— Sea Of Poppies: Amitav Ghosh

I think the UK book cover design for Amitav Ghosh’s Sea Of Poppies especially lovely, and the research part of the design process is altogether evident in the final design.


…there’s a glance towards the US book cover design featured below too.

The finish of the book is also quite splendid mixing with utmost taste matte laminate, gloss varnish, and metallic red (on the poppies).


Images one to three show the finished design and the fold out dust jacket that was featured on the Limited Edition version of the book, and images five to seven show Steven Johnston’s first two design proposals to be presented to the client.


Then, by way of contrast or comparison, starting with the colour and black and white photographs of poppies (images eight through to twelve), take a look at the US version of the book cover – as designed by Susan Mitchell – and I’m lucky enough here to have Susan describe her design process:


What is the book about?
It is a sea adventure and tale of colonial India. During the British/Chinese opium wars (C. 1830’s) a motley group of Indians and Westerners set sail on the Ibis, a former slave ship, travelling on the Indian Ocean to China, hoping to engage in the British/Chinese opium wars of the 1830’s.


Were there any steps taken before you started designing?
Yes. Reading the manuscript and discussing the book with the editor.


On the design:
Sea of Poppies was previously published successfully in the UK with a cover that the author really loved. We at FSG, while admiring that design, believed it wouldn’t work as well for our market. We had/have great hopes and expectations for this book. We wanted the jacket to say, big, exciting, colorful fiction. What to do?


First we researched for the usual suspects—moghul miniatures, fabric patterns, historic photos, paintings, Indian Ocean scenes, picture frames—and submitted some designs. Questions of what was the right kind of ship or whether the overall ocean scenes were too dark, etc., dogged our efforts. It became clear to me that these were not the real issues. We just hadn’t come up with a design that excited everyone and were starting to be pressured for time.


I simply started over. I really wanted to break away from the traditional jacket design approaches for a novel about India. Yet I knew that the readers would need something to signal the exotic location and wonderful storytelling.


There was a lo-res color jpeg of stemmed poppies (1) with unopened flowers from the original research. I converted it to grayscale (2) so I could design with flat colors, not 4-color process, hoping for a stronger graphic image. I tried to imagine the poppies underwater, entangled and sensual, so as not to merely literalize the book title. My choice of typeface was initially the typeface you’d see in the metro in Paris—my thinking being that art nouveau fonts took their influences from the Mid-and-Near East. (3) The Metro connection was too familiar, however. It never transcended it’s Paris subway connection. I then substituted with Alcazar, another Art Nouveau font. It’s spikey edges and wavy crossbars on the A’s and H’s struck the perfect chord. (4) I created a blue background with brilliant red poppies and gold foil dots around each letter to add a surprise—not entirely visible at first. We got all the approvals needed and rushed to make the Advance Reader Edition deadline. It arrived on time to our Book Expo, a huge publishing event and I received word back that the jacket was really admired. However, the author was still unhappy with the colors. I resisted altering the colors because everyone was making favorable comments about the blue. In the end, I made a layout switching the colors to a red background with blue poppies which is now the final jacket for the book. (5) I have come to really like the red, too. Every book jacket design is an exploration. It doesn’t always go smoothly but it always has a lesson.


Via: Faceout Books

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