The brief was to create a series design that could be applied to 4-5 books a year, with a preference for minimalist designs, strong lines and bold colours, and this description of Cordite as a brand:
Cordite has become known as something modern, contemporary, progressive, a little daffy but also publishing many of the most accomplished poets on the planet alongside total newbies.
It’s a challenge to design a cover for an anthology of poems – how to choose a single strong image that represents the book as a whole rather than a single poem. More challenging is designing a series that is linked primarily by the Australian nationality of the authors – each book in the series is a distinctly different style of writing, and I am not sure what will come in the future.
I set some graphic rules to establish a series look: each book has three flat colours, the same stripe patterns and circular motifs.
Books are mostly shelved ‘spine out’. These short volumes (48-60 pages each) have very narrow spines. I designed the stripe patterns and strong colours to wrap around the spine so that the series will be distinctive despite the thin spines.
Each book features a creature that appears more than once, or is a prominent element in the titular poem. I intended these to all be flying creatures (birds or bats)
but the fourth in the series, Natalie Harkin’s Dirty Words came with a request to use an image from artist Ali Barker’s ‘Sovereign Fleet’ exhibition. It’s a powerful image and although it deviates from the ‘creature’ motifs across the other three, still works within the series design.
The large and small circles feature animals or landscapes mentioned in the poems. For instance from Crankhandle, the line from one poem reading “dragonfly above, goldfish below” is visualised in the upper and lower circles. I wrote lists of birds, animals and landscapes for each book, so if authors were not happy with the chosen images there are many other options – it’s a flexible system.
I sourced the bird, animal and landscape images from Creative Commons stock libraries – they are available to modify and reuse commercially because they have fallen out of copyright or the copyright owner has released them into the public domain (with the obvious exception of Ali Baker’s photograph, which the author obtained permission to use).
Using creative commons images was a decision made based on budget. As a small, independent press linked to a not-for-profit organisation, there was minimal design fee and no budget for purchasing stock images. Because I have a full-time job, I am taxed 49% of my freelance commissions – I figure if I’m losing half my fee, I might as well work for less money on projects where I can be more experimental. Working with small presses, Seizure last year and Cordite this year, gives me greater creative freedom, primarily because there are fewer ‘stakeholders’ involved.
With a small press, I stipulate from the beginning that unless they really hate what I’ve done, the design decisions are mine. I consult with the publisher (in this case Kent) and authors only. Kent and I had several conversations about typefaces and he made decisions based on some early design roughs and different iterations of the final covers, but otherwise allowed me creative control. The authors all approved with only minor amendments.
This is a very different process from working for a larger commercial publishing house, which involves getting approval at every stage from the publishing, editorial, sales, and marketing departments, as well as the author. Not all parties have to be consulted at each stage (initial concepts, rough drafts, various stages of refined drafts, final artwork) but getting the approval of this many people often results in ‘safer’ versions of what I wanted to do. The term for this is ‘design by committee’ and it’s generally not used in a complimentary way.
I’m proud of this series of covers but more importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed the design process and created something quite different for me. Except the use of Fairfield, which is a typeface I can’t get enough of.