Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Cover Story, pt. 2

Here's Part 2 of the DON'T FORGET THIS SONG cover story...

Neil Egan, our super art director on DFTS, liked some aspects of the "tall, skinny picture" design I'd cobbled together.

After a productive conference call with David and I, Neil sent us a quick sketch of his idea. In the image below, you see six stages of a promising new cover direction:

1) his original quick-sketch

2) a subsequent sketch, after a subsequent conversation, in which he suggested a larger, broader image, with decorative icons and a border-frame, a la Depression-era sheet music

3) another sketch by Neil Egan, as a refinement of the ideas in sketch 2

4) partly by David, partly by me, this was our response to Neil's ideas... we repurposed the Carters-On-The-Car image, as some folks had expressed a liking for this drawing

5) David's refinement of our collaborative effort

6) Neil's visual notes, following yet another phone chat, over David's refined sketch

Neil and Charlie encouraged us to try new directions, while we nursed this promising design through various changes.

Here are two wild-card designs I put together. First is a design inspired by some of Frank King's elegant GASOLINE ALLEY storybooks from the late 1920s.

This got a good initial reaction, but was set on the sidelines because it looked too modern-day.

Around this time, I had a long phone conversation with Art Spiegelman. He had seen DFTS on Charlie's desk at Abrams' New York City offices, and seen some of the discussions on the cover design.

Art generously spent two hours talking about covers and cover design with me. I wish I'd recorded that conversation for future reference!

The gist of Spiegelman's comments and insights was that the cover has to really sell the heart and soul of the book. He expressed the importance of making an emotional connection to the potential reader/buyer. The main image on the cover might best convey the promise of drama, and of something compelling.

He suggested that we take the most dramatic moment in the book and portray it on the cover. Alas, the Carters' story has a lot of intense emotional drama, but none of it is of the screaming match/thrown crockery/drunken spree variety that some later country music biographies might contain.

He also challenged us to get asymmetrical with our design. Our previous designs had tended to center everything. He suggested that an offbeat, asymmetrical design might further leap off the shelves and connect with the reader.

Spiegelman's conversation left me in a new frame of mind about our cover approach. I conveyed the essence of the talk to David, as best I could...

Then, after another study of old sheet music, and with the intent to commit asymmetry, I pieced this "what the?" cover concept together.

This design reflects another item from my chat with Art... that we might consider another title. We toyed with DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH for a couple of weeks. This would still make a good alternate title.

After a discussion with our agent, Bob Mecoy, who helped us choose DON'T FORGET THIS SONG, David and I decided that we liked that title the best. While the song it references isn't one of the Carter Family's "greatest hits," it conveys the essence of A.P. Carter's goals as a musician and song-preserver.

This cover approach proved too much off the beaten path for Charlie or Neil. Just in case it interests anyone, "THE CARTER FAMILY" banner was pieced together from hand lettering on a 1931 song-sheet for the pop hit I'M SORRY I LOST YOU. I had to invent missing letters from the ones in the song's title.

Finally, David did it. He collated good ideas from many of our designs, gave them a fresh angle, and created this impressive sketch.

David and I had a conversation on how to depict the Carters on the cover. There had to be a way to convey the drama of their story, without depicting one specific scene.

We wanted to suggest the discord in A.P. and Sara's marriage, despite their love for each other, and their connection as musicians. We also wanted to depict Maybelle as the "rock of Gibraltar" of the Carters. By living a more stable and calm life, and giving her all to her pivotal role as the Carters' lead guitarist, Maybelle was a patient, tolerant foundation for the group.

David nailed it. Charlie and Neil agreed.

We discussed the cover again with Neil, and made some refinements to this solid design scheme.

David rendered the cover portrait in ink and wash, and the other cover elements in pen and ink.

We had our cover!

We hope you've enjoyed this survey of our many cover design attempts. Sometimes it seemed like we'd never get a for-real cover design. It was worth all the trial and error. We couldn't have done it without the feedback and insight of all the folks we've mentioned in these posts. Our sincere thanks to each and every person who helped us get on the right path!

Yesterday Was Sara Carter's Birthday...

... and Jeff Overturf, via his very enjoyable blog, posted about it H E R E...

It's a great post; please visit his blog and enjoy it too!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Cover Story--from first roughs to final design (pt. 1)

BIG NEWS: We have created a cover design that got the thumbs-up from our editor, art director, and an imposing "cover committee" at Abrams Books!

The colors aren't finalized yet, but we've been given the blessings of our editor to unveil it here to the world...

David and I have been through many design schemes in an attempt to get a cover that's aesthetically pleasing and commercially appealing. In the publishing world, you often CAN judge a book by its cover. The cover has to somehow get across the essence of the book.

At a glance, it must suggest to the casual browser that this is IT--this is a book he or she must buy!

The art of cover design walks a thin line--between hucksterism and artistry, between commerce and creativity. The best covers achieve both goals, without one overpowering the other.

I hope we've gotten in the ballpark with this approved design.

We'd like to share with you some of our early cover schemes we came up with. This will take more than one post, but we hope you find it of interest.

Our first "cover" was a promotional piece David penned for our literary agent, Bob Mecoy, back when the book was still being shopped around. Bob now owns the original art to this piece. It's an image of the Carters sitting on the bumper of a car. You can find it HERE.

First, here is a selection of off-the-cuff thumbnail designs, from last fall. They're by David (left side) and myself (right side). These were among our first rough concepts of how the cover might look with a '30s flavor, bordering on Art Deco...

Later in 2008, David worked up our first developed concept for the cover. Our concept was to have a portrait of the three Carters, with their instruments--a very simple scene. David came up with an alternate that showed a background of trees.

These are his development sketches of this first cover design:

From these sketches, David worked up some color images of both styles...

These are nice drawings, but we felt that, ultimately, this approach didn't "sell" the story or reveal much about the characters.

David came up with this intriguing "autoharp" design as another possible approach....

Inspired by sheet music of the Depression era, I attempted a color rough with an tall, thin vertical area for the portrait of the Carters...

This design refers to the color palette of our first "cover," which was in the first Carter Family story that appeared in KRAMER'S ERGOT in 2002. That image was based on a 1930s Carter Family songbook published by Southern Music.

It worked as an image printed inside a book. As a front cover, David and I both felt it wasn't right to use--it was someone else's design.

Our editor really liked the color palette of this cover--the autumnal hues of brown and gold-orange. Those colors seem to suit the Carters. It's possible that they may end up in the final cover palette of the accepted design.

David's next design strongly incorporated certain visual symbols from the Carter Family story. This was also inspired by period sheet music. These colorful pieces are often beautifully designed, with great type treatment and use of hand-drawn fonts.

Typically, one image from a song would appear on the cover. In both pop and country songs, the image of the "cabin in the cotton" was ever-present on these vintage covers. As well, images of flowers and trees are quite common.

These images were germane to the Carters' story. In this concept, we see A.P. Carter's birth cabin, the apple tree A.P. planted on the day he met Sara Dougherty, and some wildwood flowers...

This design combined many of the visual motifs that would end up in the final version. It still seemed not exactly "there." We had some good conversations with our editor, Charlie Kochman, and our art director, Neil Egan, about how to best utilize these narrative images.

David and I both knew a good design lurked within all these possibilities. The challenge was to get the right blend of these elements into one appealing image. Some trial and error--including a couple of out-of-left-field, "what the heck?" designs by myself, had to happen first.

As well, I had a long, rewarding conversation with Art Spiegelman about the cover... details about that and other design attempts in our next exciting chapter!


Friday, July 10, 2009

Me (David) in the Studio

The esteemed illustrator, Sarah McIntyre, recently visited Seattle from her home in London, and came by the studio where Frank and I are working on Don't Forget This Song. Here is a photo of me that Sarah took (Frank had already left for the day).

Frank and I have been busy with cover design, coloring and inking (though I've been neglecting the inking of late). We'll have more to show and talk about very soon...