A successful book cover conveys not only a book’s basic facts but also, often, an emotional aspect of its content. Cardon Webb makes the hard work and artistry of balancing text with imagery look easy.
Cardon loves typography. His Cardon Copy project in 2009 was an illuminating experiment about message and content. He appropriated real bulletin-board flyers—advertising an apartment for rent, a cleaning lady’s services, a lost cat, and so on—and redesigned them word for word, “hijacking...and overpowering their message with a new visual language.”
Gruenwedel: Oh, no!
Webb: Yeah, I remember trying to figure out how to print double-sided images. We were lining things up in the most archaic way, cutting the paper to a certain size and then trying to hold the paper a precise way with our fingers [as it went through the printer].
Those are skills I still use on a daily basis. After printing out a book cover, I’ll use X-Acto knives and rulers to cut and comp it down to size, in preparation for presentation.
FROM BEING BOOKED TO DOING BOOKS
Gruenwedel: How do you research a book cover design?
Webb: I’ll read the manuscript thoroughly and start making notes and dog-earing pages. As I’m reading, I’ll think “that’s a cool scene” or “this is a cool concept” or “this character arc is important and could be featured on the cover.” From there, I start thinking about what the mood or the tone should be.
I also consider the genre of the book. There’s a big difference between designing a book cover for a cerebral thriller that’s meant for an independent-thinking audience versus a mass-market book that will be sold in the 7-Eleven [convenience store] or your corner gas station.
I might start by saying that this cover is a good candidate for a typographic direction because it would be hard to put an image to this topic.
Then I start by drawing a bunch of rectangles on a sheet of paper to simulate the vertical trim size of a book. I sketch in shapes and add type content pretty early on. I think about how the type is going to break, depending on the length of the book’s title. Sometimes a big-name author’s name will appear larger than the title.
Also, my former art director, John Gall. He works often with cut paper and collage. I find his tactile, irregular, but natural way of seeing things inspiring.
Gruenwedel: What do you do when you’re not designing book covers?
Webb: My wife and I seek out and go to estate sales, sometimes traveling more than an hour to get to one. I love rummaging through people’s stuff, looking for anything from old printed ephemera, furniture, toys, and clothing to art and artist prints. We have quite the collection of oddities. The beautiful thing is that each piece has a story behind where we acquired it. I have dreams of refinishing some of the furniture we have found.
Gruenwedel: Do you enjoy working with your hands more than your mouse?
Webb: I don’t want to discount working on a computer; it’s an amazing tool. But I really love working with my hands. I would say that most of my creativity is rooted from that more tactile aspect, compared to working digitally.
When I designed the cover for the book Taipei by Tao Lin, I was able to use a holographic foil. I always wanted to use this effect in a bold way. The outcome is beautiful, shimmery, glittery, and bold. That’s an example of a project where publishers allowed an outrageous printing effect and spent a little more money to create something alluring.
Gruenwedel: Do you ever tire of designing book covers?
Webb: Not really; every project is so different though the format is the same. One day I’ll be working on a young 20-something’s first novel; the next day I might be designing a Civil War book. The day after that, I might be working on someone’s family memoir.
Gruenwedel: Can you judge a book by its cover?
Webb: I do it all the time! I’m really good at it [laughs]. When you’re in a bookstore, you pick up a book because it stands out for whatever reason. I pick up books all the time because the covers look good, but I don’t necessarily buy them.