One of the things I'd love to do full time is design book covers. Beyond the fact that I love books and love working visually, designing a book cover is the best kind of problem-solving. You brainstorm until you figure out the perfect way to pull together title, author name, subtitle, graphic elements, color, font - so that the end product not only looks great but hooks up thematically with the book itself. You find the perfect image and do a bunch of nifty photoshopping to make it an even more-perfect perfect. You start laying it all out - and then you realize if you make the title as big as you want it, the end of that g hangs too far over into the graphic and ruins the sight line here, and the author's name is far too short for the space over here and you have to scrap the whole damn thing and start over.
I love that.
This summer I had the chance to do this with the book Brave on the Page, for the new indie small press Forest Avenue Press. Along with the title, subtitle, and all that, they wanted to include certain elements in the design: Mount Hood, typewriter or letterpress typography, maybe a typewriter itself, blues or greens. I talked to Laura Stanfill, who heads up Forest Avenue Press, and found out the kinds of artistic styles she leans toward. Part of all of this is that I want to make the product as much what the producer wants it to be as possible - and part of it is to set even more boundaries for problem-solving (playing) inside.
Not the colors but the shapes. It's a quick doodle I tossed out in Adobe Illustrator when I first had my inspiration for Brave on the Page. The black rectangle would be an old typewriter, and the big shape funneling out of it would be an Oregon image, complete with Mount Hood, like the land was a story being written. The title and subtitle would be laid out above and over that shape, and the edited by would go down in that orange rectangle, lower left.
My silly little doodle looked vaguely constructivist to me so I got excited and went to work. I found my Mount Hood and did a bunch of photoshopping to add more sky to the picture and get the color and quality I wanted. Started laying it out and found out just why it wouldn't work. For me, something about a mountain [which expands downward] coming up out of a shape that expands upward was visually illogical and didn't look right.
So I took out the dog.
Following Nicholas down the sidewalk, I rolled the idea over and over in my head - and I realized something. Even though they say a picture is worth a bunch of words, sometimes a bunch of words makes a better picture.
So I kept the typewriter along with the something-funneling-out-of-it, but that something-funneling-out-of-it became words, not imagery. Mount Hood got moved to the background,but I found a newer, perfecter Mount Hood [thanks to photographer sarah mcdevitt], and when I laid it all out [after much experimenting and finessing and cussing] it was perfect. Or, anyway, what I wanted it to be.
One of the fun tasks was constructing the column of words: choosing which words fit thematically with the whole, arranging them to work best aesthetically. It was back to problem-solving. The tails on Ps and Gs, the [...noses?] on Bs and Hs. Those proved a pain in the butt when trying to construct a smooth curve. Part of my idea was to smatter the words brave and page throughout the column of words, and damned if I didn't have to deal with more Ps and Bs. Oh, and Gs.
Try as I may, I couldn't find a combination that got rid of the jagged edges at the bottom of the curve. To smooth things out, I stuck in a tiny word: try. Even now, that's my favorite part of the cover.
You can check out more lovely photos by Sarah McDevitt here.
Brave on the Page is available through any Espresso Book Machine, including the one at Powell's City of Books, and online at ondemandbooks.com. You can check out Brave on the Page and Forest Avenue Books here.
I'll be reading at the Brave on the Page reading and release party at 2pm on Saturday, November 3, at Fulton Park Community Center [68 SW Miles Street in Portland], along with Liz Prato, Michael Gettel-Gilmartin, Duncan Ellis, Joanna Rose, Stevan Allred, and editor Laura Stanfill. Facebook event page is here.