Beautiful Books: The Bears Sleep at Last

September 2, 2019

Illustrator Lynn Scurfield joins us to discuss her cover art for The Bears Sleep at Last (Playwrights Canada Press) by Genevieve Billett. Read on for our interview with Lynn where she shares more about working to preserving the right amount of mystery in the book's design and finding a way to incorporate elements of the play's magical imagery.

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All Lit Up: Your illustrations are incredibly striking and colourful. How do you approach a new design? Where do you start?

Lynn Scurfield: Thank you so much! When I get a book cover assignment the first thing I try to do is figure out the tone of the story and the most important symbols from the text. What are the recurring images and themes that can give an overview of the story and are beautiful to look at? The tone affects what colour choices I would want to use moving forward. For example, is it a more sombre story or is it something uplifting? A more sombre story will call for muted cooler colours while something more energetic will need brighter, fun colours. Reading the text, writing down initial thoughts feelings and summarizing what the story is before actually drawing is very fun and an essential part of the process.


ALU: You’ve designed some gorgeous book covers, like the one for The Bears Sleep at Last. Is there a particular challenge in designing a book cover?

LS: Book covers are interesting because you want to give as much information to the reader as possible without giving anything too important away. Keeping the right level of mystery is, for me, a really important part of a cover and can be tricky. If you include something that happens further into the story does that add excitement for the reader or does it cause confusion? There’s something really satisfying when readers can re-look at the cover with greater understanding after finishing the book. 


ALU: What elements struck you about the play? Did you end up incorporating any of them into your design?

LS: My favourite parts of the play were the use of magical imagery mixed with very real emotions. I love magical realism and this one had the perfect mix where the magical elements kept up the mystery of the characters and their motivations. There was so much to work with; the idea of never ending pacing, melting ice, the air balloons and flight. I ended up using a lot of the imagery in the cover! Polar bears for sure had to be a big part, as well as the melting ice and I kept just a hint of the hot air balloons mixed in the flowers. 


ALU: Where there any other contending cover ideas for The Bears Sleep at Last? If so, how did this design win out?

LS: I only showed two ideas for the cover, and the one that was chosen was the best option for sure. The other option was more focused on the movement of the polar bears. It would have been pretty but this one had a much more powerful composition and used the symbols in a more interesting way.



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A special thank you to Jessica at Playwrights Canada Press and to Lynn Scurfield for sharing more about her beautiful design for The Bears Sleep at Last by Genevieve Billette, translated by Nadine Desrochers. 


Discover more beautiful books and the designers behind them on the ALU Blog >> 


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