Pete Garceau on Creating the Cool Cover for Tim Johnston’s The Current

Pete Garceau on Creating the Cool Cover for Tim Johnston’s The Current

Pete Garceau is the Art Director for PublicAffairs books. He designs covers for other publishers including Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, W. W. Norton, St. Martin’s Press, Little, Brown & Company, Hachette Book Group, and Knopf Doubleday. Here he talks us through his process for creating the cover for Tim Johnston’s The Current.


The Current was a title that was given to me by the creative director of Algonquin Books, Anne Winslow.

The story takes place in the dead of winter, outside a small town in Minnesota. It focuses on 2 murders, that happened 10 years apart. Both victims were teenage girls, that died in the exact same spot, under the ice of a frozen river. The last girl to drown, had her car rammed off an icy road, into the frozen river, by an unknown attacker. With her, in the car, was a friend that survived the crash, who unearths secrets throughout the story, that lead to the killer.

Right away, I wanted to try something that involved ice and type. I was also interested in showing the stark, cold landscape, that rural Minnesota offers. At the time I started working on the project, it was mid-November and there were some small streams that were starting to freeze over. I was thinking I could head down to some of these frozen streams and conduct a photoshoot. Perhaps shoot a printed page of type, a lock of hair from a wig, or something along those lines, under the ice. But, that quickly became unrealistic, due to the fact that if we ever had to change anything, it would be very hard to replicate, especially if the weather changed. So, I started with stock photos of everything. Ice, wintery landscape, and things under the ice.

 
 

I much preferred the straight type under the ice. And although I’m pretty good at Photoshop, I couldn’t get it to look as “real” as I wanted. So I printed out some type, on a dark blue background, taped it to the inside of a glass Pyrex dish, added some tap water, and placed it in the freezer overnight. The next morning, I took it out and shot it. I loved how it came out, but it was a little difficult to read, due to the cloudiness of the water.

 
 

The creative director, Anne Winslow, agreed that the frozen ice concept was the right direction. But there had been some feedback, that they wanted to see some other element under the ice, and that the readability of the type could be improved. We tried Photoshopping things like a red scarf, hair, and a leaf, but they just didn’t look believable or they were cluttering-up the design.

 
 

Thankfully, in the end, we opted to just do straight type under the ice. But it had to be the right “type” of ice. Not too cloudy, bubbly, clear, thin, thick, or cracked. I researched online, how to make clear ice, and found that using distilled water, boiled twice, produced less cloudy ice. And since we needed to have the ice transition seamlessy from the front, spine, and back, that meant I needed to buy a larger container for freezing the ice, so that I could shoot the front, spine, and back together as a whole. I found some big plastic serving platters online, that worked perfect. Depending on how deep the water was, or how long I froze it, created different looking ice. I also experimented with placing the page of type in the water, as well as underneath the clear dish. I found that cracking the ice, once frozen, also helped it look like natural ice, on a river.

 
 

The final version took a few tries over the course of a few days, but came out great.

 
 

And then we printed the jacket on metallic paper, which really made it come to life.

 
 

Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.

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