Liz Dresner on Designing Famous in a Small Town

Liz Dresner is an Associate Art Director at Macmillan Children’s Group by day, baker and cocktail maker by night. Here she tells us how she created the luminous cover for Famous in a Small Town.

I was excited to see Famous In A Small Town on the Henry Holt winter 2019 list because I love Emma Mills's books, and they're incredibly fun to work on. I designed her previous two books, This Adventure Ends and Foolish Hearts, so I asked to be assigned Famous In A Small Town as well. (My creative director, Rich Deas, designed her debut, First & Then.)

The editor, Kate Farrell, sent me a draft to read and confirmed that she wanted to continue the line look we'd established for Emma: beautiful abstract imagery created from a material connected to the story with title and author name incorporated into the art. For This Adventure Ends I used a stock image of swirling paint, for Foolish Hearts I commissioned embroidery from the fantastic Maricor/Maricar, and now I had to decide what Famous In A Small Town would be represented by.


Kate suggested that we use roses on the cover, as the main character is trying to raise money to get her high school marching band to LA for the Rose Parade. I loved the idea of art made with flower petals and proposed hiring Becca Clason to execute. Becca creates gorgeous, intricate typography and patterns out of real objects—often food—which she then photographs. I knew she'd make something special for Emma.

I asked Becca to use a limited color palette of yellows, reds, and pinks on a peachy background with white for the title and author name. I sent her a template with the type placed so that she had reference for the type on the cover and spine—which she created as part of the art—and to make sure we had space for copy on the back and flaps. Becca sent over this sketch which is basically what you see on the cover now!


I worried that the musical notes were too literal and that they could make the book look young, so I asked Becca to remove them. Then we had a few back and forths to tweak the color and petal placement, but that first sketch essentially nailed it.

Usually I'll bring my sales and marketing teams options and get their feedback at the sketch stage—or even before hiring an artist. But for Famous In A Small Town the editor, my creative director, and I all felt confident in our direction, so we opted not to reveal anything in the preliminary stages. Happily, all we heard when presenting the final cover were oohs and aahs.


Final cover


Once the art was finished and approved I focused on the production specs for the printed jackets. I knew I wanted to use soft touch to mimic the velvety feeling of actual flower petals, and I hoped to use sculpt emboss too, to make it more tactile, but I wasn't sure if the emboss would be visible without gloss to highlight it. Luckily, I found some great examples of jackets with matte lamination on sculpt emboss, and they gave me confidence to proceed. I also decided to use a 5th color on the background to get a super bright pink and spot gloss on the title to further differentiate it from the surrounding petals.


I'm thrilled with how it all turned out.

Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.