Each Cover Design a Collection of Small Stories
January 30, 2017
By Louis Roe
Bookbuilder’s New England Book Show, an annual juried event celebrating book design and production, is just around the corner. Now seems an appropriate time to peek out from behind the curtain! I’ve been Beacon’s Assistant Designer for a little over a year, and in that time, Art Director Bob Kosturko and I have been working hard to create thoughtful, attractive packages for our 2016 and 2017 titles. Here are a few that I’ve particularly enjoyed working on.
Life as Jamie Knows It by Michael Bérubé
Life as Jamie Knows It is one of the first covers I designed for Beacon, and still one of the covers I’ve presented the most ideas for (only a handful are pictured here). Michael Bérubé’s memoir provides his reflections on raising his son, Jamie, who has Down syndrome, as his son transitions into adulthood. Several important moments in their relationship take place at a public pool, which is why I was drawn to a blue palette. I also wanted to convey a sense of peeking into this young man’s life and identity; he isn’t summed up by any single part of him, least of all an irregularity in his chromosomes. One of my favorite elements of this cover is a sample of Jamie’s art in the bottom-right corner of the cork board. He’s quite prolific in his artistic output, and you can find more of his work at Michael Bérubé's website.
Scriptorium by Melissa Range
This was my first attempt at using my own hand-painted illustration for a cover and, dramatically, the last cover I completed for the Fall 2016 list. I spend a lot of my time outside of work drawing and painting, so this felt very personal—considerably more nerve-wracking than being judged for someone else’s typeface and photos I’ve arranged on a page—which turned out to be just what the poetry collection called for. I’d never tried my hand at illuminated lettering before, and found myself obsessively churning out dozens of S’s before I felt confident enough to propose the one pictured here. It’s notably rougher around the edges than the illuminated letters you’d find in a medieval manuscript, but I think this speaks in its own way to the relationship between beautification and experience you’ll find in Range’s poems.
At the Broken Places by Mary Collins and Donald Collins
We handle a lot of sensitive, personal topics in the books we publish, but no book I’ve worked on has hit me closer to home than At the Broken Places. Co-written by a mother and son as a series of letters to each other, this book explores the challenges of coming out as a young transgender man, and of being a loving but very concerned parent to that man. While designing this cover, I was having similarly fraught conversations with my parents while making plans for top surgery this past fall. Some of the comps I developed focused on the grief of this experience; others, the effort of maintaining a dialogue. Ultimately, it seems appropriate to me—and accurate to the Collins’ story—that we went with something more celebratory: two family members giving each other room to experience their feelings freely and fully, in the interest of staying together.
These days, I’m working on covers for our Fall 2017 list, including books about animal personalities, public school funding, and Western conceptions of feminism, as well as another poetry collection. Each one becomes its own lesson in perspective, strategy, and materials. (Before working on text design for Lauren Shields’ The Beauty Suit, I had no idea how lipstick interacted with paper—so oily!) I’m also learning constantly about how to receive and interpret feedback. You never know what sort of comment or visual stimulus is going to influence the final outcome of a cover, which brings its share of excitement, challenges, and inspiration to the job. In this way, each cover is comprised of its own small stories, which are then poetically printed onto a medium weight paper, laminated, and wrapped around the most important story in the book.
To read about how Louis Roe designed the cover for the new edition of Alice Childress’s classic novel Like One of the Family, check out the profile piece about him on Publishers Weekly.
About the Author
Louis Roe has been an assistant designer at Beacon Press since 2015, after graduating from Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing program and a brief stint in content marketing. Though he has momentarily been permitted to infiltrate this blog, he typically prefers to communicate in the medium of post-it note doodles.