Laura Bambrey Books

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Friday, 13 May 2016

Interview With Coralie Bickford-Smith

Coralie Bickford-Smith - photo by Tom Lehman

I'm thrilled to welcome Coralie Bickford-Smith to the blog today for an interview about her role as Senior Designer at Penguin Random House and her process as a book designer. Coralie is also the author of The Fox and the Star, which was Waterstone's Book of the Year 2015.

1. Can you describe a typical work day?

My day will typically start with a cup of coffee whilst checking my emails. It is important for me to sort out the immediate requirements and make a list of what I would like to achieve and deal with questions that need to be answered for production and editorial first. Then I usually disappear into the world of a design project for as much of the day as possible. I make sure there is at least one day a week with no meetings so that I can totally get absorbed into one project.

2. What’s the first thing you do when you begin working on a new book? What’s your ‘way in’ to the project?

Read the manuscript and talk to the book’s editor. Then I would typically research the author, the theme of the book and at this point I will have found a lead that starts the whole creative process.

3. How do you initially present your design ideas to the rest of the publishing team?

We have a design-in- progress meeting one morning every week where the design team talk ideas and show what they are up to. It is a creative space where we think about how we are doing things and why, we also discuss certain books we might be excited about or are in the process of working on. When our cover ideas are ready they go off to a weekly meeting with the Managing Director, the Art director, the Picture Editor, Editorial and Marketing. This is when the ideas for the covers are discussed and our recommendations for sharing with authors are chosen.

4. How much of your work is done by hand and how much do you work digitally? What techniques/ tools / programs do you use?

It very much varies from book cover to book cover and what the vision is for the design or illustration. Generally, for myself, it always starts off with pencil sketches of the initial ideas. Which then get drawn up more neatly, if it feels like it is a good idea that will work. I then scan in the drawing and take it into illustrator or Photoshop to be cleaned up and made ready for the printing process.

5. What book would be your absolute dream to work on and create a cover for and why?

It changes all the time as I am always falling in love with new literature that come my way. Right now it would be Tales of the Alhambra by Irving Washington. I have just returned from Granada and fell in love with the Alhambra and the city itself, where there is so much to learn about pattern. It was incredible, I intend to go back there as soon as I possibly can.

6. What’s your favourite project that you have ever worked on?

My feelings about the work I have produced are in constant flux. I am never really satisfied it is only with many years distance that I think I might see my work with any sense of perspective. I feel this keeps me trying and moving forward with what I do and keeps things fresh. I still get so passionate about new ideas, I feel that it is only with years of experience I can now see past the feeling of sadness when an idea you love does not come to fruition. Usually it is for a very good reason and you can look back and laugh at your intense drive. It is very hard to keep a sense of perspective about your own work.

7. And can you pick your all-time favourite book design (by someone else)?

There are so many, it is hard to choose. Recently I have been admiring Leanne Shapton's book covers, Leanne's work is so fluid and vibrant that it feels so far removed from my own work. I admire that freedom. Her book covers always flow beautifully.

8. What lead you to working in publishing in a design role?

Passion. I loved books, design and illustration from an early age. So it was a natural fit. It was a long road to get where I wanted to be but every lesson I learnt along the way made me more and more sure that I had found what I really wanted to spend my time doing.

9. What advice would you give anyone who’d like to end up in a role like yours? Is it all about the kind of degree you get? How about if you don’t have a design degree?

Don't give up, there is more than one way to get where you want to go and Penguin Random House recently removed the need to have a degree to work here. Each way teaches people different things and enables them to come to their work from different perspectives which makes every ones work varied and exciting. I have met many people that wanted to work in publishing and each time no matter what they are doing and how they go about things I just say keep going, keep creating, learn from what you are doing and eventually you will find your niche and your place in the world of publishing.

Coralie, thank you so much for joining me here and giving us a fascinating glimpse into your beautiful work. 

You can find out more about Coralie and her work at http://cb-smith.com/

If you're interested in finding out more about becoming a book designer, check out Penguin’s Design Award 2016 which is in its 10th Year Anniversary. The award is an opportunity for art and design students to get involved with design for publishing- giving them an insight into the industry as well as an opportunity to win a 1 year placement with potential to stay on full time. The web address is www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/designaward

Coralie Bickford-Smith is a Senior Designer at Penguin Random House. For more info about book designs, check out the Penguin Random House Design Award 2016: www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/designaward

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