Monday, March 11, 2013

From the back of the bookshop: Canary, start to finish

In the back of the bookshop at Biblioasis, a lot of what I do is come up with cover concepts and designs for our forthcoming books. Sometimes these come relatively easily: a concept works, I tweak the type treatment or the image a bit, make sure that the files are all of good resolution, and call it a day. Most of the time, however, a book cover takes several drastically different concepts before it reaches the state where it suits the book, has enough appeal to grab the attention of someone browsing a bookshop, and is visually pleasing to everyone involved in the process.

I've been posting a lot about book covers in our Book Spotting series, taking a look around the Biblioasis store and finding covers that really work or do something interesting. In this post, we're going into the publishing offices to look at a lot of book covers that don't work, and one that (finally!) does. 

Nancy Jo Cullen's debut book of short fiction, Canary, will be released by Biblioasis this May. It's a book of stories that roams from the seedy bars of East End Vancouver, to the communal showers of a hot yoga studio, to the movies for a sing-a-long screening of The Sound of Music. They're quirky, often-queer stories of families threatening to fall apart, yet somehow they're also full of humour. 

In coming up with a cover for Canary, my initial instinct was ABSOLUTELY NO BIRDS! Where did I go from there? At first, try the obvious: coal mines.
Yep. Went for the obvious. Didn't work out so well.
 Clearly, this one isn't working. Beyond being eye-rollingly obvious, the image isn't particularly striking. The title is hard to read. The type treatment is uninspired. NEXT.

More coal mines. This one's got a bit of a 1970s feeling.
 Next I went for an image that was a little more dynamic. Still a coal mine, but this time a cross-section of one. Mainly I was drawn to the colours, which felt sort of 1970s kitchen to me. I tried a font that didn't compete with the image, and had an architectural drawing feeling to it. But there was still something not right about it. It didn't stand out enough. The image might have been too busy. So I moved on.

Keeping with the idea of architectural drawings and sketches, I mocked up something with the same type treatment, but with this drawing of a coal mine in 2D. I liked that the lined paper showed through and the muted colours made me think of a school book sketch. But the old type treatment from the previous cover didn't fit. I thought maybe going with the sketch book theme might help. But as you can see, it didn't.

getting sketchier...


sketchy. Too sketchy.

 At this point I took some time away from the cover. Everything was becoming a bit of a muddle and I wasn't getting anywhere, or achieving what I was hoping to achieve. A few days off and I was ready to re-approach the cover from scratch. I found this cute little canary image, made up of pieces of electronics (it is a bit hard to see, but he has circuit boards running through him!) I echoed this in the background with a subtle circuit motif and went with a couple typefaces that together gave off a vibe of retro but also suggested the harshness of technology. Looking back at this one, it's not great, and it doesn't really fit the book at all, but I can't help but love that little canary.

 Since I had already broken my own NO BIRDS rule, I decided to allow myself to incorporate birds in my future attempts. Still fighting the literalism, I opted for a piece of a bird instead of the whole canary. This one was a cross-stitch, and I decided to just use his tail. I finally got to make use of my favourite cross-stitch typeface as well. Fantastic. However, it came to my attention that with just his tail on the cover, this canary didn't look so much like a bird. It actually looked more like a fish. And since the book isn't called Carp, I moved on.

I moved on to a cover that was my absolute favourite for quite some time. As I am constantly dealing with things like CMYK conversions and Pantone colour swatches, a little bit of design nerd crept into this design. Instead of representing Canary as a bird, I wanted to represent it as a colour. And what better way to do that than to emulate the iconic Pantone colour swatch. The type treatment was obvious as Pantone's swatches all look the same. Clean, crisp Helvetica. There was no bird on the cover. I loved the simplicity of it. However, it gave off textbook vibes to some people, and that was not what I was going for, so unfortunately, the swatch had to go. 

TADA! Finally something works!

However, that swatch led me to this. The final cover for Canary. I ran with the simplicity, the emphasis on the white and yellow palette from the swatch. The bird silhouette is crisp enough in my mind to make up for the sin of putting a bird on the cover, and the fact that it replaces the A, which its shape doesn't really resemble, but is still instantly readable, gives the book the kind of interest that demands a second look.

So from NO BIRDS ABSOLUTELY NO to a bird on the cover, there you have the progression of Canary to its current and final form. Grab your copy this May when it is released by Biblioasis.


Ariel Gordon said...

Thanks for this! Very interesting!

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

This is fascinating! I work with designers every day and their work feels like magic--I do not understand the design process at all. You have brought me one step closer!

Unknown said...

It sounds like an interesting series. I will check it out.

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