Sandra Chiu is an illustrator and designs book covers for Penguin Random House in New York. Here she talks us through her process for creating the incredible cover for The Immortalists.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a beautiful novel about family, relationships, and the choices you make in life. I was immediately drawn to the brief when the editor, Sally Kim (G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Random House) introduced the book. After reading and falling in love with the manuscript, I became very determined to design a cover that does the story justice.
It was a very difficult process coming up with the final design because so many people loved and connected with the book, the expectations were high. The task was to design something that captures the ideas of fate, destiny, and family. A comp title was The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits, and the author sent images by Amy Friend as inspiration.
In my first round of comps, I borrowed the dots from Amy Friend’s photographs to convey a sense of magic, and played with images that reflected a sense of time, and relationships. Unfortunately, this first round didn’t say enough about the story and didn’t feel like a big book. One comp that piqued some interest was the one with leaves on the image of the stairwell.
The stairwell image wasn’t quite right. It felt too cold, so I tried the leaves on other interior settings that were warmer, but these weren’t right either.
The interesting part of these comps were the leaves, so I tried them solo on a black background. This one was favored by many, but to some it still felt too cold, so I tried a few new variations; adding motion to the leaves, changing the coloring of them, and setting them on brighter backgrounds. The author also sent over some new images for inspiration (the strawberry), and I tried a layout with that as well.
At the end of this round, we finally had a majority consensus on the leaves set on a blue-sky background. This was close to being approved, but in the end the image was still too cold, so we went back to the drawing board. Everyone had liked the concept of the leaves falling and how iconic it looked, so I brought back images from the previous rounds to juxtapose the leaves on, and tried a few new concepts as well.
The comp that had potential, which eventually led to the final design, was the illustrated tree.
We needed this cover to be warm, inviting, and also touch upon the family aspect of the story, so I thought that a family tree would work. I illustrated different types of leaves on the branches to represent all the different characters that are connected to the family. Trees also live through cycles of death and growth, which is a concept that I liked. This initial sketch was put together quickly, but once there was potential in there, I went in and refined the illustration. I made the trunk thinner, adjusted the color scheme of the leaves for a more autumnal feel, and set the type in a more considered way.
This revised version was getting us closer, but the illustrated leaves didn’t feel right. It was perhaps too whimsical, so I was asked to try real leaves.
This one worked a bit better, but felt too busy because of all the different shaped leaves. I tried simplifying it to leaves of a similar shape, set them in gold, and snuck in the falling leaves from the previous comps.
In the end, we went back to the autumnal color scheme, which best captures the tone the novel. I’m really happy with the way this jacket turned out and feel very lucky to have been able to contribute to such a great novel.
Thanks for reading about my process!
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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.