Interview with Cover Designer Emily Courdelle

Designer, letterer, and illustrator Emily Courdelle infuses texts and images with unadulterated joy. Emily Courdelle earned her First Class Honours Degree in Design for Publishing from Norwich University of The Arts. Since then she has worked in house at London based publishers. She now works as a freelance designer/lettering artist. A cursory glance at Courdelle’s portfolio reveals enchanting scripts, inviting layouts, and dazzling motifs. Spine recently chatted with Emily about three of her most recent covers: Jeffrey Boakye’s Black, Listed, Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, and Nicola Mostyn’s The Love Delusion. Additionally, Courdelle got real with us about her creative process, her life as an artist, and her decision to go freelance. 


Courdelle entered her cover design for Noughts and Crosses in the 2018 Penguin Random House Student Design Awards, where it was short listed as one of the final ten covers in the Young Adult/Children’s category. “I was in my final year of university at Norwich University of The Arts when I came up with this cover design. By this time I was already very keen on starting a career as a book cover designer after having a university project with Little, Brown Book Group. I then went on to work as a Junior Designer with Little, Brown when I finished my course in Design for Publishing,” Courdelle said. “The illustration and lettering was all created in Photoshop, using my Wacom tablet and overlapping multiple textures.” 


For The Love Delusion, Courdelle drew from the novel’s mythological and symbolic richness to create a cover that evokes visual mystery. “This cover is a follow on from The Gods of Love by Nicola Mostyn. Hannah Wood, Art Director at Little, Brown, came up with the design of the first cover,” Courdelle said. “While I was working as a Junior Designer at Little, Brown, I put myself forward for this cover brief. I created the illustration myself after lots of initial sketches and ideas.” One of the book’s strongest references is the human heart, so Courdelle used her hybrid reader-designer brain to create an extra-integrated cover image. “This gave me the idea of using a heart as a ‘delusion’ for a rose – linking it to love,” Courdelle said.


While Charlotte Stroomer of Little, Brown Book Group originally designed the cover for Black, Listed, Courdelle created the unmistakably vibrant lettering featured against the black and white photo across the cover. “During the process of this cover design I decided to make the move to go freelance. Charlotte then contacted me to ask if I could also do the lettering for the back cover quotes, as well as for some of the books interior. [The tablet] is now how I produce most of my lettering pieces – using a range of photoshop brushes by Kyle T. Webster.”

In addition to designing book covers, Courdelle also creates lettering for commercial products and self-initiated projects.


Courdelle carefully considered her decision to go freelance; ultimately, she moved forward with the confidence that the freelance lifestyle would nourish her creativity and help her create even more compelling designs for her clients. “When I was working in London, I was spending between 3-4 hours a day commuting. I know that there are a lot of people who spend a large chunk of their days travelling to and from work, and it works for a lot of people, but in my case, it left me feeling exhausted and anxious, which was starting to have a negative impact on my creativity and more importantly on my mental wellbeing,” Courdelle said. “Accepting that the commuter lifestyle wasn’t working for me was the first step towards finding a solution. I think a lot of people (particularly graduates) think that they should be able to just ‘suck it up’ and get on with it, but in reality this isn’t always possible. In our society there is a lot of pressure to do well and be successful, even at the expense of our mental health.”

Now, five months into freelance, Courdelle thrives. “I am able to plan my day in a way that suits me, make time for exercise and have a better sleeping schedule. That’s not to say that being self employed doesn’t come with it’s own set of stressors and downfalls, because it does, but for me they are much more manageable,” Courdelle said. “Going through this has really brought home to me the fact that life/work isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ experience. Everyone is unique and what works for one person might not work for another. I’m so glad that I made the decision I did, and I’m actually, dare I say it,  proud of myself for everything I’ve achieved so far!”

Spine is proud of Courdelle, too, and we look forward to seeing more of her dazzling designs on shelves everywhere.

Mary Ryan Karnes is a freelance writer and a Master's candidate in fiction at the University of Southern Mississippi.