behind the design: liz connor & pure

If you’re a frequenter of this here li’l blog, you know exactly how much I love to interview artists and authors alike regarding cover art. By the way, if there are any wealthy benefactors out there who have absolutely no idea what to do with their money (after donating a lot of it to charity, of course), I’d love to pitch a series of short docs that revolve around cover art design. Oh wait. This post isn’t about me and my bookish filmmaking fantasies. I forget easily.

Today’s post is actually dedicated to this gem and the AD responsible for seeing it come to life. Please give a warm welcome to Liz Connor

TCG: Pure’s cover falls into the category of simple and symbolic cover art. Was it always foreseen to be simple and symbolic? What was your process like from concept to final design?

LC: My boss, creative director Anne Twomey, actually came up with the front cover image fairly early on. Having read the manuscript we knew this book required an evocative cover rather than a literal one. We wanted to set a tone, to show rather than tell. And for a book like this you want to keep the cover “simple” in a way that allows it to appeal to the broadest audience.

So Anne came up with the idea of a “live” butterfly in a bell jar, and someone else—I can’t recall if it was me or the editor, Jaime Levine—thought of a similar image where the “live” butterfly was replaced with a mechanical one, to stand in for the bugs Pressia builds out of scraps. Both ideas seemed fruitful, and when Anne considered what was involved, she immediately thought of a photographer whose work she had admired but with whom she’d never had the chance to work, Kevin Twomey (no relation). We started talking to him about our plans, and in our research both he and I independently came across the work of Mike Libby. He’s an artist and the driving force behind something called Insect Lab Studio. In essence, he re-builds insects using real carcasses and filling them with tiny clockwork bits and pieces. The he mounts and displays them in sealed bell jars. (It’s no wonder he’s been embraced by the steampunk community…) We got in touch and hired him to build our mechanical butterfly.

© Mike Libby/Insect Lab Studio

Kevin shot both scenes—we’d decided to leave the mechanical butterfly on the outside of the bell jar/dome for a little variety—and sent them to us. With the publisher’s input, we decided pretty quickly to use the “live” butterfly version on the front cover. Its appeal was more immediate, I think. We knew people would want to pick it up in the store if the blue butterfly was on the front.

We had tried a number of different typefaces—from the simplest serif faces to much more niche-y, sci-fi looking options—but Anne’s combination of the swash capital (which she blurred so it seems to vibrate) and the small, spaced-out lower-case italics, just seemed to capture the right tone.

When all the design decisions were made, we had to consider production issues. Our production manager, Antoinette Marotta, found us a super-soft, almost velvety, matte lamination that would make the book feel really good and set the background back in space. She also recommended an extremely glassy-smooth spot gloss treatment for the bell jar. And the combination of the two has created a package that is really hard to put down. And that was that.

Okay. I’ve picked up this hardcover and I’ve flipped it over with my own two hands. That matte lamination feels exactly like butter tastes: extremely rich and so, so good. The spot gloss doesn’t make reflections annoyingly blinding, either. The final print is perfect.

When designing, how important was it to factor in designing for an audience?

It’s always important to consider your audience when designing the cover of a book, but a good design by its very nature will reach a wide range of people. That’s what we wanted here. Certainly there is an expected audience for this book, but I think there are many more people who would like it if they gave it a chance. We figured if we made the cover design beautiful enough, and went broad enough with the concept, then even people outside that anticipated readership would have a hard time ignoring it.

Also, while the book leans slightly towards the YA readership, that didn’t mean we should alienate adult readers. On the contrary we wanted the cover to appeal to readers of all ages.

How do you feel about design trends in the YA genre? How do trends fit into your own design methodology?

We don’t really work on YA books in our department, but I read quite a few for someone my age, and there have been some really lovely things happening in the genre. As a huge Lois Duncan fan in my teens I was really excited by the new graphic, hand-lettered repackaging done by my colleagues at Little, Brown for Young Readers. Also the ornate layered feel of the Incarceron series does a good job of straddling genres, I think. And I adored the progression-of-concept on the Hunger Games covers, but it’s hard to separate my appreciation of the design from my love of the books themselves…

Trends are definitely on our minds when we’re designing covers. But we try not to let them dictate what we do. You do your best to stay current and pay attention to the trends, but in an ideal world you try to create the next trend yourself.

When I look at Pure’s cover art, there are design elements that make it feel familiar to its genre but also different from its YA cover art family as a whole. And though artwork will always be interpreted differently, what is the one thought that you’d hope each person would take away after just one glance?

After just one glance? That’s tough.

I guess I would hope that after just one glance a viewer decides they need to look again. And again. Repeat until they can’t help but purchase, consume, and enjoy it. And then, once they’ve finished the book, I hope they look at the cover with new eyes and realize that not only is it a beautiful cover, but it’s also an extremely appropriate one.

That’s what I would hope anyway.

“Repeat until they can’t help but purchase, consume, and enjoy it.” That quote’s going on my quote wall, for sure. A million thanks for stopping by and letting me pick your brain about Pure’s artwork, Liz!

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7 thoughts on “behind the design: liz connor & pure

  1. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE.

    I particularly love the live butterfly on the front and the mechanical on the back. (I still haven’t seen the finished product – I assume the mechanical butterfly is still on the back, like with the ARC?) To me, seeing the live butterfly – colorful and vibrant and beautiful – on the dome represents the Pures which are the same – flawless and things of beauty, really. To put the dark and mechanical butterfly on the back cover is indicative of the Wretches (to me) in that they are dark, ashen because of their ash-filled and dusty environment, and fused with “stuff” – so they’re sort of mechanical too. They’re on the back because they’re “less than” and really unexpected. The Pures inside the dome – at least most of them – don’t even know the extent to which they exist and thrive on the outside.

    I guess the covers can mean different things to different people. But this cover is genius to me. I love how it is marketed. Disclaimer: this IS one of my favorite books ever, so I may be a little bit biased. But yeah, this is beautiful to see. And such a treat to see your blog today Capillya! What a surprise!

  2. Wow, what a beautiful cover. And again, so interesting to get an insiders peek at how the whole design came about. Well done to Liz and everyone else involved!

  3. Very cool cover story. I love knowing how this cover came about, from beginning to the finished product. The mechanical butterfly is kind of spooky to me.

  4. I love this feature! I just read this book and I was definitely thinking about the cover the entire time. I’m glad to hear so much effort went into the cover to reflect what’s actually inside the book.

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