Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ten Questions for Carol Carson

I don’t know about the rest of you, but as I much as I love a good story, I sometimes find myself loving books as physical objects in almost equal measure—the smell of the paper, the sound of a book spine being cracked, and, perhaps most importantly, the arresting and thought-provoking images on the jacket that ends up wrapped around a particular book. Sometimes I’ll be so taken by a particular jacket that calls to me from across a Barnes and Noble or the Community Bookstore in Park Slope that I’ll end up purchasing the book even if the jacket copy is relatively unpromising. When I first started working in book publishing, I was awed by our jacket design department’s stunning ability to find the perfect image, concept, or type for manuscript after manuscript. And, while I caught myself thinking of manuscripts as fully-realized stories or projects long before a jacket was finalized, I quickly learned that a good book jacket can take the reading experience to a new level.

I was thrilled, then, when Carol Carson, the legendary head of Knopf’s art department, agreed to answer a few questions about the art of jacket design. I hope you’ll be as intrigued by her answers as I was!

Have you always been a book lover, or was it originally the artistic aspect of the profession that drew you to it? Luckily, my parents bought a lot of books for us. You have to start early. I still have a book of Poems of Childhood with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish. Then I went on to the great orange binding biographies in the school library. So reading has always been a big part of my life—unless I was drawing!

Are there any book designers whose work inspired you when you first started in this line of work? Louise Fili and Carin Goldberg for sure. And earlier designers like Dwiggins, George Salter, E. McKnight Kauffer, and Paul Rand.

Are there any particular sources you look to for inspiration when you feel “stuck” on a design? Love the Czech typography from the 20s and 30s. German type in the latter 19th c. Old scrapbooks, random art on the internet.

Are there any images you hold very close to your heart that you hope to one day use for a book jacket that you’re kind of hanging on to for the perfect manuscript match? I have a great photograph by Victor Schrager of a small plaster of Paris deer head with blue glass eyes that I tried to use years ago that was rejected. Perhaps he has a second life awaiting him. And I found a 1930s scrapbook of movie star postcards that are lovely.

If you had to guess, how many book jackets would you say you’ve designed over the years? Feels like millions but actually it’s close to a thousand (not counting the multiple versions that are so popular these days).

Do you have a favorite jacket that you’ve designed? Joan Didion’s last book, The Year of Magical Thinking, and some poetry, W. S. di Piero’s Chinese Apples. And a few of the Alice Munro jackets. Maybe the oldest one at Knopf was Scott Bradfield’s The History of Luminous Motion that Barbara and I worked on.

Do you have a favorite jacket designed by someone else? Still think that the first Donna Tartt book that we published is pretty smashing. The Secret History designed by Barbara de Wilde and Chip Kidd. Peter Mendelsund’s A Monster’s Notes by Laurie Sheck. All my designers have done great work.

I know there are many variations of the beloved Knopf borzoi icon that appears on all Knopf books. How many different options are there? Over a hundred and fifty.

Do you have a favorite? Paul Rand’s stick Borzoi is a good one. But the Dwiggins dogs are classic.

Did you always want to be a jacket designer? It’s a great job. Just wanted to make things, collages, paintings, etc. Maybe I’ll get back to it one day if that’s not too big a cliché

1 comment:

  1. I love that she singles out Poems of Childhood and the orange biographies.