Sunday, May 3, 2020

book cover: wife | daughter | self

In designing the cover for the upcoming Forest Avenue Press book Wife | Daughter | Self, by Beth Kephart, I got to work with some really elegant art.

Here's what the publisher has to say about the book:

Wife | Daughter | Self is an exploration of the composite self—and the people we become in relationship to others. Married to a spectacular Salvadoran artist with fantastical stories of his youth, Kephart, in Wife, sets out to understand what makes love last. A near replica of her father—his face, his discipline, his crippling anxiety—Kephart, in Daughter, takes a journey with him into heartbreaking transitions—loss of spouse, loss of family home, loss of health—and emerges with deepened affection and respect. Finally, alone with a page and pen, Kephart, in Self, comes to terms with the person she wishes she had been and the person there might be room, still, to become.

For the cover, it felt natural that we feature art by Beth's artist husband William Sulit, who is such a prominent figure in the book. He gave me these beautiful pieces to work with:

(With the backgrounds already photoshopped out—thank you!)

He also gave us some lovely art for the interior, which included some captions in an elegant font I really loved, and which I figured should also be used on the cover.

So there I was with the art and the font just gifted to me. My task was to figure out the best way to use them: how to lay it out, what colors to use. It's a little nerve-wracking working with another artist's art. Is what I come up with going to honor that art? How do I marry my own vision to his vision, not to mention Beth's vision as writer and publisher Laura Stanfill's vision as publisher?

I worked in threes a lot when tinkering with this cover. There are three parts to the book, three selves that Beth explores. When I worked with that top image, the flowers with stems, I generally arranged three on a page, and when I worked with the mandala-like flower, I gave it three different colors, or three distinct shades of the same color, for its three different layers.

There is something so modern about the upright lines punctuating the title of Beth's book.

Wife | Daughter Self. 

Yet something old fashioned about the lovely font and beautifully rendered art. When I first started tinkering, I wasn't sure these elements would work together on the cover. I was pleasantly surprised when they did.

Side note: just now when I went to write the above, I thought, does it feel negative to use the term old fashioned? I paused and looked up some synonyms to see if I could find something better:

antiquated, historical, olden, traditional, moldy, obsolete, rinky-dink, fusty, moth-eaten, hoary, musty, stodgy, fossilized, antediluvian...

Um, no.

What I was trying to get at was something more like what this artwork is, which is timeless. And the perfect complement to Beth's writing, which is both spare and lush somehow, also timeless somehow.

It was a joy to work with William's art, to arrange and rearrange across the page. Here are some of my samples. As you'll notice, there were a few layouts I came up with that I really liked that only used two flowers, but in the end, the rule of threes seemed most suited.

Once we had a consensus as to which layout to go with...

...we went a little deeper into color. Beth and William liked blues. We consulted with our distributor and they liked the blues but favored deepening the background color. In the meantime we got a real blurb to replace my stand-in, and I played around further with the placement of the secondary text so we could add a mention that Beth is a National Book Award finalist (!).

And one last important change: I took the stems of the trio of flowers and intertwined them. After all, these are three selves intertwined in one.

Wife Daughter | Self is due out in February of 2021. More info can be found on the Forest Avenue Press website. And more info on Beth Kephart and her wonderfully prolific career can be found here. Some more art by William Sulit is here. Here's a little taste from the book.

You have blunt bangs, too-big teeth, uncurvy lips, scabbed knees. Your brother is the genius one. Your sister is the last. You are in between and unspectacular and (besides) no longer good, and so you riddle things up, you confuse them with your tattling elongations. Though you must confess that you have never gotten used to thisyour heart still pounds and your face still heats and maybe your eyes still acquire their demonic glow (you’re not sure) whenever you do lie. Easy to do but not easy to live with, lying is, and the lies are changing, the lies are changing you. You’re getting older. You’re weaving a web. The web is sticky, sometimes it catches you.


  1. Gigi, reading about your process here, having had the chance to live it with you — your ingenuity, your kindness, your care, your patience — well, it takes my breath away. I love this cover so much so that it is one of my screen savers. Thank you for everything.

  2. Hi Gigi, Bill here. It was great to get a glimpse at your design process and to see all of the options in one place (that image looks like a really cool quilt). Thanks for your comments about the drawings - it's nice to see them used so creatively. I'm also glad you decided to use Nicholas Cochin on the cover - it's such a nice typeface. Great job!

  3. Thank you both, so much. What a joy of a process. Yes, I loved that typeface and felt like it had to go on the front. I love the way it works with your interior art.

  4. You've dazzled me with so many book covers you've designed, Gigi. I love reading about your process and seeing the different designed you created, finally coming up with this stunner. Absolutely beautiful. Thanks for sharing.