close to Me," (1980)

The song deals with the mixed feelings of lust, fear and guilt that a female student has for a school teacher and vice versa, and inappropriateness leading to confrontation. The music and lyrics of the song were written by the lead singer of The Police, Sting, who had previously worked as an English teacher that includes the line "Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov."

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Breaks

by Richard Price / Picador

Cover photograph by Stephen Shames/Polaris

From the Bestselling Author of Lush Life

Peter Keller, first college grad from a working-class Yonkers family, thought he was on the road to success. Until no law school wanted him. As he watches his friends advance into promising careers, he jumps from job to job—mail clerk, phone solicitor, stand-up comic—until he breaks down and starts phoning in bomb threats on his own house. He’s going to have to work hard to change the pattern of self-sabotage that has defined most of his life. And taking that job at his alma mater as a teacher of freshman comp and starting an affair with a violently psychotic ex-wife of a colleague probably won’t help matters. Richard Price’s brilliant comic novel is a classic tale of a young man trying to find his place in the world.

A very nice behind the scenes interview with me at The Casual Optimist Blog on my Richard Price series designs and my photography.

Alternate comp:
alternate comp

Ladies' Man

by Richard Price / Picador

From the Bestselling Author of Lush Life

Kenny Becker just dumped his girlfriend—the reasons are a little complex. Young and newly unemployed, his main assets at the moment are six-pack abs and a healthy libido—he’s ready to get out, find a little action, and maybe find himself too. But New York is no place for the lonely, and with one meaningless sexual encounter after another, Kenny begins to wonder if the singles scene is not itself a complete con job, with his heart and his future at stake. Raunchy, funny, and surprisingly heartfelt, this 1978 clubland slice-of-life displays Richard Price in gritty good form.

A very nice behind the scenes interview with me at The Casual Optimist Blog on my Richard Price series designs and my photography.

Alternate comp:

Thursday, September 08, 2011

HEART of the CITY: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York

by Ariel Sabar

Creative Director: Alex Camlin // Da Capo Press/Perseus Books Group
Photographs by Henry Sene Yee

“The couples in this book hail from across America and the world. Most don’t live in New York City. Some never did. What mattered to me was that they met there, in one of its iconic public places. Each of the nine stories begins just before that chance meeting—when they are strangers, oblivious to how, in moments, their lives will irrevocably change.”
—from the Introduction

The handsome Texas sailor who offers dinner to a runaway in Central Park. The Midwestern college girl who stops a cop in Times Square for restaurant advice. The Brooklyn man on a midnight subway who helps a weary tourist find her way to Chinatown. The Columbia University graduate student who encounters an unexpected object of beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
A public place in the world’s greatest city. A chance meeting of strangers. A marriage. Heart of the City tells the remarkable true stories of nine ordinary couples—from the 1940s to the present—whose matchmaker was the City of New York.
Intrigued by the romance of his own parents, who met in Washington Square Park, award-winning author Ariel Sabar set off on a far-ranging search for other couples who married after first meeting in one of New York City’s iconic public spaces. Sabar conjures their big-city love stories in novel-like detail, drawing us into the hearts of strangers just as their lives are about to change forever.
In setting the stage for these surprising, funny, and moving tales, Sabar, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, takes us on a fascinating tour of the psychological research into the importance of place in how—and whether—people meet and fall in love.
Heart of the City is a paean to the physical city as matchmaker, a tribute to the power of chance, and an eloquent reminder of why we must care about the design of urban spaces.

Art director Alex Camlin, (check out this Q+A he did at The Casual Optimist), assigned me this fun project that combined two things that I love and explore in my personal photography:
Serendipitous juxtapositions of people and/or things in the most unexpected places and my favorite place in the world, New York City.

I presented several concept sketches of different approaches but they had a tough time pinpointing a direction for the book. This usually happens when you want the cover to say everything and explain the book. Once you start putting very specific plot elements on the cover, and they're visualized in a literal way, then you are forced to make every detail of each cover element correct. Is this the right time of day in the book? Is that her hair color? Would he write with that pen? I try to avoid that by working with images that are more open to interpretation and hopefully focus more on the emotional aspects of the book. Alex worked with his editors to focus on what was essential. We tried a few more rounds but I was feeling that I wasn't getting want they needed.

Concept sketches:

This comp was inspired by the beautiful opening scene to Woody Allen's film "Manhattan" (1979) underscored with George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue":

Inspired specifically to this scene at the 2:14 mark. Hmmm, 2:14...2/14...February 14...AKA Valentine's Day! Coincidence? I think not. But certainly serendipity.

But in the end, they went back to my very first idea:

I played off of Milton Glaser's iconic I NY logo. Obvious yes, but with HEART in the title, what else could it be? I shot the cover over some peeling paint found on a subway station column. As a bonus, I was happy I was able to use some of my personal photos throughout the jacket:

A brief video interview with Milton Glaser, designer of the the iconic "I Love New York" (logo design c. 1975):

Glaser's 1976 sketch of the logo sketched quickly on a piece of envelope in the back of a cab:

Part of the "I Love New York" tourism campaign of the 1980s, this commercial features celebrities proclaiming why they "love New York.":

A look at the origin of the "I (Heart) New York" ad campaign from a New York state high school student:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Full Black: A Thriller

By Brad Thor

Art Director: Alan Dingman // Atria Books / Simon & Schuster

#1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Thor brings readers his darkest and most intriguing thriller yet — a terrifying story of espionage and betrayal — brilliantly paced with superb nonstop action.

Born in the shadows and kept from heads of state, there are some missions so deadly, so sensitive, that they simply don’t exist. When one such mission goes horribly wrong, a wave of dramatic terrorist attacks is set in motion. Their goal: the complete and total collapse of the United States.

With the CIA’s intelligence abilities hobbled, former Navy SEAL Team 6 member turned covert counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath launches an audacious plan to infiltrate the terrorists’ network and prevent one of the biggest threats the United States has ever faced.

Simultaneously, a foreign wet work team has been sent to California. Their target: one of Hollywood’s most famous filmmakers. While working on a secret documentary project, movie producer Larry Salomon has unknowingly exposed one of the world’s wealthiest and most politically connected powerbrokers — a man with a radical anti-American agenda poised to plunge the nation into deadly, irreversible chaos.

As the plots rocket to their pulse-pounding conclusion and the identities of the perpetrators are laid stunningly bare, Harvath will be left with only one means to save America. Unable to trust anyone, he will be forced to go Full Black.
Intense and frighteningly realistic, FULL BLACK is, hands down, Brad Thor’s most riveting thriller to date.

Alan Dingman is a fantastic portrait painter / illustrator and an Art Director/Designer at Simon & Schuster Pocket Books. We both worked together at St. Martin’s Press oh so many years ago and I recently hired him to illustrate FAME: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity for me. He called me asking if I could recommend anyone new who could design BIG BOOK COMMERCIAL THRILLERS. I immediately recommended my super talented colleague Ervin Serrano, who is the Associate Art Director at St. Martin's Press. But for some reason, probably my competitive nature, I asked if I could take a stab at it. Now I don’t do many BIG COMMERCIAL BOOK packaging but I told him that I wanted to do more and to give me a chance. I would try one quick go and if he didn’t like it, he could immediately hire someone else. Turns out that they were looking for a new approach to packaging their bestselling author Brad Thor so they were open to something different. What I thought I could offer this genre was a clean, and simple approach. I saw that the author and title were mostly short four letter words that would stack nicely. I had only one idea that I wanted to pursue, a dynamically angled typographic dominant approach.

My first round I tried the angled type set in Trade Gothic Bold Condensed and placed that over a foreboding Washington DC landscape with an ominous glow coming over the horizon. Hmm, that's not going to work. The type forms looked bad and the image was a bland cliché.

Alan sent me a link to a stock photo house that specialized in military type images and I changed the typeface to UNIVERS. Feedback: they thought the type was too playful but they liked the positive/negative interaction with type within the image:

I didn’t want to give up on the angled type. Maybe it was the typeface and not the angle treatment that they had problems with. Maybe the rounded curves of the UNIVERS “R” looked too friendly and the negative spaces were too open and generous and the widths uneven. I like that the “F” filled out the negative space better and the forms were more even. But it felt kinda bland.

Trade Gothic Condensed:

Univers Condensed:

Akzidenzs Grotesk:

Various Akzidenzs Grotesk Angled type configurations:

When I switched to AKZIDENZ GROTESK, I saw that this was more of what I was going for. Even sides, sharper corners and even type color overall. I tried comps using different angle configurations but they went with the type set straight forward, which in the end, I did have to agree with. Hey, I had to try the angle.

It was a challenge positioning the image and type to interact so that the figure's action made sense through the type and still have the type be legible. With each version I tried, I wanted to make sure that the word BLACK stayed mainly all black and create some calm space on the cover that wasn't so active. For something so simple, I presented over 60+ image & color combos, which isn't much considering that BIG BOOK projects can generate 100s and 100s of comps and the hiring of several designers. Big Books = Big Expectations.

The final silhouette had to be adjusted slightly to make it less militaristic and more Black Ops. Here's the final approved design before we Chisel Embossed it up:

I was so happy that the Publisher and author liked this approach off the bat which was a nice surprise. Using genre elements of big type, big author and a silhouetted figure against bright colored background but in a simple, clean and direct way. Good for an ongoing series look. And the book is currently on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Even though Brad Thor is no stranger to the Best Seller list, I like to think that my design had a small part in setting him up to new readers.

Brad AD sighting on the LIRR:

(photograph by Patrice Kaplan)

Author Brad Thor on Piers Morgan Tonight / CNN with my jacket in the background:

CNN Video: Author Brad Thor on the Norway terror attacks:

Designer Paul Bacon is known for introducing the "Big Book Look" in book jacket design. His 1956 jacket design for Compulsion, a novel by Meyer Levin marked the inception of the "Big Book Look". This look features a large, bold title, a prominent author's name, and a small conceptual image:

“The big book look,” by Field Maloney / The New York Times Book Review, February 11, 2007:

The St. Martin's Press "Blues Crew" Art Depts. We were such non-conformist back then.

Left to Right: Evan Gaffney, Junie Lee, Alan Dingman, Judith Stagnitto Abbate, Henry Sene Yee, & Jennifer Chiorazzi