A Separation

A couple of months ago I read Katie Kitamura’s novel A Separation. I was impressed with Kitamura’s writing, and the way she wove her themes of absence and death, searching and frustration. I liked it so much, I decided to try to make a book cover for it.

Kitamura’s story is told by a female narrator, who is detached and opaque throughout. She and her husband have separated, although they’ve largely kept that fact to themselves. Her mother-in-law, unaware of their separation, asks the narrator to travel to Greece to locate her now-missing husband. She does so and finds a smoking, ruined landscape, destroyed by a fire a few months previous. Her husband is a ghostly presence, seemingly just out of reach. She always just misses him. I won’t say anything more (spoilers!), but I was intrigued by the images Kitamura described, of the blue, blue waters and the black, still-smoking hills, and of the husband’s ghostly presence.

The first one I did focused on Kitamura’s unforgettable Grecian landscape.


But that didn’t seem quite right. While it got the setting, I couldn’t get a sense of the dislocation and distance of the narrator: her strange, clinical detachment. I wanted a little…more. So I made one of the narrator. Kitamura made her a frustrating one, telling a story and then negating or qualifying in the next paragraph. She withholds, and is always turning away from other characters as well as her own feelings. I thought if she were on the cover, it should show her back, turned away, or even walking away, anything to avoid a confrontation.


But once I’d done that, I missed that sense of place, that ruined, smoky landscape. So I brought it back in combination with that frustrating narrator. I decided to focus on that ghostly husband. But once I’d done that, I was annoyed. Here was a story told by a woman, why was I erasing her to feature a man’s silhouette on the cover? She was, in her way, almost as absent as the husband. In the end, I think I like them as a set: equally missing from their own story.


Have you read the book? What do you think would make a good cover?

Romeo and Juliet

I enjoyed working on my last Shakespeare book cover so much, I decided to keep on with another cover idea that I've been kicking around for a long time, but never completed: Romeo and Juliet.

I saw the play again this past summer in the park with my friend and fellow illustrator, Julia Sverchuk. She is a big supporter of the New York Classical Theatre, and always does a beautiful job drawing their performances on location. They put on the play outside in the park with characteristic verve. What struck me about the play was for all Romeo and Juliet talked about love, they BARELY KNEW EACH OTHER! And when I came home rolling my eyes about hormonal teenagers, Greg reminded me that it didn't matter. They were fated to fall in love, and fated to die (I hope I'm not spoiling it for you guys).

And when I read back into one of my medieval art books that in the setting of the play, I found that in 14th century Verona (and even in 16th century England, when it was written), the prevailing belief was that your destiny really was written in the stars (hence "star-crossed"). Nothing happened that wasn't fated already. So that's why Romeo and Juliet are tiny, tiny figures in my book cover, whose lives are lived out under the spinning, cosmic arbiters of their fates. They're also small to bring home how their lives are determined by the enmity of their families, who have divided Verona into two factions, and can only see in a limited palette of black and white. If Romeo and Juliet is not as much about the power of romantic love as much as fate, I think Shakespeare is making a case for civic unity as the foundation of any personal joy. The fomenters of disunity endanger their own loved ones in their feud, as the Capulets and Montagues learn to their heartbreak. 

Tiny, tiny pawns of fate.

Thinking about the type, I found this beautiful book of prints from woodcuts and engraved plates first published in 1601 in Nuremberg by Paul Franck. There are several alphabets in the book, each more swirly and mind-blowing than the last!

Look at this crazy, swirly type!

Look at this crazy, swirly type!

Their whorls and swirls reminded me of the witty wordplay (and perhaps swordplay) of Mercutio and even Romeo himself. I thought I could take these elaborate letterforms and soften them for a more hand drawn (and romantic) feeling, while keeping a (loose) reference to the Renaissance timeframe of the play's creation. The type allowed me to introduce some of that romance back into the cover since I suppose, against all reason, that we will continue to think (and market) Romeo and Juliet as "romantic!"

The Road

As some of you may know, I'm an avid reader. Sometimes as an exercise (and because doing book covers would be the dream job), I put together a book cover for a book that I really enjoyed. I read Cormac McCarthy's _The Road_ about a year ago, and was struck by McCarthy's barren, ash-colored landscape. I couldn't picture any images from this book in color—only charcoal or graphite—the simplest, barest tools for this story set in the aftermath of the apocalypse.


When I was a kid, the thing I loved most in the world was the idea of unicorns. The hope that somewhere out there in the world, was a creature so shy, so sensitive, so beautiful that she never let herself be seen was appealing beyond anything. Like a horse, but a million times better! When my father took me to see the movie The Last Unicorn, I was in seventh heaven! I read the book not too long ago and found it a bit different as an adult, but the first sentence did take me back to that place: "The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone." Just for fun, I designed a book cover showing the unicorn alone in her lilac wood. I couldn't even wait to add type, I just had to share!

And here's a close up of that lonely unicorn.