Some of Nicola’s book designs. Taken from her Instagram @prettypeachykeenbooks.
What made you want to pursue a career in book cover design?
I love books. I’ve always loved books. One of my first design projects was re-designing the LOTR series. I feel like a lot of the covers are quite dark and masculine, so I decided to make them quite ‘feminine’ looking. I took inspiration from the jewellery that the characters in the film wear, like Liv Tyler’s character [Arwen Evenstar], so I designed one item of jewellery to lie across each cover, and they were overlapping when you laid them out. My only regret is using ‘papyrus’ as the font. The shame!
I like print work too, I think it’s much more satisfying to what you’ve designed in real life, like when you get a book cover back from the printers. And working with books – it’s never ‘samey’ – each book has its own design, and its own style. For example, if I worked for a certain company I’d have to stick to a certain style or aesthetic. So that kind of variety appeals to me.
You’ve said you studied graphic design in university, tell me a bit about that?
I went to college first and spent three years there. And then I went straight into the third year of a university course, which was very stressful. My degree is in digital design, but I specialised in graphic design. I studied animation and basic video making, and I once spent 3 days making a 2-minute video of an origami design folding out of itself for my animation class!
How was your experience of studying design at higher level?
College was amazing. I had a lecturer who, if you asked him a question, like “What do you think of this font?” or “What do you think of my book cover”, he’d answer in riddles; like, “Well, what do you think of it?” or “How does it make you feel?” and it was really good actually, because everything I do now, I really take a step back and look at it and ask myself those questions. He tried to make our college class as professional as possible, and it felt very much like a work environment. He always told us “Name your layers!” on a piece of work. And I always do!
Do you have any designers that you really like or that inspire you?
I like Ian Barnard. He designs type and he’s very good. I love Shanti Sparrow, who’s based in NY. Her work is something I want to aim towards because she does quite a big range and she has a beautiful colour choice, and her work is really, really clever. Also, I think I just love her because her name sounds a bit like a pirate.
Where do you seek inspiration for your designs other than other designers?
I try to get inspiration from design trends. Because I can’t go wrong with that. I look at other book covers, and I do love using Instagram for researching different design trends in certain genres. I like talking to book editors and getting an idea of what they think the cover should look like and what the book makes them think of. I think just chatting about the book itself is a good way to get ideas.
You want to make a book design that last the test of time, too, don’t you?
I think book covers can change, for example, when Harry Potter came out, it had a really basic illustrated cover design and then when it became a bigger deal they got other illustrators to do them, and you can see the detail and the brush strokes in the later book designs. I think those covers have really lasted the test of time. I love Dodie Smith’s 101 Dalmatians hardback edition, which was designed by Sara Ogilvie. I think she started a trend for patterned covers. And there’s no writing on the cover, only the spine. I’d love to design something like that.
Do you have a favourite book cover?
I know it’s stereotypical, but I love Roald Dahl’s covers. I love Quentin Blake’s designs. And Nick Sharrat, the Horrid Henry Books, and Nelly the Monster Sitter. I love that sketchy-style, and they’ve remained so prominent in my mind. Book covers do really stick with you. Nick Sharrat’s book covers stick in my mind, they are so Jacqueline Wilson, they go hand in hand.
How long does it take you to create a new book cover from start to where you’re happy with it?
It varies, depending on the feedback. ‘Embers’ only took a few months, and funnily enough (for rights reasons) the photo of the couple on the front is actually me and my boyfriend!
What are your future career plans?
I’m starting my own business! I’m starting my own Etsy store called ‘Sweet and Spread’. I’m going to make modern jam, with modern labels, and I’m going to design greetings cards that will go with the jam, things like “Have a peachy day!” and Illustrated jam recipes, which will be aimed at the gift market.
You can find Nicola’s cover designs @prettypeachykeenbooks, and her artwork @prettypeachykeenart. Her Etsy store is ‘Sweet and Spread’ and can be found here.