Beautiful Books: Forgotten Work
We think you'll agree that book designer Ingrid Paulson's work on Jason Guriel's rock ‘n’ roll cli-fi novel Forgotten Work (Biblioasis) is off the charts: a peek into a time-tripping work of spec fiction, this is a cover that is anything but forgettable. Below, Ingrid tells us about the creative process and inspiration behind her cover and why she loves being a book designer.
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All Lit Up: You have a striking portfolio of book covers. How do you approach a new cover design? Where do you start?
Ingrid Paulson: I always start with the book itself. I have to read it (or read as much of it as is available when I’m assigned the book). If I don’t understand the book, then it’s really hard for me to figure out a face for it—and a book cover is the face of that title. A cover is a book’s public representative, advocating to all that this book is great and please pick it up or click through. So I have to understand what is being said, and then how a design can best entice a reader to pick up the book.
During that read-through, I write down notes and make (very rough and usually illegible to everyone-but-me) sketches—just initial visual thoughts, really. Those visual thoughts could lead somewhere, or go nowhere at all. Sometimes I’ll jot down or sketch out a typeface style I think reflects the book. It could be anything, really, so long as I can get it out of my mind and onto paper.
Research: even with fiction (actually, of course with fiction), I’ll start assembling an understanding of the fictional environment, its main players: where or how do they live? Is this an internal dialogue or very much a plot-twister? Then I read up on that city, or that conundrum, or that thesis. I need to know those things in case—on the off chance, sometimes—that it will inspire a design idea.
Of course, throughout this I’m also googling images, and looking at competitive titles, or inspiring designs. And I’m also starting to work on cover concepts in InDesign, which basically start out looking a bit like sketches, but eventually form into something cohesive.
If this sounds like a step-by-step, it isn’t. Once I start reading the book, all of this is happening at the same time. I take a lot of breaks to either work on other design stuff (interior typesetting is a great antidote as I can just focus on rhythm rather than concept), or I walk around and let my mind sift through all the info, let it settle into place and allow for some sort of synthesis.
Of course, there are covers where I just say, yep, got it, and I find the right image, and/or place the right type, and away we go. But that is a rare treat.
ALU: What inspired your design choices for Forgotten Work, a rock ‘n’ roll sci-fi novel in verse likened to "Almost Famous penned by Shakespeare”? Can you walk us through your process?
IP: You mean, after I started grinning from ear to ear reading the text? (Have you read it? It’s incredible! I emailed Vanessa at Biblioasis right away and I think I typed out squealing noises and happy claps.)
I tried an homage to Nabokov’s Pale Fire, but was also thinking along the lines of something that looks a bit conceptual. It also had to have a definite music reference about it. Circles, round and round. Darkness. At one point, flames. (It’s cli-fi after all.) The spacer used when playing a 45. LP sleeves. Psychedelic colours.
Eventually, I touched the idea of the cloud—an almost underexposed photo of a dark cloud. It reminds me of Edward Steichen’s photography, how dark it gets, the subtleties in that deeper range of blacks and grays. Then I tried some type that reflected back to the era of Pale Fire, but also has a bit of a decadent rock 'n' roll attitude to it. And then I found the melted LP lineart through Vectorstock.
A page from Ingrid's sketchbook
The final cover
ALU: How did your process designing the limited edition hardcover differ from your process designing the paperback? What were some of the design choices you made?
IP: For the final cover, I repurposed the line drawing of a melted LP used on the paperback. It’s very subtle on the paperback, and there it reminds me more of radio waves or shock waves. When time came for the cloth edition, it was a no brainer to place that same graphic on the front, but to fill it in so it looked like a vinyl record again. And then I went nuts using purple endpapers with the LP as lineart, which restored the wave form. I love how this turned out: the red and purple combo feel very rock n’ roll to me.
Limited edition hardcover
ALU: As a book designer, what makes the work satisfying? What do you love most about it?
IP: I love exploring ideas in a visual medium. Love. It. It’s also the hardest thing to do—challenging, especially as cover design is not art, but is there to serve an artistic work (the book). I think it’s most satisfying when I figure out a design that I didn’t know was in me to create, as if born out of the wind. What has usually happened is I’ve synthesized a lot of visual info in our world and used my eye as a conduit, nothing more.
It’s also satisfying to work on a straight-up "insert murder weapon" thriller and just play with BIG TYPE, but that doesn’t sound as interesting, does it? :)
ALU: Are there any designers or artists you’re loving at the moment?
IP: Helen Yentus at Riverhead in the US is my fave at the moment, but there are almost too many talented cover designers. Keeps me on my toes!
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Ingrid Paulson is an award-winning book designer and publisher. Starting out as an in-house designer at McClelland & Stewart and then art director at Raincoast Books, she branched out in 2003 with her own studio specializing in fiction, non-fiction, and illustrated art book design for a range of Canadian and American trade and academic publishers as well as art institutions. In 2018 she created Gladstone Press, a micro-press devoted to producing beautiful modern editions of classic novels. She has received awards from both the AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers and the Alcuin Society, and her work has been cited in numerous books and periodicals.
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Thanks so much to Ingrid for the scoop behind her process, inspirations, and earlier drafts of the cover for Jason Guriel's Forgotten Work, available now on All Lit Up.
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