Katherine Grames & Death By His Grace

Katherine Grames is a Designer and Art Director in New York, currently working in advertising.  Here she details her process for designing the cover of Kwei Quartey's Death by His Grace.

This cover design was particularly different than any I had worked on before in that my first design comp was accepted without changes and only positive comments, which for any designer is surprising. It’s common for even a well-liked concept to need a little tweaking.

Here’s Why: 

  • I was fortunate to have worked with author Kwei Quartey on a couple occasions before, and have had the pleasure to meet him. I believe that this helped me understand his creative vision.

  • This was the first time I had received a completed manuscript of a previously unreleased novel. Now there are many reasons that can attribute to this, but it is much easier to get inspiration and form a tone for the visual concept when you have more than a short synopsis to go on.

The novel is part of an investigative mystery series that takes place in Ghana and revolves around the murder of a high-society bride in Accra after a lavish wedding. It delves deep into the roles of religions and traditions in today’s Ghanaian society, juxtaposing popular religion against rural mysticism.

My first step after an initial idea is to do as much research as I can until I feel I can appropriately represent an idea. I decided to focus on a less controversial topic than the witch camps, which feature in the book, and instead illustrated scenes from the upper-class Ghanaian wedding described in the story.


The bride is slightly toned pink because the character’s favorite colors are pink and gold, which was the color scheme of her wedding and, also, the overarching theme of the cover.

I incorporated as many elements as I could that represent Ghana. Independence Arch (bottom middle) is a popular monument in Accra which celebrates Ghana’s independence from colonial rule in 1957. There is a male wedding attendee in a gold-embroidered dashiki and kufi hat. Also, hidden in the cover are three traditional pictographic Adinkra symbols;

  • Gye Nyame (lower right): the most commonly used Adinkra symbol in clothing, from the Ashanti saying “look at your past and you will recognize your future,” representing the power of God - I felt this would be the most easily recognizable

  • Sankofa (lower left): from the Twi language meaning “go back and get it,” it is a representation of a bird looking back on itself and is the symbol for wisdom, which I thought was both important and beautiful

  • Owo Foro Adobe (the border): an interpretation of a snake climbing a raffia tree with many thorns, which is a symbol for steadfastness, prudence, and diligence – all traits of a good detective and a great shape to snake around the border of the book cover

Then, I illustrated the text to match the overall theme, first by drawing them and then cleaning them up, but keeping the edges a little rough to mimic the way Adinkra patterns are hand-printed on fabrics.

Originally, I wanted a medium gray background. Then, I re-assessed and remembered the character’s affinity for pink and gold, so I toyed with a dusty rose background. This proved to be too feminine for a mystery novel with a male character, so I settled with a semi-ominous, but still relatively neutral blue. If I didn’t have to take the audience into account, I would have chosen the dusty rose for my own personal taste.

The gold elements print as a gold foil.

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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.


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