Friday, December 19, 2008

Readerville's Blog of the Week

Before the proliferation of blogs dedicated to the appreciation of cover design today, was the only site on the web where you could read any discussions focusing on the cover design instead of the content. The Most Coveted Covers features were a must read and the follow up comments that began with admiration but quickly degraded to negativity was even more fun to read. Even though it sometimes annoyed the sh*t out of me.

So a big thanks to Karen Templer for highlighting my blog as the Blog of the Week.
The web is full of beautiful websites by book cover designers showcasing their work, but they are strictly that—portfolios of finished work. Henry Sene Yee (whose work, I should note, often appears in Most Coveted Covers) has taken a very different approach....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Biggest Game in Town

by Al Alvarez // Picador

Illustration by Eddie Guy
Al Alvarez touched down in Las Vegas one hot day in 1981, a poker novice and a stranger to the excesses of the American game. Soon enough he was in the casino back rooms and musty bars of Las Vegas, meeting the flamboyant characters who dominate the World Series of Poker—roving gamblers who have won and lost many fortunes at the tables. Set over the course of one tournament, The Biggest Game in Town is both a chronicle of the World Series of Poker and a history of the hustlers, madmen, and masterminds who created the high-stakes game in America. With a new introduction by the author, Alvarez’s classic account is one of the greatest gaming stories ever told.

My original concept was to depict a city built on poker. I hired collage illustrator Eddie Guy to bring this idea alive. He collaged up the Las Vegas Strip out of playing cards and poker chips. But trying to depict the Strip was less than satisfying. We focused instead on the larger than life personalities of these poker mavericks. Thus, Giant Poker Guy.


Poker Hand Rankings (Because you got to know when hold 'em, know when to fold 'em):

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Other Side of the Island

by Allegra Goodman

Editor/Art Director: Jessica Rothenberg // Razorbill Books / Penguin
Jacket photograph by Andrea Chu
Model: Alexis Y // Generation

In the eighteenth glorious year of Enclosure, long after The Flood, a young girl named Honor moves with her parents to Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Life on the tropical island is peaceful—there is no sadness and no visible violence in this world. Earth Mother and her Corporation have created New Weather. Sky color is regulated and it almost never rains. Every family fits into its rightful, orderly, and predictable place...
Except Honor’s. Her family does not follow the rules. They ignore curfew, sing songs, and do not pray to Earth Mother. Honor doesn’t fit in with the other children at the Old Colony School. Then she meets Helix, a boy who slowly helps her uncover a terrible secret about the Island: Sooner or later, those who do not fit disappear, and they don’t ever come back.

This was my first assignment working with a YA (Young Adult) Publisher.

Having worked strictly for the adult trade market, I had to learn as I designed what was the appropriate look for the teen/tween market. My first attempts were either too sophisticated or too subtle for young reader. I had to learn a more direct language.

My first approach was to suggest the near future Utopian Island:
How about bullseye, because the character is an expert archer, overprinting in silver to represent a technology that blocks any signs of bad weather and the truth.

Nope? How about Adventure? (Honor is an excellent shot with a bow and arrow and uses her skills to save her parents):

Nope? Maybe I'll focus on the extreme atmospheric changes on the other side of the island
(In the future, They can control the weather so that it's always sunny over their community):

That's close. Let's depict the girl running in a storm (She searches for her missing parents on the "Other Side" on the island where the weather isn't under the government's control) Usually in adult trade, I try to avoid depicting the main character so up front. But for the YA market, it's OK to visualize them. Sorta like how Harry Potter is visualized as a branded character:

Out of all of those, let's go with this one:

Love the concept but can I find another stock image where the girl is much younger, wears no make-up, has the right expression of fear and determination and is set against a much stormier sky.

Hmmm, trying to find all of this in a single stock photo is impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. It would be much easier to shoot this. Luckily they agreed and increased my budget.

Photographer Andrea Chu had sent me a promo earlier in the week and Kelly Blair also recommended her as a person she worked with. Her portfolio showed lots of experience with working with children so I hired her for the shoot. We found the lovely model Alexis Y through a modeling agency.

The photoshoot. Alexis was so professional, patient, conveyed the characters emotions perfectly and was just a breeze to work with.

An outtake shot:

Thanks to LeeAnn Falciani for manning the wind machine.

and the storm cloud background by ryan/beyer/getty images

Almost there:

But the type was too active. Go simpler and more legible please.

After a bunch of tweaks to the type, coloration of the sky, and opening up the shadows on her neck and hair, VOILÀ! The FINAL DESIGN:

Here's a good tutorial on Masking Details No Bigger Than a Hair in Photoshop and a video tutorial: Masking Hair in Photoshop CS3

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Best Book Cover Designs of 2008?

According to Joseph's The Book Design Review blog site, these are his Favorite Book Covers of 2008. Two of mine are represented here.

Vote for your favorite. I did.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cracks in the Foundation

by Erica Ferencik // Waking Dream Press

Illustration by Victor Juhasz

I occasionally get request directly from authors asking if I'm available to design their covers. Always flattering, but I usually say no because of my busy schedule. And unless they're at a Publishing House and their Art Director hires me directly, I don't want to be stepping on toes. One of the things I hate to hear from the editor is that the author has a friend who's a designer and has great ideas, can you work with them. Yikes. I had a job where the editor told me that the author's response was, "A good start, can the designer give us the layered files so that my sister can move the elements around?" Get Thee Away From Me!

But in this case, Erica was doing it all. A one-person self-publishing house. Which has its own set of challenges. That means, in addition to being the author, she's the Publisher, the Marketing dept, the Sales dept, the Production Manager, Managing Editor, Copy Writer, Copy Editor, Art Director, and assistant. Imagine trying to get something approved. I have no one to rally on my side. It was a long process but in the end very enjoyable. It's a fun read. Check it out. Good luck with your book Erica!

Juhasz's Sketches:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

PRINT Regional Design Annual 2008

I was quoted in the NEW YORK CITY section of this year's PRINT REGIONAL DESIGN ANNUAL 2008: NEW YORK CITY. December 2008. On your newstand now

By Jeremy Lehrer

The design literacy of clients and the general public alike was a recurring concern this year for art director Philippe Apeloig and designer Ronny Quevedo, as it was for many New York designers. The duo challenged that literacy with their event calendars and posters for the French Institute/Alliance Française, a Manhattan-based organization that promotes French culture and programming. Apeloig and Quevedo used playful, colorful compositions of dots—a modern riff on pointillism— as a conceptual device. The layout’s unusual design and typography choices don’t just unite the campaign, Quevedo says: “We’re also educating the reader on how to read our materials.”
     Point Five Design founding partner Alissa Levin thinks design literacy has vastly improved in recent years, partly because viewers are constant consumers of an increasingly design-savvy internet. Could this mean web design has become a positive influence on print work? “I feel like it has opened up possibilities in print,” Levin says. “Perhaps it’s because not all the pressure is on the print pieces, so it actually makes more room to try different things.” In the past, clients often hired two different firms for print and web components; Levin finds that it has become much more common to hire the studio to create both, as the Columbia Journalism Review did for a redesign of its print edition and website. Point Five’s redesign of CJR, completed in 2007, gives the magazine a bold cover format and a minimal, typographically elegant overall design that emphasizes the publication’s role as a media watchdog. Also in media, the business-culture magazine Condé Nast Portfolio debuted in late April 2007. The cover of its first issue featured a stunning aerial view of a nighttime cityscape, and standout photography and sublime information graphics have remained a centerpiece of the magazine’s visual identity. Continuing the minimalist trend in editorial design, design director Robert Priest explains that he and his team were striving for simplicity. “We want to be a lively and energetic magazine in terms of what we present, but there’s a certain clean aesthetic that we’re going for.”
     Photography forms the aesthetic DNA of many magazines, among them Newsweek, whose showcase portfolios in 2007 included scenes of Darfur, portraits of the four seasons in Japan, and photographs that revisited 1968’s pivotal leaders. Newsweek director of photography Simon Barnett says that Paolo Pellegrin, who took the pictures of Darfur, “is the most accomplished photographer working today who is able to bridge the difficult line between journalism and art. … [He] is at the leading edge of the new, young photojournalism movement, which has its roots in Italy. The photography is lyrical and operatic, and it is an amazing way to see the world.”
     Even in a weakening economy, the New York design business was robust in 2007 and through the summer of 2008; studios and design businesses reported hiring numerous freelancers to complete a full docket of work. At book publisher Picador, creative director Henry Sene Yee reports that 2007 was “very creative, not just with me, but with colleagues,” and the same has been true in 2008.
     Still, Yee began to worry when he realized that electronic readers such as Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s eBook had become enjoyable to use—even to him. “I think it’s going to allow people to read even more, but I don’t know what my role as a cover designer will be in that e-book future,” he says. One technology that’s exciting him, however, is design: related (, a networking site known informally as “MySpace for designers.” Yee has commissioned covers from designers he found on the site, and he praises it as a way of finding artisans working for lesser-known presses outside New York. “They’re doing incredible work for these small presses—these high-end concepts and designs that are just beautiful,” he enthuses.
     Designing with sustainability in mind continues to be a focus for designers, and, more and more, for clients as well. Suggestions for recycled papers and sustainable printing presses were “always something that we would bring to the table, and often— whether it was cost or something [else]—it was a difficult sell,” says Levin. “Now, it seems like people are really on board and want to know how they can do it and what they can do.” Seth Labenz of Brooklyn-based studio Topos Graphics notes that not everything labeled green is as sustainable as it should be. “We’ve found or observed that solutions are sometimes motivated by the appearance of being green, as opposed to a true commitment to real change,” he says.
     Labenz, with Topos partner Roy Rub, creates consistently avant-garde design that’s certainly helping expand design’s vocabulary—and its audience’s general literacy, too. He’s optimistic about design’s future possibilities: “It used to be a technique of marketing,” he says, “whereas today, more and more, it is not only that but a vehicle for reflection, knowledge, history, criticism, vision, provocation—a lens for culture but also an embedded, utilitarian tool for discourse and change.” The duo’s work, and the work of their fellows throughout New York City, reflects that exhilarating new mandate.

Jeremy Lehrer, a contributing editor at PRINT, is a freelance writer who covers design, sustainability, and spirituality.
This article appears in the December 2008 issue of PRINT.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Advice to War Presidents

by Angelo Codevilla

Art Director: Nicole Caputo // Basic Books

From a distinguished conservative scholar, a primer on the principles of foreign policy and how the United States, having ignored these principles for nearly a century, can use them to resolve its current crisis.

The Art Director Nicole Caputo wanted me to try, "a small handbook that has a plain state dept look, like a type pamphlet to war presidents" feel. This idea has been overdone and I've probably done it a hundred of times myself. But I'm here to serve the Art Director and her editor and I'll do my best to give it a fresh take. I thought working with a simpler amount of elements would keep it from looking too cluttered. The texture was key. I had an old A.T.A. Advertising Standard Type Book from 1951 that was laying around my office that I was actually going to throw away. It had a great pebbly textured case with gold foil type stamped into it. That would be a nice thing to play with.

The book itself is filled with pretty standard fonts, hence the name. So I thought this would be a no brainer in cleaning out my office. But because of this assignment, it just reinforces the idea that you can never throw anything out because you never know when you'll need to use it.

Another idea was to work with the Presidential Seal.

I heard somewhere that in times of peace, the Seal of the President of the United States depicts the bald eagle facing its usual direction towards its talons clutching the olive branch of peace. But in times of war, it is switched out with the eagle facing its talons clutching arrows of war. I like the idea that the state of conduct of the Union extends to even the smallest of details. But I read that it's just urban legend.

Alternate concept focusing on the Talons of WAR:

The US Government didn't allow us permission to use the original Seal so I had to recreate one for the final. I chose to combine an alternate idea that focused on the Eagle's Talons of War.

I like the way this turned out. It suggest that maybe this was Presidents Woodrow Wilson's original handbook and that it has been passed down from President to President offering advice. And now it'll be in the hands of our 44th President, Barack Obama.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life

by Robin Wilson

Art Director: Chin-Yee Lai // W. W. Norton & Co.

While doing research for this book, I came across a medical condition called Alice in Wonderland Syndrome:
also known as micropsia and macropsia, is a brain condition affecting the way objects are perceived by the mind. For example, an afflicted person may look at a larger object, like a basketball, and perceive it as if it were the size of a mouse. The condition manifests itself in connection with various other conditions, such as epilepsy, anxiety, and migraines. The disease is named after Lewis Carroll's novel due to the size changes Alice experiences. Carroll documented cases of classic migraines, so scholars have speculated that he may have experienced symptoms of macropsia or micropsia.

Since the emphasis of this book was on Lewis Carroll's forgotten achievements in the world of mathematics, I thought it was a a good idea to refer to Alice in Wonderland on the cover, but drastically de-emphasize her scale to frame it in this book's context to numbers.

Jacket illustration: Alice and the Cheshire Cat, illustration from Alice in the Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Color Litho) by John Tenniel, Private Collection / The Bridgeman Art Library.

Alternate comps:

Lewis Carroll's "The Mouse's Tale" is one of my favorite example of a typeset book interior from 1865.