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Sunday, June 19, 2011

INTERVIEW: Andrew Henderson

Since I first discovered designer and illustrator Andrew Henderson's 50 Days/50 Covers project, I've wanted to do a feature on it. But with such a big project like this, that the designer is clearly very passionate about, I wanted to do it justice. Andrew and I both had some pretty busy schedules over the past 47 days (yes, the project is almost to an end) but I'm really happy with what we've come up with for this post. Over the course of the project he's created some very unique covers and had very interesting answers to all my questions.

And so, I am happy to finally present my interview with Andrew.

To Be Shelved: I love your 50 Days/50 Covers project. How did that get started?
Andrew Henderson: Thank you! I first had the idea after hearing about the quiet retirement of the AIGA 50 Books/50 Covers competition. I was inspired by the petition to bring the contest back and even more so by it's success. The idea of designing 50 covers in 50 days seemed like a great challenge but I couldn't decide what 50 books to use. I thought of compiling a list of my favourite books but that seemed a little too easy. I also thought of asking book designers and authors to submit a book for me to re-cover but it didn't quite work out in my head. After having the project on the back burner for a few weeks I then found out about the John Gall curated 30 Days, 30 Covers project from the Office of Letters and Light. It actually put me off the project considering how similar they are but then I stumbled across a list by SuperScholar entitled The 50 Most Influential Books of the Last 50 (or so) Years and decided to go for it. I even contacted Letters and Light and to make sure I had their blessing before kicking off.

TBS: What is your goal with the project?
AH: I want to challenge myself with tight deadlines and push myself creatively. It would be easy to design 50 covers in 50 days if you stuck to the same template of a black and white photograph and Helvetica (I've not resorted to that quite yet) but I want to try as many different styles as I can with the project. There are a lot of ideas I've had in my mind for a while that I've never had the chance to put into practice and I'm hoping that with 50/50 I can put them to use. Unfortunately that means not all the covers are likely be a success but I'd hope people won't be too critical considering the quantity. I'd also love to get some work from the project, maybe a rogue publisher or aspiring author could stumble on the site and end up asking me to work on a jacket for them. I've never had one of my covers published so that would be pretty amazing

Click through the jump to see more photos and read the rest of our interview, then make sure you head over to 50/50 over the next few days to see the final covers and dig through the project's archive.

TBS: When did you first become interested in book cover design?

AH: I only started actively reading for pleasure a few years ago, being forced into reading Orwell in school soured me on the idea for far too long (and I've since come to recognise George for the genius he is). Once I began working my way through all the books I felt I really should have read by that point I began becoming increasingly frustrated by the lacklustre, boring and misleading designs adorning my favourite works of fiction. I suppose that's just the perils of being a graphic designer. In my fourth and final year of university I was encouraged to set my own briefs and work on the projects I wanted with the tutors claiming it was the last time I would ever get such creative freedom. I decided to use these powers for good and try to fix some of the World's book design problems.

TBS: What is it that you enjoy about designing book covers?
AH: I love the challenge of having to sum up such a huge piece of work, and one the author has often poured years of their life into, in one image. It is not an easy task to say the least, but it is a mighty satisfying one. You have so much to work with that as a designer you feel like a kid in a candy store. Often with posters or websites or logos you have only a handful of themes to work with but books, to me at least, seem to provide so much more. I don't mean to put down other areas of design of course, I'm just being biased.

TBS: Your cover for “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was shortlisted for the Puffin Children’s Prize of the Penguin Design Award. Was it difficult to come up with a fresh, new design for such a well-known classic? Can you explain your design process with the “Alice” cover?
AH: I went through a few different ideas for Alice, she certainly was a tricky one. I really wanted to stay away from past covers by avoiding any imagery or themes used to sell the book in the past. I had one idea involving Alice falling into an ongoing spiral of text that I liked but despite my best efforts it just looked to "samey". Once I moved forward with the White Rabbit idea (I also worked on a similar concept with the Cheshire Cat) I looked at different ways to execute the illustration over the photograph, the most traumatic of which involved enlisting my printmaker girlfriend to help me out with copper etching for an afternoon. In the end I chose watercolour ink because of Ralph Steadman. I always associate his work with Hunter S. Thompson and, by proxy, the influence of drugs. I think anyone would would agree that Lewis Carroll's work is "trippy" to say the least.

TBS: You designed both hardbacks and paperbacks for Irvine Welsh books. Why Irvine Welsh?
AH: Because he got me hooked on reading again. Like most people I discovered him through Trainspotting but I quickly worked my way through his entire oeuvre. After researching book design for an entire semester I had to decide on my final project and new covers for Welsh's back catalogue seemed like a great choice for a couple of reasons. First of all, he had never had one distinct style flowing through all his covers until recently, and it was rather uninspiring to say the least. The new covers made the books seem like any other novel on the shelf but to me they had always stood out. They had the distinct dialogue and lack of speech marks that gave the text such a unique identity and it was a crime to not see it reflected on the jackets. Secondly, it was a big project. Eleven books all requiring a new jacket was a big undertaking (not quite 50 but still a lot) and I didn't want to fail my final year because of quantity. Finally, the research was already done. After months of reading Wikipedia articles and blog posts I wanted to get my hands dirty again and with Irvine Welsh meant I could get right to it rather than spend another few weeks reading the material.
TBS: The paperbacks are definitely designed more as a series. Why did you choose to take that approach?
AH: I think it was my attempt to build a brand identity. The paperbacks spawned from an early version of the hardback jackets and are intended to be inexpensive and disposable. I would hope people might pick them up at the train station before a long journey, like the little green Penguin Classics. I designed them as a series to help people recognise his work when scanning the shelves for a book to take on holiday. I also went for the tripartite look as a tribute Penguin who first brought the idea of "cheap and cheerful" literature to the masses.

TBS: I really love how you styled your design reports as Penguin paperbacks. Those simple covers have become so iconic. Why do you think they were so successful?
AH: Because they are memorable. Penguins were, and still are, the most instantly recognisable book on the shelf and people like to stick with what they know. It's brand loyalty at it's best. You even get them pencil cases and beach chairs now which is pretty amazing, and I love my Penguin mug.

TBS: You also have some poster designs on your website. How is book cover design different from other forms of design?
AH: The smaller format is often more of a challenge. Book covers are tiny compared to most posters but need to have the same impact. They also seem interactive, which is a rare thing to find in design for print. With posters what you see is what you get but book covers can have hidden elements on the spine or the back or the inside folds and a front cover can completely change when shown in context with the rest of the jacket. It's one of the reasons my Irvine Welsh illustrations are spread over the whole cover, I wanted to give them that extra dynamic.

TBS: People often ask me what my favorite book cover is and I always have the hardest time choosing. Do you have a favorite book cover or cover designer?
AH: The first edition cover of The Catcher In The Rye will always be my favourite. As for book designers, Chip Kidd and Henry Sene Yee are favourites at the moment but I've always loved the work of David Pearson. He was art director for the Penguin Great Ideas series and created the most amazing range of covers for Cormac McCarthy's back catalogue too. I could go on all day but I'll leave it at that.

TBS: Any last words?
AH: I just hope people are enjoying 50 Days / 50 Covers. It's been a lot of work and a few of my other projects have suffered because of it, Lovely Book Covers in particular. I've got some plans for the site once 50/50 is done though so hopefully it'll all be worth it.
I'd like to thank Andrew for communicating with me so well for this interview. It was a pleasure getting to know him and I encourage everyone to view more of his work


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