These covers, y’all. If there’s such a thing as a swoon streak, I’m on it. And dibs on that ridiculous term if it hasn’t been coined already.
If the cover art for Naomi Shihab Nye’s There Is No Long Distance Now was a type of dessert, I’d liken it to a traditional black and white cookie. It’s simple, sweet, and brushed with a flair of fancy. Fortunately for me, this cover art won’t make me run three miles to work off those calories. Fortunately for you, I’ve got the woman responsible for spearheading this lovely cover on the blog today. Please give a warm welcome to Sylvie Le Floc’h of Greenwillow Books!
TCG: First things first — what’s your story as an associate art director? Have you always wanted to work in design?
SL: I always knew I wanted to work on something closely related to typography. I took extra art classes in high school, and I had a wonderful teacher who didn’t impose traditional art forms—which was good, since I’m not great at drawing. My teacher let me design posters, cards, page layouts, and create my own type. Keep in mind this was way, way, way before Macs or even Xerox machines, so I had to be very meticulous. At the time, I didn’t realize you could earn a living designing book jackets, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Later on, I attended industrial design school in Paris. I created new typefaces using scratchboard and a Rapidograph.
The teacher would literally come over and use a magnifying glass to make sure all the curves and connections were perfect. Therefore, I was exposed to many design concepts before finally enrolling at Parsons in New York.
Eventually I figured I wanted to do covers and got my first job at Dutton Children’s Books. I’m lucky, because I’ve always been able to do what I enjoy, and I get to design for a broad age group: everything from picture books to YA novels. It keeps my job unique and interesting.
I’ve got such a soft spot for hand-drawn design and typography-driven covers. Beyond that, the cover art for TINLDN’s cover is simple and beautiful. What’s the story behind its design process?
The book has 39 poems. I usually start by reading the book, then I collect images to see what works best as the cover, and made a sketch cover.
For TINLDN, I knew I wanted a typographic cover, therefore I needed an artist who could do something fun with type. I collect samples from artists I like, so I had Ryan O’Rourke already in mind. I thought it was a perfect match, and he has the coolest birdhouses!
O’Rourke’s earlier drafts
During the preliminary stages, Ryan created a series of sketches. The first few samples looked a little too young and the colors made it feel retro. I told Ryan, “I want a New Yorker cover, but for YA.” Together, we played with the type and decided to emphasize the feeling of distance, thus the map, bird, and font were created!
I’ve heard nary a peep in terms of funny/random stories in the design world. Perhaps, like in my profession, some stories
would get me fired are too embarrassing to be shared on the internet. But surely you’ve got a fun story you can share?
I once had the perfect photo for a jacket. Everything was going smoothly. The author loved it, the editor loved it, and finally, marketing loved it.
The teen featured in the photo was good-looking, which is always a plus in YA fiction. The model captured the feeling of the novel very well, and he was gesturing with his hands, which made the picture even better, more active. I mean, isn’t that what teenagers are always trying to do? Express themselves?
Upon closer inspection, the way the model was gesturing seemed strange. It looked like he was trying to relay some secret code, or perhaps even throwing up a gang sign. So we called in an expert to analyze.
He found NOTHING.
I decided to glance through the other pictures from the photo shoot and realized the shoot took place in Europe (I could tell by the buildings). I figured the model was just trying to seem cool and American.
Our copyeditor then checked to see if the gestures could be matched to sign language. Turns out, the model was making the sign for “8″ with each hand. I guess he was saying “88.” Everyone at Greenwillow agreed that he had no idea what he was doing, and that it was probably harmless.
However, the same editor then Googled “88” and found out that in Europe, the sign means you’re a Neo-Nazi sympathizer. So I realized the model knew exactly what he was doing, and we decided to pass on his photo.
Oh, so designer stories are just as colorful as production folk stories, too. Good to know.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
This might sound silly, but I like Chad Beckerman’s work. Chad worked at Greenwillow Books as a designer and now is the art director at Abrams. I’ve always admired the subtleties he brings to his jackets.
(Loving Chad Beckerman’s work will never be silly, as I am a self-professed Beckerman fangirl!)
Le Corbusier is also on my list.
Villa Savoye, designed by Swiss architects La Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret
What do you think is one of the general public’s biggest misconceptions about book cover art?
When I tell people I designed a jacket, they automatically assume I made the art. Sometimes I’ll create a jacket using photo stock images, but usually the art is made by an illustrator, photographer, or typographer. So I’m more of a match-maker, putting the right artist with the right author. My contribution to the design is concept, type and assembly. The author/artist, and of course , marketing and sales also have a say.
How do you feel about current cover trends in YA?
I wish there were more gender-neutral covers. Many books feature beautiful female models and are geared toward girls. I’ll be the first to admit that I choose books based on their covers, but I expect the content to deliver what the image sells. Also, I believe in the adage “less is more.”
Amen! “Less is more” has always been one of my favorite adages!
What is the most rewarding part of your job at Greenwillow?
I will always love seeing my books as finished products on the shelf.
Thank you so much for stopping by the blog, Sylvie! Cheers to many, many more fantastic match-made-in-cover-art-heaven covers, too.