Alison Impey, Words in Deep Blue

Alison Impey is a Senior Art Director at Penguin Random House. Here she details her process for creating the cover of Cath Crowley's Words in Deep Blue.


Words in Deep Blue is a wonderful love story. It is also a beautiful ode to books and those who love books, so it's no surprise this manuscript was a big hit as it made its way around the office. 

As an Art Director, I oversee all the YA covers at Random House. I design some, but I also have the great pleasure of working with an incredibly talented team of in-house and freelance designers. 

Sometimes a cover is worked on by more than one designer. For Words in Deep Blue there were a lot of great comps done by a few different designers before I took a stab at it. Because a number of ideas had already been explored, I did not create a lot of comps leading up to the final design. I did, however, have a few pieces of inspiration that led to the final cover. 

Much of the story takes place at a secondhand bookshop. The Letter Library is a special section of the store where readers are encouraged to leave notes within the pages of their favorite books. The books are not for sale so customers are able to write notes in the margins, callout their favorite sections, or leave letters for the next reader. It is here where Rachel leaves a love letter to Henry before she moves away, so it seemed only fitting to find a way to feature it on the cover of the book.

The first idea I had was to create the title out of the spines of the books in the Letter Library.

I have always been impressed by the "T" illustrations for the New York Times Style Magazine. So many artists have created such amazing pieces. If you're ever looking for inspiration it's a great thing to Google. I had seen the following pieces and thought it would be cool to create something with book spines. I had also seen beautiful images of personal libraries organized by color. I imagined the shelves of the Letter Library filled with different shades of blue spines, spelling out the title, Words in Deep Blue. It seemed like a great solution, but there were some challenges. For starters the title was rather long and readability was a concern, but more importantly this direction didn't feel emotional or personal enough.

 
 

The second idea was to create the cover out of open books. Yes, it's essentially the same idea as the first, but rather than seeing the spines, you see the open pages. This made a big difference because if felt more intimate and emotional, and it perfectly captured the meaning behind the title—Words in Deep Blue. The following images inspired this direction.

 
 

To mockup this idea, I scoured my bookshelf for books with blue cases. I took off all the book jackets and laid the books out on the floor in my apartment.  I wanted a mix of open and closed books with the title flowing across the pages of the open books. I knew I couldn't get it in a single shot since I only had a step stool to stand on, so I ended up splicing a handful of shots together. Below are a few of the original photos from my apartment, as well as the original comp.

 
 

The comp was immediately embraced when I shared it, so I then set out to create the final cover. 

For the final cover, I wanted to recreate my comp in a single shot and have the title beautifully illustrated. To accomplish that I hired photographer Christine Blackburne and illustrator/letterer Jess Cruickshank. Because I wanted the entire jacket wrap to be a mosaic of blue books, Jess and I first worked out the layout. We had to plan exactly where the open books were placed since all the text and illustrations fall on open pages. As we went back and forth on the layout, I began collecting lots of blue books! Then Christine and I spent an entire day in her studio setting up the shot. The front cover ended up being a single shot, but we actually had to create a few setups to get the full jacket wrap. It was a long day, but totally worth it!

Below are a few photos showing the setup. 

 
 

The last detail is found when you remove the jacket to the book. There is a 3-piece case cover with 3 different blue papers.

This is by far one of the most complex setups I've created for a book cover, but it was so much fun and such a treat to work on it. It's a wonderful book that I hope everyone has a chance to read!


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Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.

@PaintbrushMania