Holly Macdonald studied illustration at Camberwell College before moving onto publishing. She began as a Junior at Transworld, and has since worked both in-house (at Bloomsbury and Oneworld) and as a freelance designer. Macdonald is currently a Deputy Art Director at HarperCollins. Here she details her process for designing the cover of Lionel Shriver’s The Standing Chandelier.
The Standing Chandelier is Lionel Shriver’s standalone novella which Borough Press is publishing as a B format hardback (198 x 129mm) for Christmas. Consequently, the brief for the cover was to create a package that would appeal as a self or gift purchase in the run up to the festive season.
The plot centres on Jillian and Baba, friends since college, who’s relationship is tested when Jillian presents Baba and his fiancé with a misguided wedding gift: The Standing Chandelier, a six feet tall sculpture inspired by Jillian’s life.
The brief suggested showing the chandelier itself on the cover as it’s described in detail in the story. The object was more a standing candelabra, with multiple branches welded onto a central trunk in an irregular, botanical pattern. It glittered with dozens if not hundreds of tiny lights, most of them white, with a few incidental accents of yellow and blue. On examination, the lights illuminated a host of miniature assemblages, like individual installations on a minute scale.
After some initial attempts at illustrating the whole sculpture it quickly became apparent that giving too much away on the cover would spoil the joy of readers imagining the artwork for themselves. Plus, it’s so beautifully described I felt an image wouldn’t do the text justice.
This led me to try some new designs focusing on the individual objects within the sculpture, such as a delicate curlew skull, keys, an inch-high troll doll and a red-and-gold kazoo, among other things. However, out of context of the Chandelier, the objects lost their magic and it was the description of the glittering lights illuminating each assemblage that I kept coming back to. I felt a more abstract design focusing on the pin-pricks of light within the sculpture would make a more intriguing cover concept.
A couple of designs based on this route were then presented to the wider team in-house with the preferred option then passed on to the author for her feedback. Lionel liked the concept but asked if I could try adding some additional colour to suggest the accents of yellow and blue within the sculpture. After working up a few alternatives we felt the original monochrome palette was the stronger, more sophisticated design. The final artwork is printed on an uncoated stock with spots of silver foil to catch the light, giving the package a suitably gifty finish.
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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.