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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

A Tale of Two Covers: Illustrators on two continents discuss inspiration, art and their cover designs for ‘Devilskein & Dearlove’

Cover, Title, Opening Paragraph: these create the ‘first impression’ a novel makes upon a reader perusing bookshop shelves. But as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and cover comes first. Not surprisingly then covers can be a contentious, even traumatic matter and authors generally get very little say in the final appearance of a book. In my publishing past, I have one cover I so disliked, that I painted my last remaining author’s copy of the novel in turquoise, a colour I am particularly fond of, and so I do not have to see that dastardly jacket ever again.

When it came to Devilskein & Dearlove, I could not have dreamed of a more handsome and elegant pair of covers for the UK and SA editions. What is fascinating is how totally different the covers are from each other. There’s an elusive idea called ‘Writer’s Voice’, but I think Victor Hugo pretty much summed it up when he wrote that ‘Every man who writes, writes a book; this book is himself. Whether he knows it or not, whether he wishes it or not, it is true. From every body of work, whatever it may be, wretched or illustrious, there emerges a persona, that of the writer. It is his punishment, if he is petty; it is his reward, if he is great.’ And this must be true of artists, illustrators and cover designers. Surely there is such a thing as ‘Designer’s Voice’. After interviewing the cover designers Bia van Deventer who designed the South African edition published by Random Houseand Ed Boxall who designed the UK edition published by Arachne Press, I am convinced that their designs are a beautiful reflection of themselves. I daresay then: Every woman or man who designs, designs an image; this image is her or himself. Whether she or he knows it or not, whether she or he wishes it or not, it is true. From every body of work, there emerges a persona, that of the designer.’

And what’s more, having asked Bia and Ed to each send me an image of their desk and workspace, it seems to me too that desks are a reflection of the worker!

2e19b492e75a2485fb6ca32cb83a4f3dBia van Deventer’s design for the South African cover features a double-dolphin-headed key surrounded by a whimsical, shadowy lace of elements from the book: keyholes, trees, scarabs, peacocks, roses, crocodiles and giraffes over a broody indigo background.

Alex: Bia, what got you into this line of work?

Bia: I come from a very creative family, with fine art always playing an important role in my life, so it was natural that I enjoyed oil painting at school, but I felt I needed to learn a new skill when I had to choose a career. Graphic design was a natural choice, as I could still apply my artistic skills and mindset but I could use them in a new way. I enjoy mixing real, photographic and digital mediums to create a new entity.

Alex: In terms of illustrating, who are your greatest inspirations?
Bia: The Australian company Mash Design. Their delicate use of texture, layout and typography combined with interesting new ideas keep me in awe. I love how they take every opportunity available to use raw elements in their design. Whether it’s interesting photography or experimenting with different types of illustration, they always seem to achieve an amazing free flow of elements with an underlying structure in their fonts. I also adore the work of Finish illustrator Sanna Annukka. I love that graphic design/illustration can be applied to so many mediums, from printed cards and wallpaper, to fabric, crockery and fashion. Sanna’s characters have even been made into cookie cutters, which I think is fantastic. It’s great that something so typical can be used to take the design just a little bit further.

Alex: How would you describe your style?
Bia: Creative, fun, fantastical and very very detailed. I spend a lot of time perfecting every single element.

Bia's desk

Bia’s desk

Alex: Where do your ideas come from in general and in specific for this cover?
Bia: I visualised the story as I read the book, made notes and then researched a font and elements that I used to create the desired elements and look. I knew I wanted the key as the main feature, but I felt the animals and plants were just as important. I used an existing key image but totally reworked the colour and design of the key until it looked like the key that was referenced in the book.

Alex: Can you describe the process of developing a book cover?
Bia: I made notes of every detail whilst reading the book. I also made quick sketches of how I see different scenes, this helped me create a visual map of the story and it was then easy to see which elements would work best for the cover. I worked on two different cover designs from which the final cover was chosen.

Alex: Have you designed covers for other novels?
Bia: No, this was my first and hopefully, not last book cover.

Alex: What kind of illustrating/design do you most enjoy?
I enjoy collage designs, as I love the layering of objects and combining different elements to create a new look.

Alex: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Bia: Every single project is different. I love working with people. Even though every brand starts with the same components, the client’s idea and input are always different. I enjoy working on projects that are challenging and mastering new techniques. The world of design moves so quickly and it’s great to have a dose of new (almost daily!) inspiration, while finding the timeless solution within each trend.

Alex: Is there anything you dislike about the work you do?
Bia: No.

Alex: What would be your advice to anyone wanting to get into design and illustrating?
Bia: I would suggest job shadowing at an applicable agency so that you can see what the job really entails. Luckily, there are so many different avenues in graphic design so you can really find one that fits your personality perfectly, be it in a more corporate environment, or more creative like fashion, stationary or lifestyle products. You can really make design work for you.

Alex: Do you have a favourite website?
Bia: At the moment my main source of inspiration is Pinterest People I follow are: michele alemanno iara principe & ariadna rivera

Ed in StudioEd Boxall’s design for the UK edition (published by Arachne Press) is bold, stark and windswept and characters from the novel, Erin Dearlove, Albertus Devilskein and Zhou the Cricket, are rendered in woodcut like gashes that remind me of the work of one of my favourite artists, the German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirschner.

Alex: Ed you’re an author and illustrator, what got you into this line of work?
Ed: It’s what I’ve always wanted to do- particularly the art side. I’ve drawn loads since I was a kid.

Alex: In terms of illustrating and art, who is one of your greatest inspirations?
Ed: I love Samuel Palmer. Palmer was a great religious artist from the late 18th and Early 19th Century. He drew the British countryside in a very personal way that invested it with a subtle spiritual energy.

Alex: How would you describe your style?
Ed: Romantic, spiritual, figurative, rural, primitive, personal, domestic, poetic, direct, British

Alex: Where do your ideas come from?
Ed: Daydreaming walking in the countryside, remembering childhood experiences, my children, the poetry of WB Yeats, Celtic Mythology, Folk Music.

Alex: Can you describe the process of developing a book cover?
Ed: I don’t do many commissions at all- I mostly make my own books and prints but when I do complete a commission I always come up with lots of very rough solutions, looking for bold graphic images from the text. I need to get really into the ideas so I’m as motivated as if it was for my own work.

Alex: Have you designed covers for other novels by authors other than yourself? How is it different designing a cover for a book you haven’t written?
Ed: Not many- I learnt a lot about book cover design when I did some books for Walker Books years ago- they drummed it into me how quickly people decide about books. The inside of a book should be subtle and real and personal but you can be a bit more of a salesman with the cover. People aren’t going to find your brilliant work if they don’t pick it up in the first place!

One of Ed's early sketches for the Devilskein cover.

One of Ed’s early sketches for the Devilskein cover.

Alex: Would you do it again?
Ed: Yes

Alex:What do you enjoy most about your work?
Ed: I love it all- I love all the working in sketchbooks generating ideas but also the relaxing repetitive activity of making printing blocks and the surprise of how they end up.

Alex:Is there anything you dislike about the work you do?
Ed: I’m not too keen on the digital stuff. I don’t much like sitting in front of a computer. I prefer drawing, cutting, sticking and printing.

Alex:What would be your advice to anyone wanting to get into writing and illustrating?
Ed: Just do it and make work you enjoy and makes you happy.

Alex: Do you have a favourite website?
Ed: I’m afraid I’m very unoriginal- the only website I use daily is Wikipedia. It’s amazing to be able to get a good introduction to pretty much any poem, myth or historic event. But one blog I genuinely find inspiring is this London based liberal left wing Christian blog: Resistance and Renewal . The rise of the far right in the UK terrifies me and I find this blog practical, wise and humane (although I’m not a practising Christian)

Thank you Bia and Ed for answering my questions.

Bia’s webpage is
Ed’s webpage is here:


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