The Conundrum of Coralie Bickford-Smith

I started looking into the work of Coralie Bickford-Smith because of her Clothbound Series Collections 1 – 4, which can be found pretty much anywhere. I found books from these series in boutique clothing stores, in gift stores, in large chain clothing stores, and of course bookstores up and down the street. The clothbound hardcover books feature simple, repetitive patterns featuring an interesting object that in some way evokes the plot or mood of each novel. For example, flamingos grace the cover of Alice and Wonderland, parrots in palm trees cover Treasure Island, and sewing scissors on Little Women. The simple, old fashioned design, limited to two colors, seems to be appealing to retailers and one must assume customers as well.

This popularity seems to me evidence of an underlying sea change in the role of books in our society. As ereaders like the kindle, nook and iPad become widespread and ebooks keep increasing their share of book sales, the role that physical books play in our society is shifting. While I don’t think physical books will ever disappear, I think more of the market will move towards books as beautiful artifacts, such as these old-fashioned, well designed hardcovers, and away from cheap, mass-market paperbacks.

These book designs also feed into the current vintage trend that is embracing a more well-crafted aesthetic; Coralie describes these book covers as “all about evoking a pre-computer era of craftsmanship and fine binding.” (Read the full interview with her here.)

So I’m not really surprised that this kind of book is popping up everywhere. What I am surprised about is that retailers are choosing these particular books. Sure, they’re perfectly nice, and elegant in their simplicity. But they aren’t the only series capitalizing on this hardcover, old-fashioned, objet d’arte trend in book design. There are so many other beautiful series in this same vein right now, and at the end of the day I just don’t find those particular books very inspiring. I prefer, for example, Jessica Hische’s series for Barnes and Nobles Classics:

Barnes and Noble Classics Book Covers designed by Jessica Hische

Or even some of Coralie Bickford-Smith’s other series, which are seemingly much less popular (based on what I’ve seen at stores I’ve shopped at). Her designs for F. Scott Fitzgerald or the three-book Arabian Nights set are simply gorgeous. She has so much good work, it is very strange to me that what is everywhere is what seems (in my opinion) to be the least interesting.

F Scott Fitzgerald books designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith
Arabian Nights books designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith

If you’re interested in seeing more of Coralie’s book designs (there are a ton, and most of them are awesome), I recommend checking out her full portfolio.

Awesome Children’s Book Cover Design 2

Between my love affair with books and my life of design, I am always keeping an eye open for cool book covers. Here’s another selection of interesting children’s book covers, this time focusing on the use of unusual materials with the six Penguin Threads covers and the Hitchhiker’s Guide DIY Sticker Covers. Enjoy!

Penguin Threads:

Penguin Threads: Emma, Black Beauty, and The Secret Garden

Penguin Threads is a beautiful series of books where the cover art was created through embroidery. The first three books—Emma, Black Beauty, and The Secret Garden—were commissioned from Jillian Tamaki (read her blogpost on this project). They detail is absolutely beautiful, and I feel like sitting there and just staring at these covers for a half hour, absorbing every little thing. It’s almost a little bit overwhelming! And while I love the color palette and design, I must admit the Emma cover reminded me a little bit of Milton Glaser’s famous poster of Bob Dylan, which is an amusingly strange connection to make.

Jillian Tamaki embroidering

Penguin made an effort to make the covers as enjoyably realistic as possible by both embossing the thread design, and on the inside of the covers showing the back of the embroidery:

The Secret Garden: Interior cover with the back of the embroidery

The Penguin Threads series is described on their website: “Commissioned by award-winning Penguin art director Paul Buckley, the Penguin Threads series debuts with cover art by Jillian Tamaki for three gift-worthy Penguin Classics. Sketched out in a traditional illustrative manner, then hand stitched using needle and thread, the final covers are sculpt embossed for a tactile, textured, and beautiful book design that will appeal to the Etsy(tm)-loving world of handmade crafts.”

And for those who have already seen and loved these first three, there’s good news. Penguin has continued the series with three new titles—The Wizard of Oz, Little Women, and The Wind in the Willows—this time with embroidery illustrations by Rachell Sumpter. If anything, these compositions are even more crazily detailed; I’m still trying to decide if I think the chaos in the Little Women cover, inspired by embroidery samplers, is fantastic or too much. Despite the chaos, they are definitely still gorgeous book covers. Tempted to get the whole series!

Penguin Threads 2: The Wizard of Oz
Penguin Threads 2: Little Women
Penguin Threads 2: The Wind in the Willows

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy DIY Sticker Covers:

I first stumbled across these on Faceout Books’ great blog on the process of book design (read their post on Hitchhikers). These Hitchhiker’s covers, designed for the books’ 30th anniversary, have a simple concept: the title and author are printed at the bottom of an empty image of the universe. Inside the cover are a sheet of awesome/ridiculous stickers that relate to the book’s plots in various ways, and readers are encouraged to make a “DIY” cover by creating their own layout and design. Totally awesome. What a great way to get people, especially kids, to get excited about reading (and hopefully get hooked on a great series of books!).

As if it was needed, these DIY covers come with an added bonus. They have been incorporated into the ebook iPhone app, so for those of you into reading your books digitally, you can still have fun playing around with these awesome interactive covers. Unfortunately these seem to only be available the UK, as far as I can tell. Hopefully it will be available for American audiences soon!

Hitchhiker's iPhone app with DIY cover